Waiting for the Volta : Lauren Gerber

Work featured in this issue:

"Girls Will Be Boys", "Sewing Shut The Skin", "This is Everything", "October: Laramie, Wyoming"

How did you approach writing on the Matthew Shepard tragedy in "October: Laramie, Wyoming"? Did you have a imagistic plan in mind or was it a unconscious meditation on the aura of passion surrounding the events?

That was an important poem for me, one that I wrote as a companion piece for a poem about Teena Brandon. With both of these pieces, my goal is to present as simply, with as much truth as possible, a sentient person going through great suffering at the hands of another person - suffering that could and should have never happened. In this poem, the signs at the funeral proclaim “fag” but the speaker’s voice does not mention Shepard’s homosexuality, and instead uses the words “boy” and “human” to describe him, because sexual orientation is not the point. The point, for the speaker, is that this person had the capability to feel both wonderful and awful things, and that this person was intentionally robbed of the ability to feel wonderful, and intentionally given great pain. The two men who did this to Shepard also had great ability to feel pain. In that and so many other ways they were exactly the same as their victim, and yet they chose to do those horrific deeds to someone so similar to themselves. I think all people have much more in common than they have differences. It makes me so sad, the things people do to each other. We are all interconnected. When we hurt someone, we hurt ourselves.

“October: Laramie, Wyoming” is almost-but-not-quite a sonnet, being 13 lines when a sonnet is 14. I did this because the sonnet is a poetic form with a “volta,” or “turn” in the final couplet. This sonnet cannot be complete until there is a radical change, a turning, in America’s views towards homosexuality.

The importance of your sexual identity is a potent theme in your work. Is the character of the father, playing an alligator in "This is Everything" and the insect in "Sewing Shut the Skin", a symbol in opposition to how you identify yourself? Is it based on autobiography at all?

Many of the speakers of my poems are someone very much like myself, but not actually myself. I like to take one aspect of myself and isolate it from all the other aspects of myself, and explode that part of me as far as it can go. So what I write is always true in an emotional way, but is often removed from facts. People are very complicated, and I think that poetry provides a unique opportunity to give life to the many selves that live inside of us, to take one self out of the context of the others and let it stand alone becomes something entirely different, but also true.

How do you start a poem?

I actually have an 88 page document on my desktop that is scraps of poetry: a line, a title, a concept. As I edit a poem, it becomes easier for me to “kill my darlings” if I know I am saving the pieces to use later. Even if I never use them, I am then able to cut out lines that I love on their own but do not truly service the particular poem they are in. So, the process of my work is not necessarily a linear one. When I need inspiration to begin a new poem, I look through my poetry file and something will seem shining to me - an image, a few words, a closing line. When I begin a poem I am often beginning with an ending of a previous draft of a poem I wrote months ago. And when I cut out lines, or an image, I am often really beginning another poem.