Within the past week, after spending a lot of time planning and thinking, I made the move and launched my own reading series. The Fig Widow Reading Series has it’s first event in April, at what I feel is the convergence of Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Sexual Assault Awareness month. For so long I’ve wanted to be the person behind the scenes, making moves, planning things, and I finally get the chance to help other poets and myself bring our voices to the light.

I’ve been writing for years. It took me until my sophomore year of college to be able to share those words with others on a stage, and until I was 23 to start going out on the open mic circuit in my city. Now, I’m working on a book and starting this series and feeling like the life I’ve wanted is finally starting to take form. The career I’ve wanted. Because writing is both my passion and the way I make a living, it’s easy to get a little burned out, tired, jaded. In these moments I focus on the feeling I get when I go to a poetry reading. Just entering the space where I know poets I admire and respect will be does something to the blood in my veins. It gets heavier and thinner at once, able to move freely through my hands, carrying something vital. I listen and see and write like I’m insatiable. That effect, that feeling, I want to be in it every day. I want other people to be in that space with me. Especially women, black and brown women and lesbians. I want us to feel the fire of creativity and kinship.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not terrified and nervous. I’m organizing this event and performing at it. I’m trying to find money for food and to pay the other performers. What if someone doesn’t show up, what if I bomb? What if I start to speak and my voice floats up and out of my mouth forever? I don’t know. I let the fear of being a disaster wreck me and hold me back for years and years. I want to acknowledge that fear and push through it so it can’t conquer me.

Most importantly I am so so so excited. Even on bad days I find a pearl to roll between my fingers, carrying it’s smooth opalescence to the core of me.

If you’re in Pittsburgh I have so many great events coming up that I hope to see you at. If you’re not, maybe I’ll be in your city someday soon.

I’m trying to be more regular about this blog stuff so I’m going to do a wrap of the stuff I’m reading/have read in 2019 within the next two weeks.


Eating in Bed

One rule that I have kept around for myself as an adult is that I am not allowed to eat in bed.

It used to be about cleanliness; not getting crumbs in the sheets and subsequently on my arms and thighs. It was also (and more honestly) about not leaving behind the evidence of my hunger. I was a fat kid, and I’m a fat adult. In my teenage years I learned that you could lose weight at a rapid pace if you just stopped eating. Hunger was mind over matter. You could trick yourself into not feeling the sharp pains in your stomach; eventually the growls and whistles would dim. As an anorexic teen, I would lie in bed and pull my fingers around my jutting rib cage and the sharp ascent of my hip bones. My bones, proudly announcing themselves through my skin, were my crown. I wore absence with pride.

As a poet, I am fascinated by two things currently: the mouth and what passes through it. In recovery from an eating disorder and in recovery from addiction, there are things that I don’t put in my mouth anymore after years of needing to. There are also things that go into my mouth that haven’t in years.

I am also writing about truth, and teeth, and language. What it means to say something for the first time and to say it again and again so that it no longer becomes foreign to me, so that it can pass through me. I am writing and speaking for the first time about things I’ve never acknowledged. This action is driven by hunger. Hunger for what? My body, my story, for an exhale, for relief.

A friend recently listed a few key elements to my poems. Two of them that stood out were “the fruit and the plea.” Hunger is a plea. It is the stomach screaming “please give me something more. No more air, no more silence. More.” Hunger is also as much about the brain as it is about the stomach. Not in the dismissive mind over matter mantra I once carried, my brain and mind are hungry for care that has been absent. They want to be listened to and taken care of instead of abused and shamed. The way that I fill that need and provide that nourishment is through poetry and therapy. I tell the truth. I let myself feel the things that scare and harm me, and I train myself to be good in the aftermath.

I am adopting a whole new language for myself.

