CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We love how the form of “Metamorphosis,” especially through the use of parentheses and caesura, brings a deeper meaning to the poem. Can you talk about your approach to form and white space?
Lauren McDaniel: When I began writing this poem, I knew the subject matter was going to be complex; the speaker recalls a deep love tied to pain and anger. I also knew that everyone has probably read a million reflective poems about abusive relationships. I wanted my experiences and emotions to shine through in a memorable way without sounding like I’m full of hate. To do that, I decided to “layer” this poem with the use of the parentheses and caesura to mirror the same dynamics of an abusive relationship. This allowed me to more naturally integrate what would otherwise seem like random feelings or memories into a streamlined effect. The speaker is allowed to feel angry, but also thankful, freed, relieved, sad, and indifferent while delivering an intricate story the audience can understand.
RR: One thing that makes this poem particularly special for us is the second, smaller narrative of “I never loved you” that’s hidden within the first. How did developing this narrative change your relationship with the poem?
LM: I wrote this poem at a pivotal point in my life. It was after I got out of my abusive relationship. The scars of that relationship were still very new and raw. I had a lot to say about it, mostly because I didn’t want anyone else to go through it. So, I began writing poetry about my experiences. When this poem happened, and I wrote, “I never loved you,” I felt like I shed something that I didn’t even know I was carrying, but definitely knew I didn’t need anymore. Developing that line in the poem was the best step I took toward healing up to that point. I didn’t need to be angry anymore, I needed to be happy. From that moment, I realized that this wasn’t an “I hate you” poem, this was an “I love myself” poem. This is the message I hope I conveyed in that small narrative, and also the last line of the poem.
RR: What is your revision process like? How do you decide when a poem is complete?
LM: After I write a poem, I make sure I get all of my thoughts out. Once that happens, I don’t touch it for at least a day, but it usually ends up being 3-4 days before I come back to it. I’ve always had better luck revising if I walk away from my work and let my subconscious digest what I wrote. After that period, I come back to the poem with fresh eyes and start revising. Perhaps by this time I’ve come up with new ideas I’d like to add or old ideas I’d like to take away. I keep editing and revising until the poem tastes good in my mouth when I read it out loud!
As for the completion of my poems, I never feel like my writing is ever finished. This is a philosophy that my best teachers have taught me from early on in my writing career. I truly always think that something can be improved, especially as language is constantly changing.
RR: Form and lineation in your work is dynamic, organic, and significant in its free play on the page. What advice can you give to writers wanting to experiment with free verse poetry?
LM: Free verse poetry works best when you take advantage of the white space on the page. It’s just like music. It’s always taught that a musical “rest,” meaning a period of silence within a piece, is still music. I believe this philosophy is true with poetry. White space is every bit a part of a poem as the words.
So, my advice to anyone wanting to experiment would be to consider this philosophy, and never confine your writing to 8.5×11 inches.
RR: Are there any other writers or works that have been particularly influential?
LM: Yes, when I wrote this poem, the big influencers at the time were Kim Addonizzio, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Maggie Smith, Ada Limon, and Jane Hirshfield. In particular, Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, Kim Addonizzio’s You Don’t Know What Love Is, and Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things. All of these female poets conveyed pain, loss and recovery in a way that connected with me as I wrote “Metamorphosis,” and many other poems about the same subject.
Lauren McDaniel’s work in Issue 6.2: