Poetry - for me - has always been a very different beast from fiction. With fiction, particularly novels, you have a lot of space to breathe, a lot of room to meander a little if you want to, indulge, stretch. Poetry is a more concise art, where one could say in just a few lines what a novel can take hundreds of pages to say - when it’s done right, of course. A truly great poem can knock you off your feet if done the right way. Loren Kleinman is that kind of poet and her new collection The Dark Cave Between My Ribs is nothing short of astonishing.
I first became aware of Loren’s poetry in the same way I come across many writers - simply by chance. It was her debut collection, Flamenco Sketches (Spire Press 2003) that introduced me to the power of her words. At the time I read it, I got word that this new collection was due and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The poems in this collection cover some of the same themes as in Flamenco Sketches but Loren takes them a lot further, delving much deeper into the subject matter and sometimes it isn’t pretty. But that’s okay. No one says poetry has to be light and fluffy in order to be appreciated. These poems can be dark at times but oh, how wonderfully dark. They are not written in such a way that will bring the reader down since many of these poems end with with the feeling that everything is going to be all right. They are deep explorations into pain, rape, abuse, suicide, love and loss yet they won’t bring you down. There is always another chance, other possibilities.
One of my favorite poems in the collection is If I Were To Write A Suicide Note I Would Tell You, which reads:
After years of therapy and pills, / nothing has made the difference. / The plums in the icebox have not made me want / to eat them more. / My grandfather’s dialysis is not working. / My mother’s alcoholism / makes me love her less. / In my head, the music is never off. / The man I’m dating now doesn’t complete me. / I’d tell you that my friends think I’m strong, / and at night I go home and cry / and cut myself / and wish that for one second / I could forget / Man’s Concern with Death / and fall in love / in my mother’s arms again.
Other poems in the collection explore other issues such as anti-semitism and genocide. The School With No Name deals with the tragedy of the Belsen School Massacre in Chechnya and They Want You To Believe It Never Happened in the Ponary Forest explores the incident when 70,000 Jews were shot by Nazi death squads and dumped into a pit.
The one thing that attracts me poetry more than anything else is authenticity of voice and Loren Kleinman most certainly has that. I can’t recommend this collection highly enough.
Rating: * * * * *
I recently caught up with Loren to discuss her new collection as well as the many other projects she is involved in:
This is a very powerful collection of poetry. Can you discuss this collection’s genesis, how it came about, and what is the message you’re hoping your readers walk away with?
I started writing the collection back in 2004 when I went to the UK for my MA. The book started out as my MA thesis, which was based on trauma narratives, or books written as a result of an emotional injury. The book took me close to ten years to finish. It went through drastic revisions, title changes and lots of tears.
My interest with trauma is for the most genuine of reasons: the need to understand. My other interest was after I experienced my own set of traumatic events, which have altered me in ways I still examine.
The thing is writers, artists, lawyers, doctors, and TV talk show hosts have been engrossed in trauma studies. Publishers have printed numerous autobiographies detailing trauma narratives of sexual abuse, rape, the Holocaust and World War II, depression, and the Vietnam War. Some creative literatures that have illuminated trauma include Frances Driscoll’s The Rape Poems (1997);Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway(1925);Audre Lorde’s Burst of Light(1988);and more.
In Frances Driscoll’s The Rape Poems,she draws on her experience of having been raped to write the book. Her book has been presented at rape survivor workshops, and has been used as a handbook for police work with rape survivors. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is saturated with the traumatized face of Septimus Warren Smith, whom is an ex-soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the subtle references to Sylvia Parry, Clarissa Dalloway’s dead sister. Audre Lorde’s Burst of Light is not only a detailed account of the last days living in her cancer racked body, but also a description of her continual battle with injustice, first from the South African police, then the American government.
I think the best way to describe the collection is similar to what Suzette Henke, author of Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life Writing,says: “in the end, every memoir of trauma proves to be a testimonial to survival and healing.” The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, while about traumatic losses, is about healing; it’s about love, which is the only thing left in the end.
Poems such as They Want You To Believe It Never Happened in Ponary Forest, Lomza, Warsaw, and Do Widzenia: Goodbye refer to what I assume is your ancestry but they also seem to refer to an inward journey, concerning issues of personal identity. There are other poems that speak of your grandparents. How much of your background would you say informs your work and how important, if at all, is this look back to the past to your own personal growth as a person as well as a poet?
I’d say the collection was born out of the need to write to find healing. But catharsis doesn’t make for good poetry. It’s actually quite self-indulgent to think it does. My background is a major component of the collection, but things change. People change. We grow. I grew. The person that wrote that book is not the same person today. That person can see the past as something that happened and not something that defines me or keeps me hostage.
With the immediacy of the author the trauma is able to re-situate itself and provide welcome therapy. Poetry and creative writing both stimulate the healing process and are effective in promoting personal growth. Trauma survivors will clearly remain tortured as bodily wounds may heal, but the wounded psyche bears witness to years of reconstruction. My own experiences have initiated deep responses from within me. Finding the language to express such trauma is a challenge within itself. My work discusses how the traumatized psyche heals, and I conclude that that there is nothing left to do but speak about it. But how do we, as listeners, receive it? What and where is the language of trauma? Does it even exist? Alicia Ostriker says in her poem “The Class”: “Perhaps it is not the [writer] who is healed, but someone else, years later.” I’d have to agree. I’m certainly someone else years later.
These poems seem to come out of some deeply personal experiences and they are written with your feelings and emotions on your sleeve. While some poets may obscure these feelings, hide them behind colorful metaphors, etc, you simply lay it out there, which is what gives them their strength. Did you have any reservations or second thoughts about that? Was there ever a temptation to censor yourself?
It’s poetry, right? We can translate our story how we like and the reader is also going to translate the story based on his or her own perspective, etc. I’m not worried about censorship. Nothing that’s happened to me was censored. It’s all real and at the same time a dream. Some publishers tore the collection apart because it was too violent. They didn’t see peace in it when actually the book is peaceful, or about finding that peace. It exists. I draw on many influences that helped me discover that peace. Writers like Franz Wright, which I have a conversation with in this book. I talk to him about my experience with chronic depression and urge myself to stay on earth.
And here’s the thing about writing trauma narrative: The listener and the survivor jointly own the trauma. The very act of listening is an aliquot experience of the trauma within the self. For the act of listening to take place is to understand and see the survivor’s experience, to empathize with them in the confusion, humiliation, wounds, terror, and struggles that have been lived through. The ideal listener must note each one of these aspects if the healing of the trauma is to commence. The listener actively participates in the struggle of the survivor, feels the pain and terror that has been undergone, and experiences the loss sustained in the midst of their traumatic past. The listener feels the survivor’s absence in order for the testimony to occur.
The listener’s own experience overlaps with the survivor’s, but doesn’t become the survivor’s experience. Instead there is preservation and another place where interiority and personal perspective become their own. The listener’s own personal encounter with struggle manifests itself in their duty to accomplish the act of witnessing. Listeners are then defined by the act of witnessing not only the survivor, but also their own self. Testimony is therefore enabled by the duality between witnessing the trauma of the self and the survivor. Such knowledge shatters fixed ideas and boundaries of time, place, and self.
Silence is paradoxically the language of trauma. Silence is a type of defeat, however, because the subject of personal trauma becomes exiled rather than recognized. The recognition brings to justice the perpetrator of the trauma, and the trauma itself, by acknowledging its occurrence rather than its silence. But it is also a home – silence can act as a protective space, a place of refuge and comfort from the actual witnessed event and the often-added terror of having to look at oneself in relation to trauma.
The poem Where Do We Go From Here beautifully describes the creative process and how often it can be a struggle to get the word to the page. Can you describe your creative process?
I love to tell stories, real or imagined. I mean, after all, poetry is perception, picking up the parts and rearranging them in some sort of recognizable order. I’m fairly raw, but I don’t mean in the sense that I don’t revise/edit. I spent close to ten years revising my second poetry collection. I believe in revision. Lots of it. The first draft is you. The second draft comes from the feeling.
I read an incredible amount of books from craft to fiction to poetry. You have to. If you don’t read, you can’t write. I abide by that code.
I write every day. Regardless whether I write 2 words or 2000. Writing is a discipline not mastery. If anyone tells me they didn’t bleed, cry or sweat while they were revising/writing their book is doing something wrong. It’s not easy.
For me writing is a calling. I still don’t totally understand the writing process. It always seems to be an absolute mystery, in the loveliest of senses. The only way I can come close to describing it is by quoting Virginia Woolf:
“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”
Seems to sum it up.
You recently went to London to do some readings for The Dark Cave Between My Ribs. How was that experience for you?
I’m so happy you asked this question, Julian. England is a special place for me. I went to school, to University of Sussex so it’s like a second home to me and I try to get there once a year. I wrote the original draft of The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, which was originally titled, I Want No Paradise, in Brighton. So returning to England to read from my final collection was a full circle; sharing with everyone there made me so very happy.
I read at three different venues while I was there: 1. Big Green Book Shop 2. Listen Softly London (hosted by Dominic Stevenson) and then 3. New Writing South (hosted by Dean Atta). Each venue was so different and so supportive. I’m planning on touring there again once I release my third collection, Breakable Things, which I’m working on now.
You were recently involved with various different projects, particularly as an editor for the book Indie Authors Naked. What is Indie Authors Naked, how did that project come about and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Indie Authors Naked: Essays and Interviews on the Indie Book Community (IndieReader Publishing) explores the vibrant community of indie authors. It explores and defines the world of independent publishing. Comprised of a series of essays and interviews by indie authors, booksellers and publishers, readers will get a look at the many aspects of the indie community, where publishing professionals of all types come together with the simple goal of creating something unique; something that speaks directly to the reader, no middleman necessary. Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward, said it best: “this book…explodes myths about the new direction of publishing".
Contributors include James Franco, Hugh Howey, McNally Jackson Books, Sarah Gerard, OHWOW Books, Raine Miller, David Vinjamuri, Toby Neal, Rachel Thompson, Eden Baylee, Christoph Paul, Jessica Redmerski, and more.
You also have another project called National Translation Month. Can you tell our readers about this?
This was the second year of National Translation Month (NTM), which was started by me and Claudia Serea (Angels & Beasts) and promotes the reading, writing, and sharing of translated poems and prose. We hope it will catch on and become a regular celebration of translation, much in the same way that National Poetry Month in April has become a month-long poetry celebration. Last year, we featured translations from the Romanian, Arabic, Persian, Russian, and Bulgarian, and received over 1,500 views on the blog.
We have big plans for the coming year and are working on spreading the word as well as building a bigger and more comprehensive website.
You’re also known to be very supportive of other writers, often conducting interviews with various novelists and poets on your blog and more recently for the Huffington Post. First, how important to you is it that writers support one another and second, how did the blog at the Huffington Post come about?
All I know is that the most professional writers have me hooked. The moment I see “bashing” I’m turned off. I think some writers kill their careers before they happen by becoming venomous. Writers could get so much more from the publishing experience by cross-promoting such as connecting with readers you might not have gotten as a traditional or indie author. You never (never) know how things play out. Sometimes by letting go of control we can experience a much more heightened, more enjoyable reader-author connection.
I got the idea to start an author interview series on The Huffington Post community blogs section as a way to bring authors (both established and emerging) from both the US and overseas to the attention of readers. I include all genres. It just started this year so I have plenty more writers to introduce readers to. I’m planning on moving interviews over to an Internet show soon, which will be a bit more comical. I mean writers have a sense of humor too.
You are also in the process of completing a novel called This Way To Forever. Can you tell your readers about that?
This Way to Forever is a literary coming of age story, or you might even say a literary New Adult novel. The novel explores how young people deal with love and ambition and the choices that come with each. Other themes the novel explores are choosing romantic love over security, love as an ideology, and long distance love/dealing with long distance relationships.
Any other projects on the horizon? What are your future plans?
Loaded question. I’m working on so many things at the moment. I’m looking to get my novel published, working on the third collection of poetry called Breakable Things, promoting NTM, re-issuing my first collection of poetry Flamenco Sketches as a Kindle edition for eReaders, and starting to take notes for my second novel.
I’ve also been reading all over NYC and beyond trying to promote The Dark Cave Between My Ribs. Needless to say, I’m doing what I love. That’s all that matters.
Future plans: keep moving forward.
Loren Kleinman’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Nimrod, Wilderness House Literary Review, Paterson Literary Review, Narrative Northeast and New Jersey Poets. Her interviews appeared in IndieReader, USA Today and The Huffington Post. She is the author of Flamenco Sketches (Spire Press, 2003), The Dark Cave Between My Ribs (Winter Goose Publishing, 2014) and Indie Authors Naked (IndieReader Publishing, 2014), which was an Amazon Top 100 bestseller in Journalism in the UK and USA. The Only RX Press will publish a second edition of Flamenco Sketches later this year (2014) for Kindle. She runs an author interview series on The Huffington Post Books community blogs vertical.
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