Being an addict and having an eating disorder were both intrinsically about not knowing how to live in a body I was ashamed of. I was ashamed of it because it was black, it was scarred, it was fat, it was woman, it was too much. Now I am a long term occupant in this house and I’m teaching her how to talk and walk and shower and eat. Sometimes she’s hungry and that means having a bar of chocolate bedside, or a cup of tea that will undoubtedly go cold and be hastily guzzled in the morning.

I’m afraid if I keep going here I’ll reveal too much about the project I am working on, one that I am incredibly proud of. So I’m gonna go drink some tea while it’s still hot and try to savor this chocolate because it was on sale and it’s my favorite brand. But what I will leave you with is that for years I couldn’t have peanut butter in my apartment because it was my favorite thing to binge on. I don’t know if you know how hard it is to purge peanut butter, but it is disgusting and grueling. My body hasn’t fully recovered from years of training my throat and stomach muscles to expel whatever I forced down on command. I can, however, keep peanut butter around now. I can eat a meal and not tally the calories mentally. I can give myself what I’ve been asking for.

On the Loss of Mary Oliver and Living Words

As a poet, I’m sure many of us have felt the gravity of the loss of Mary Oliver this week.

I read her poem “Wild Geese” in college and instantly felt a comforting balm move over my body. Learning that I didn’t have to be good, from a poet nonetheless, felt like the answer I was searching for all my life. Later on, my friend’s mother would lend me a copy of Leaf and Cloud, and I began to understand that Mary Oliver was an ecstatic listener, an admirer of all things, of every little thing. That was something I thought had been taught out of us as children. The curiosity embedded in the act of stopping to look and really see something.

When I found myself falling in love for the second time, I ran back to Oliver’s work. The woman that I loved reminded me so much of her; they both shared that wonder. I would leave her long messages of Oliver’s poems, I think, my way of saying “everything this woman is writing is love, I want you to feel that and to know that I love you” because words that aren’t poems are very hard for me.

Oliver taught me to see things, to train my eye, to explore the things that made me pause with either fear, confusion, or delight. For that I am eternally grateful.

One thing that I try to practice and preach in my life is the importance of reading. I read poets, both living and dead. I try to make it to as many poetry readings in my city as possible. I listen to poetry podcast during work because I find that it’s easy to dissociate when performing repetitive, mundane tasks. I try to encourage people who don’t think they would like poetry to at least read it, because there is no one poetic voice that is identical to another. Yes, their are schools and trends, but no poet is the same as no person is the same.

On hard nights, I go back to my collection of Louise Gluck poems. She too, I think, is a poet of profound sight. Her poems bring for me, a sharper, almost intellectual view that I found powerful and grounding.

I always run back to Emily Dickinson when I feel I need a lesson on form and concision.

Claudia Rankine sends a fire through my veins that I don’t perceive as anger, but my body leaning toward action on a cellular level.

I turn to Terrance Hayes, to Toi Derricotte, to Angel Nafis, to Wallace Stevens, to Lucille Clifton, to NIkola Madzirov, or Sylvia Plath.

Really, the beauty of poetry is that it is a language that lives. For me, everything else is stagnant. Even when the poet is gone, the language breathes.

I recently purchased Donika Kelly’s collection, “Bestiary” and from what I have seen so far it is truly mesmerizing. These tales of the melding of human and animal are so mythic and familiar. As a girl, I worried that there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t quite human like all the other little girls around me. It was something that I was ashamed of. Now, through my own writing, my connection to particular animals and insects is a source of power.

Recently at work, it came up that I perform my poetry at events. The women I worked with balked because I’m so quiet; they laughed about how they weren’t brave enough to do something like that. In truth, poetry is the only space where I feel brave. I hope this doesn’t sound silly or offensive, but it feels like my first language. It’s hard to speak in the normal context of small talk, work talk, catching up. When someone asks me how I am doing, sometimes the answer is a poem. I am grateful and in awe of the poets that have come before me and those that are still hear with me, speaking that language proudly and in their own voices.

Pause: On Writer's Block and Inspiration

One question I get asked frequently by other writers is how to deal with writer’s block. Writer’s block can be a curse if you’re on a deadline for publications, school, fellowships, etc. However, it can also be a gift if you let it.

Right now in my writing it feels like I never have a shortage of things to say. Am I going to write another poem about the woman that broke my heart even though I said the last time was the last time? Probably. Am I going to spend all night researching the history of going from single-item food dishes to recipes? Without a doubt. There’s a lot going on in my physical and emotional world, so I’m allowing myself the time to ride this wave and see what comes out of it. If you’re not in the same space as me, here are some helpful practices and tips to get things going:

  1. Read

    one of my college professors used to say that the only way to be a good writer was to be an avid reader. I meet a lot of poets now that don’t read other people’s work and that is exceptionally puzzling to me. There is something magic about the life force that comes from diving head first into someone else’s work, it’s an almost instantaneous fix for me. Read other poets, read fictioneers and nonfictioneers, read scientists and chefs. It is all good.

    With that said, the poetry world has been stunned by some recent plagiarism scandals so I feel the need to say this: If you’re going to be reading a lot, you need to read critically. When that wave of inspiration hits you just after you’ve turned the page in your book, sit with it for awhile. Awhile meaning a day, maybe thirty, maybe a year. Sometimes reading something you enjoy shakes loose a feeling that you’ve been trying to capture, and that’s okay. Before you move forward, you need to trace back and see if that feeling isn’t really just a direct line toward someone else’s words.

    If you don’t want to read, you can also listen! There are so many videos of poets reading their work online. Your local universities might have a reading series available to the public. There are even poetry podcast now (I highly recommend VS with Franny Choi and Danez Smith, if not for the poetry stuff, just to hear Danez Smith laugh). The Poetry Foundation routinely puts up great interviews and readings for featured poets. Anything you could want, all at your fingertips, so go.

  2. Eat

    I really like food. I really love to cook. One of the biggest motivators behind the poems that I have written in the past year are my culinary adventures. If you can’t tell by the name of this site, I think about figs often. What they mean mythically, sexually, ecologically; they are really an exceptional species. They also taste fucking good. The feeling that eating a fresh fig gives me is vastly different than the one I get from dried figs. Sometimes I get an entirely floral palate. Other times it’s straight honey butter.

    Engaging your senses, especially smell and taste, is a great way to get your mind working. How do you describe a grapefruit beyond saying it’s bitter and juicy? What does it recall? Take your research a little deeper: how do the seeds of your favorite fruit germinate?

    Right now, I’m eating kettle corn that I got from work as a holiday gift. It makes me think of how as a kid, my father would make kettle corn in the microwave and top the bag with Lawry’s. If you’re a black american as well, you know Lawry’s is a staple in our spice cabinets. See, I just went from kettle corn to the experience of being a black girl growing up in Pittsburgh. If you’re afraid you can’t make the connections, just go there anyway, play around, see what you can dig up.

  3. Form

    Most of the writing I do is free-verse. When I was younger it was all sonnets, tankas, villanelles. As I have uncovered my own poetic voice, I find it hard to engage it within the confines of form, but sometimes that restriction is a good thing. Forcing yourself to ask “what can I say in exactly this way, in exactly this amount of syllables and lines, no more, no less” can yield some wonderful results. If you, like me, find yourself sticking to free verse most of the time, challenge yourself with a form. You can go to the basics or make up your own rules,

  4. A prompt

    The other day after a particular grueling therapy session, I gave myself the task to write one poem about absolute pleasure, and another about extraordinary pain. Being that I had just spoken about it, I wrote about the pain of childhood sexual trauma. Before that, I had written a piece about desire, lust, pure want. For me, those things can be in conversation in ways that are shameful, frightening, and strange. I know other survivors that have had moments of intimacy ruined by painful memories. This writing exercise yielded something that I had known, but never given much thought to: that pleasure and pain are not the polar extremes that we think them to be. Sometimes they are in conversation, as our bodies are in conversation with anything around us, every day. Just something to think about.

  5. Let It Pass

    I bet you don’t like this already, but really, maybe that silence is trying to teach you something. As writers in this moment, there is always something to be said, something to talk back to or yell at. There is definitely a pressure to get your work out to as many publications as possible, to get accolades and awards, to win at this somehow. If you’re finding that you haven’t been able to write lately, perhaps it is because you need to take a moment to find something more to say? Plan a vacation, go fall in love again, go to whole foods and marvel at the misshapen, pockmarked vegetables you’d never heard of. It’s okay to be still every once in awhile. Give your brain and fingers a rest.

    I wrote a poem about three years ago that I let myself walk away from when I hit a wall. Coming back to it this year, I found myself washed over with this feeling of oh, okay, I know what to do now. It might not take that long for you, but don’t be afraid to let time pass.

  6. Talk to Someone

    Cross-discipline contact is an extremely under-utilized tool. I’ve had eye opening conversations with my friends who are visual artists, strippers, drag performers, athletes. You are also probably a multitude of things; it might fair well if you engage one of your other muscles while your writing ones get some much needed rest. There are people out there (some not too far from you) with a great deal to say. Allowing yourself the space to learn might ease open some doors you’ve been wrestling with in the midst of your writer’s block.

To piggy back off number five, patience is also a fairly under-utilized tool. Think of writer’s block like an upset in the body. Is this a tear that you need to work through with a little elbow grease to let the muscle rebuild itself, or do you need to prop your leg up with a bag of frozen peas and call it a night. If you listen hard enough, it’ll tell you.

My Horror Story

For the month of October, my birth month, and the month of Halloween, I decided to watch a different horror movie every day for 31 days. Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and has now become synonymous with horror releases across the US. It’s only natural that a child of Devil’s Night would find herself at home in the haunts of that season.

This is an endeavor I have attempted years before, but things and people often got in the way. This year, I succeeded (sort of) and had promised to compile a list of my favorite horror movies of the past 100 years or so. Before I dig in, a little background about how I came to the genre and why I appreciate it so much.

As a kid, I had horrible, recurring nightmares. There was one that came once a year, on the same day, at the same time: June 17, at 7:20 pm. In the dream I was chased and mutilated by a group of clowns that had brought me in under the guise of being on a game show. When I won a game in the dream, I was given a prize that wasn’t a prize. Sometimes it was a clown’s nose, a noose, or—in my worst nightmares—a man’s genitals.

At some point in this nightmare, I would wake up, but I wouldn’t be able to move my body or open my eyes. Even so, I knew that all I had to do was open my eyes and I would be awake; safe from harm. More often than not I could open my eyes before death came. Other times I wasn’t so lucky.

One year, as the fateful day came creeping forth, I sat in my living room to watch movies with either my father or by myself. I came across a creepy movie about a man with blades for hands that haunted peoples dreams, and I thought I had found the answer to all of my problems.

It was him! Freddy Krueger! All I had to do was make it through the movie and figure out how the kids defeat him so I can too!

If you’ve watched Wes Kraven’s 1984 classic A Nightmare On Elm Street, you know it doesn’t end in a victory for the afflicted. Many unnecessary and less impactful sequels later and we all know Freddy didn’t die on the first go. Still, watching this movie began my excursion through the world of monsters, devils, and ghouls. My longing for a solution transformed into a longing to control my fears: a movie ended in under 2 hours but the real horrors of the world lasted years. I liked having an off button. In college, I studied Gothic literature and horror along with poetry, and it has had a massive effect on my writing today.

First, criteria: there are a few things that make a horror movie good for me:

  1. diversity of characters: the more women and gays the better

  2. suspense and surprise, I don’t want to see the ending coming 15 minutes in

  3. number of frequency of kills

  4. method of kills

  5. a movie aware of its cultural and historical context

  6. does it make me jump or scream? if I have to pause before I can continue watching, that’s a good sign!

