Sexual abuse

Guest Post: Literary Community at The Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House

Hello Friends, I wanted to share with you an essay that I wrote for the site MFA Day Job. My essay is about literary community, and about how important mentorship is in the lives of young writers and poets. In this piece I explore how an abusive mentorship stunted my growth. I also trace my journey to moving to live in the USA, and to how studying at NYU's MFA Program years later allowed me to meet several important teachers and make friends that helped me to heal and to write the section of my first collection, Waiting for Saint Brendan and Other Poems, about the priest in question, who was a sexual abuser posing as mentor. Finally, here is a link to a poem from the book, titled "For My Brother". I hope that this essay and the poem are enlightening for you. David.cropped-stbrendan_cover.jpg

Poets Against Sexual Violence: Fundraiser for RAINN (Part Seven)

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As part of the lead-up to our reading, here’s a poem by one of the eight poets who’s reading on Saturday 29th April (see below for more details): Lizzie Harris, whose debut collection, Stop Wanting (CSU Poetry Center, 2014), was selected by Tracy K. Smith and named one of Cosmo’s “10 Books by Women You Have to Read This Spring.” Her poems appear in All Hollow, Barrow Street, The Carolina Quarterly, Painted Bride Quarterly, Phantom Limb, Sixth Finch and VICE.com. She was born in southern Arizona, raised in Pennsylvania and currently resides in Brooklyn, where she’s a poetry editor for Bodega Magazine. "White Loss of Forgetting" was originally published by Brooklyn Poets.

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White Loss of Forgetting I remember the touching was softer than I wanted and after          I wanted things quiet because I didn’t trust the skin that skinned my little body     I don’t want to be vague

he had my body run the water he took my body for a carpet he took my body from men I would one day want to love me I don’t want to be vague

My mother took my body to the doctor she said I was infected from sitting in the bathtub but it makes a kind of after-sense because             I was tired of that shower reassembling my body in steam            I had never before seen my father in water so perhaps he mistook me for a spout with a head that clicks to expose infinite pressure          I don’t want to be vague

awful things happened the worst sinks beneath my eye                until I can only see my crown           I only see

my father coaxing at the spout     but my body is small and then it all gets

lower                  and then I swear he pulls a red thread from my middle          and I’m so low now I see myself from the nosebleeds see sky like a bed          to hide beneath please believe me

When Lizzie read with The Eagle and the Wren in September 2014, we introduced her thus: Don’t be fooled by Lizzie’s self-deprecation. She’s an amazing poet whose work exposes the roots of longing and fear, the support that family members can give each other while nonetheless being divided by what remains unsaid or unrecognized, of needs that remain unfulfilled. In one of the many poems that share the title of her collection, the speaker notes, “I don’t want to forgive,/it’s become a sort of closeness.” Lizzie’s work breaks down dichotomies—evil and goodness, truth and fiction, love and loss—and revels in the reality that is left over, one that is equal parts sweetness and dark despair, indistinguishable from each other. Despite the admonition of her book’s title, the poems collected speak of the continued need to hunger for a future of kindness and love. 

We’re proud that she can join us next Saturday (29th April at 7 p.m.) at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop. If you missed my post about my motivations for organising the reading, you can read it here. The post has all the information you will need to donate to RAINN (or, go to the top of this post and click the link), and directions if you would like to come to the reading, which is at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on Saturday, 29th April at 7 p.m. We hope to see you there.

Poets Against Sexual Violence (Fundraiser for RAINN): Part Six

Donate to RAINN here.

As part of the lead-up to our reading, here’s a poem by one of the eight poets who’s reading next Saturday (see below for more details): Camonghne Felix, who’s also a political speechwriter and an essayist. She is the author of the chapbook Yolk, published via Penmanship Books in March 2015 and in May of that year was listed by Black Youth Project as a “Black Girl From the Future You Should Know.”

Camonghne-Felix

Here is her poem "The Therapist Asks 3", which was originally published by Poetry:

The Therapist Asks 3

“But there were times when you offered your consent with older men. You chose them, & you were not afraid. Why not?”

You don’t know the true success of survival till you’ve experienced the adrenaline of a too-close death. What is there to fear when you’ve licked the edge? It is going to be an oppressively hot summer, the New York Post says, but I’ve got a few of my own stowed away, enough to occupy a foreign desert.

There was one summer, his name was Tito and my sisters still say his name just like that, “Tee-toww,” the O a benchmark in the bottom of the jaw. I was just 12 but the gaze itself made me a flame, so no one could tell, I guess,

or no one would tell. He was the kind of heavy swelter that had the whole block at mercy, everyone’s connect to whatever they needed, which was much and in bulk. Power is a switch that yokes me up at the waist — I was young & enamored by this pattern of men who shouldn’t want me but would risk day to touch the stark chant of me. Each time, I imagined a witchcraft enveloping the bone. I remember,

once, at some low hour in the trough* of that summer — my mouth a voyaging boat, Tito’s spine a current of illicit knots, his hand a spindle on the back of my coarse head — he looks down at me, & moans out “Who the fuck are you?”

I say, and the answer is always the same thereafter: nobody, who are you?

*Okay, in any event, Elizabeth and I were in the pool, swimming and playing.
_______________

Here, also, is the excellent Killing the Form. And here is Camonghne performing "Meat: a Reflection on Street Harassment"

When she read with The Eagle and the Wren we introduced her as follows: A sequence titled “Google Search” places sequences of collocations—words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance—scattershot across the page, the clipped and fragmented form enacting the struggle between speech and silence that Camonghne Felix’s theme. Prose poems like “The Therapist Asks” and “Excerpt from Cutting with JB” provide a multilayered reading experience. Here, an apparently confessional style is complicated as the narrator’s adult self interacts with an younger speaker who is vulnerable and full of braggadocio: she seems to know her vulnerability, and is at the same time breezily unaware. This provides a tense reading experience, for these speakers are drawn to situations that verge on or cross over into abuse. Often, the speaker does not realize the danger she entered into until the narrative is taken up in adulthood. These are poems of strength and exposure, where the personal is political, delivered with urgency, verve and wit.

We’re proud that Camonghne can join us next Saturday (29th April at 7 p.m.) at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop. If you missed my post about my motivations for organising the reading, you can read it here. The post has all the information you will need to donate to RAINN (or, go to the top of this post and click the link), and directions if you would like to come to the reading, which is at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on Saturday, 29th April at 7 p.m. We hope to see you there.

Poets Against Sexual Violence: Fundraiser for RAINN (Part Five)

Donate to RAINN here.

Dear Friends,

As part of the lead up to this much-anticipated reading, I am posting a poem by one of the eight poets who is reading: by Paul Tran, a Vietnamese-American poet who is working on their first book. As per their website, "The manuscript examines intergenerational trauma, sexual violence, and U.S. empire after the Fall of Saigon in 1975." Here, I am reposting "Testimony", a horrific/beautiful poem that breaks the cultural silence that surrounds rape and sexual abuse, and makes space for others to speak. Here, you will notice the line "Only him. / Again // and again". In this kind of extreme experience, the perpetrator attempts to fill the lense of being, trying to blot out the self of the victim. But poetry pushes back, and speaks. Although the poem describes that moment of victimhood, the poet moves past it, holding that kernel so as to better witness it for the liberation of others.

 

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Testimony, by Paul Tran

I didn’t ask for it. Something moved in the tall grass.

Neither my imagination nor the wind, light rippling in the heat.

He had a human face. But he wasn’t human. He was

a hunger. Not for me — for what he could do to me: shepherd boy

alone in a field of thorns, flock grazing tufts of rhododendrons,

the world with its back turned. He kissed me, moved his wolf tongue

in and out of my mouth, a hole he filled with himself.

Disrobed, he tied my underwear around my knees, licked the bottom of my feet.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand what was happening.

When I said his name, when I shouted what he was at the top of my lungs —

a desire for something he couldn’t keep —

he dragged me by my hair across the devil’s wilderness. My back whittled

and threadbare. I wished my scalp and skull had split, spilled the contents

of my brain like rind in a garden of unearthly delights so I could be dead —

stay dead — and not chase the impulse to testify pulsing in my blood.

Cause and effect. He planted me on a grove overlooking my village.

He pushed his sex inside me. The sky hid behind gathering clouds,

too disgusted to look. Perhaps it’s a gift only to feel my body

taken from me. Perhaps observation’s a lie. No one believed me

anyway. No one came. Only him. Again

and again, until there was nothing left.

(Originally published in The Offing, Trans Issue, 26th November, 2015.)

We’re proud to have Paul as part of the line up next Saturday (29th April at 7 p.m.) at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop. If you missed my previous post about my motivations for organising the reading, you can read it here. The post has all the information you will need to donate to RAINN (or go to the top of this post and click the link), and directions if you would like to come to the reading, which is at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on Saturday, 29th April at 7 p.m. We hope to see you there.

 

Poets Against Sexual Violence: Fundraiser for RAINN (Part Four)

Donate to RAINN here.

Dear Friends,

Here is an extract from a poem by one of the exciting poets who is participating in our fundraiser for RAINN, the nonprofit / charity that advocates for survivors of sexual violence in the USA. Her name is Emily Brandt, and the poem in question (“Secret Garden”) was published in issue 12 of The Recluse which is the online journal of The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery. (The Poetry Project has a long lineage in the New York Poetry scene. Distinguished, certainly, but I'm not sure if that's the word in the experimental scene. According to Miles Champion, "The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery was founded in the summer of 1966 as a direct successor to, and continuation of, the various coffeehouse reading series that had flourished on the Lower East Side since 1960.")

The extract is below, and you can read more of it here. If you missed my previous post about my motivations for organising the reading, you can read it here. The post has all the information you will need to donate to RAINN, and directions if you would like to come to the reading, which is at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on Saturday, 29th April at 7 p.m. Anyway, here is the poem. And as Emily adroitly says, there is no other way to say it:

There’s no other way to say what’s next in this nonfictional mythology: A man rapes a woman. A first draft reads: a man rapes a woman and nothing happens to him. Nothing! happens to him. A revision reads: what happens to a man after he rapes a woman? A revision replaces “rapes” with “sexually assaults.” A headline rewrites “has sex with.” I know what happens to a woman. At least three hundred versions of I know. It’s not hyperbole. I can share a hyperlink.

From "The Secret Garden", by Emily Brandt.