  7. a damn good score

  8. for me, horror includes: ghosts/demons/hauntings in general, creature features, vampires, body horror and torture, and the occasional psychological thriller.

The List: (In no particular order but starting with my absolute favorite)

  1. Nosferatu (1922): F.W. Murnau

  2. Let The Right One In (2008): Tomas Alfredson (don’t watch the American version “Let Me In” it’s bad. Endure the subtitles and step outside of your comfort zone a little

  3. Carrie (1976): Brian De Palma, I did not watch the remake because CGM is not Sissy Spacek

  4. Psycho (1960): Alfred Hitchcock

  5. The Haunting (1963): Robert Wise, Claire Bloom as Obvious Dyke Theo is one of the best characters in a film, she really steals the show but maybe I’m just gay.

  6. The Shining (1980): Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King. SHELLEY DUVALL

  7. The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Jonathan Demme

  8. Candyman (1992): Bernard Rose, one of the first horror movies I saw with black people represented.

  9. 28 Days Later (2002): Danny Boyle, fucking killer score, Naomie Harris, zombies like I’ve never seen them before. Horror movies featuring “the infected” often focus so much on making the living undead ugly and scary in a way that cheapens it. This movie really gets it right

  10. The Girl With All the Gifts (2016): Colm McCarthy, Read the book. God Bless Melanie. Thinking of her brings tears to my eyes.

  11. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014): Ana Lily Amirpour, Again, killer score, vampire western. my brand of feminism.

  12. Raw (2016): Julia Ducournau, an ending that sticks with you. I told every woman I went on a date with to watch this movie for weeks

  13. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Wes Craven

  14. It (1990): Tommy Lee Wallace

  15. The Descent (2005): Neil Marshall

  16. The Eyes of My Mother (2016): Nicolas Pesce. one of the spookiest opening scenes of all time. Ultimately a revenge flick in my opinion

  17. The Hunger (1983): Tony Scott

  18. House of 1000 Corpses (2003): Rob Zombie

  19. In My Skin (2002) Marina de Van

  20. The Babadook (2014): Jennifer Kent. really fucking sad. Had me BabaSHOOK

  21. The Strangers (2008): Bryan Bertino. When I watched this again recently, I had to check all of my windows and doors five times before going to bed. Home invasion flicks really do it for me

  22. The Witch (2015): Robert Eggers

  23. Sleepaway Camp (1983): Robert Hiltzik. (It’s transphobic, I know. But some of the most memorable kills and strangely terrifying ending)

  24. What Keeps You Alive (2018): The newest one on the list. What I love about this movie is it rewrites how lesbians have been portrayed in horror for years. Lesbianism isn’t the villain, the villain is.

  25. The Exorcist (1973): William Friedkin

  26. Dracula (1931): Tod Browning. Bela Lugosi’s glowing eyes, homosexual subtext galore

  27. Ginger Snaps (2000): John Fawcett. That transformation scene. Woo.

  28. HIgh Tension (2003): Alexandre Aja. A recent watch, I admit. It does all the things I said “What Keeps You Alive” doesn’t do, but this movie absolutely devastated me. It’s devastating.

  29. Get Out (2017): Jordan Peele. This is a great movie to watch after you’ve left an abusive relationship with a white woman, trust me.

  30. The Wicker Man (1973): watched this far too young.

  31. Hereditary (2018): Ari Aster. I can not say enough about how much I fucking love this movie. If you’ve seen it, THAT SCENE left me stunned in front of my computer for what felt like 5 minutes. The Horror, the trauma, the grief, the deaths, I love everything about this.

That’s 31 for the 31 days of Halloween. I’m sure I missed many, I have many more to watch. If you make your way through this list please let me know what it does to your dreams.

On Birthdays, Being 26, and Starting Over.

October 30th marked my 26th year on this planet. For the first time in my entire life I can say with certainty that it feels good to be alive.

I love birthdays. I love my own birthday, love other people’s birthdays; there’s something very exciting about celebrating life. I used to love my birthday because it meant I got to get fucked up on drugs and alcohol, and maybe cap off the evening with some anonymous sex. This year was the first sober birthday I’ve had since I turned 17. That’s almost a decade of being completely devoted and dependent on addictive substances to feel at home in my body. Alcohol made me feel all the things I was told I never could be: beautiful, charming, sexy, alluring. People paid attention to me when I had a glass of wine in my hand. Sometimes that attention was not good but nonetheless, I felt seen.

This birthday, I woke up early and had a friend over. They brought me a beautiful portrait they had done for me and we talked over coffee in my kitchen. Later, I went shopping for paint and canvas. I bought myself new bras and a few household things I needed. I got home and painted whatever came out of me as I listened to Sade, Anita Baker, Toni Braxton. In the evening, a few sober friends and I went out for dinner at a local vegan spot. We ate, talked, laughed, sat quietly, and even danced a little. In that space I felt I could be myself, I didn’t have to “turn on” another side of me brought out by drugs and alcohol. I didn’t have to be that woman who wanted to take up space but couldn’t do so in her own skin. I learned that in the presence of genuine care and love I was radiant. I felt alive and wanting. My friends brought me gifts and cards that they knew I would appreciate because they know me. They weren’t trying to buy my affection, they just knew what I needed to hear.

Getting through my birthday without a drink feels momentous. I woke up this morning alone in my bed without a hangover or rushing to the toilet to empty my stomach’s contents. I ate cake on my couch in my bra last night and went to bed with no regrets, no heaviness in my heart, not chasing the vision of who I thought I would be at this time in my life. Some people might think that sounds boring or sad, but when you’ve had a life like I’ve had, going to bed at peace is the best thing imaginable. I’ve had many a wild birthday. Birthday’s were just an excuse for me to get wild. Any happy or sad occasion would find me at a bar or in line at Wine and Spirits. In many ways, I feel like my body has outlived the way I’ve treated it for most of my life.

I made it to 26 this year. At 15, I would have told you I wouldn’t make it to see 20. I didn’t want to see 16 at 15. I have tried many times to get out of life. Whether the long game or the short. Having to wake up to another day of uncertainty, of terror and abuse, weighed so heavy on me from a very young age. I wanted to kill myself last year, the year before that, and the year before that but somehow I’ve made it this far. I joke, “despite my best efforts, I’m still alive” often. I can laugh at it now even though I had spent many nights crying over that exact sentence years ago.

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to be thirty. I would dream about waking up and putting on a suit to go to work. I’d stop at my kitchen island and eat toast as I looked over my bills. I was obsessed with the thought of paying a mortgage (now a truly decadent dream because who can afford to buy a goddamn house anymore). A dream that I think was purposely mundane because my childhood was so fraught and scary. I’m still four years out, and trying not to fast forward through the later years of my twenties, but I honestly can’t wait to reach that day where I wake up at home with myself. Making the art I love, surrounded by the people that I love and that love me.

The Girl With All the Gifts

The first poem I ever remember writing was early in elementary school. The summer before I had gone to visit my maternal grandparents, as we did every summer, and my grandmother had given me a rag doll as a gift.

I named her Sally Michelle. Sally was pale white with yellow yarn hair. Her eyes were canon sized and irrevocably blue. I remember loving her, throwing my arms out and spinning around in circles with her in the middle of the living room. On the drive back to Pittsburgh she never left my arms.

As the school year started my grandmother had fallen ill, and her outlook was not very positive. I didn’t know my grandmother very well but I cared for her and knew that I was supposed to be very sad. My mother was very sad. I sat down to write a poem for a school project and what came out was a poem about Sally and my grandmother. I tried to understand the idea of losing her by imagining her soul would get transferred (or trapped) into that of my doll. When I read this poem out loud to an audience of my fellow students and teachers, I got a very loud round of applause. Scuttling nervously off stage I felt myself start to smile, I knew I had something. A gift.

Two of the most profound relationships in my life were with women who were extremely emotionally abusive. Sometimes physical. After a particularly bad fight with my ex, she would try to pay her way back into my heart with a pair of shoes she knew I needed, a dinner, a get away trip. Never an apology. Just the motion of her arms extending out toward me, holding some object like a frail egg: See, here, I love you. Can’t you tell?

The fights grew more frequent and violent. When I broke up with her she wouldn’t stop crying. She came to my apartment to drop off some of my things and had hidden gifts in the bag: a pair of aubergine silk pants, a picture of us from a friend’s wedding, and a folded note. She had a talent for script and drawing that she never pursued until it was time to make her amends to me. The note, beautifully written, said: “If I ever let you down, I hope you feel my love.”

I couldn’t make sense of what that was supposed to mean, but the weight of the lack of apology, again, fell like a weight on my heart.

The other woman was unjustly cruel. She would hit me, choke me, tell me I was worthless, stupid, ugly, etc. etc; then, wordlessly, buy me a bar of soap. A candle. Something purple because it is my favorite color. See, here, I love you. Can’t you tell. I covered my body in lavender soaps and lotions for years. It helped to settle the fuzz in my head, but could never soothe away the memory.

Both of these women, I have found, were threatened by the most powerful gift I had been given: my voice My ex would make me write long Facebook posts declaring my love for her when things got bad. Other people weren’t so found of her, and she needed me to be a voice of dissent. My poems are things I keep quiet until they are ready for a reading or publication, and she hated this. She constantly needled me because I didn’t share enough of my work with her; she needed to know what I was writing in private, and control what I put out in public. One of the first poems I got published in 2017 was an ode to her. It’s one of the only love poems I’ve ever written that holds up. Her name is still attached to it which makes me a little ill, but I can’t rewrite the truth that my heart belonged to her, can I?

I lost journals and journals of poetry and non-fiction because these women were so threatened by what I had to say. The truth of what they did and how it made me feel. Poetry is a powerful tool. As Jeanette Winterson says: a tough life needs a tough language. I wrote poems through the turmoil of loving both of them as a means to hold myself up. They were something true and solid that I could hold onto while the rest of me wasted away.

I have spent a lot of the past two months writing about these women. Some of those things are headed to publication which is really exciting and terrifying. Telling the truth is tough business, especially when you still feel it’s your duty to defend that person with your life. I’m happy to be writing honestly about these things for the first time in my life, but I know that writing will have consequences. There will be no one there to present me with a small token when I’m hit with the backlash.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My story is one you’ll be hearing along with many others for the rest of the month. It’s hard to leave when you’ve been told that there is no one else out in the world that can care for you and love you. It’s hard to leave if you’ve been isolated from all the other support systems in your life. My abusers made me feel worthless without them, but that was never true. We all have a gift that is more powerful than the love they gave us, the good love they refused to give us. We are far greater than what we’ve been told. I hope whoever needed to hear that hears it loud and clear. I hope you reach out to someone, or someone reaches out to you.

Also, remember this above all else: what happened to you is not your fault. You own your experience, it is no one elses to talk about, to take. If it helps, if you can, write about it. Don’t let them take your words from you.


If you have made it this far you know my name is Dani Janae. This blog, for me, will be a space to hash out the difficulties and challenges of writing as I go through them day in and day out. Beyond the dreaded writers block, beyond spending too much money on journals and good books, or finding the perfect pen.

When I talk to other writers I find the most common question to be:

how do I keep going?

It’s an incredibly difficult one to answer, but one I will try to answer in this space.

Today I am listless and foggy brained after traveling to Cleveland with @ki11erpancake for their first annual Flaming River Con. We got to talk about queerness and magic, and I spoke to how those things relate to my poetry.

At the core, poems are spells. Incantations, more accurately. I write poems to speak things into existence or cast them away. More often than not the greatest act of my poems are to speak myself into existence after spending my life wanting to disappear.

To be a poet is to not disappear.