Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: “Unmaking the Room” describes a love coming undone, and we understand the “room” to be a sense of domesticity and partnership that must be unmade. We’re interested in the implication of failure as generative and of un-making as inspirational. Can you talk about how you imagine the “room” in the poem?
Emily Adams-Aucoin: Of course! “The room” in the poem refers to an unhealthy or toxic metaphorical space inside of a partnership that is fed by the continuation of dishonesty, both to the self and the other, both outright and by omission.
I imagine it to be a symbol of welcoming (or enabling) unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms in a partnership. “The room,” as I think of it, is not a permanent, inevitable space, but rather a warning sign that can be heeded (or not).
To unmake the room, then, is to rescind the allowance for unhealthy behaviors in a partnership (such as dishonesty, resentment, etc.) to continue. Unmaking is asking the difficult questions and doing the work. Unmaking is tearing apart and examining where communication falters, where actions are more knife than anything else, where love has been thin and insufficient- and then making the changes that will lean towards growth and change.
RR: One of our favorite moments in the poem is the surprising turn when the speaker realizes, “but here are my hands; / I have pulled them from where / they sat in my mouth.” How do you approach finding images like this as you write?
EA: Moments of realization occur pretty often as I’m writing (which is one of the reasons I love writing so much!). Sometimes I start a poem by asking a question and find that I’ve unintentionally answered it by the end of the poem.
One of the questions that I pose in “Unmaking the Room” is: what is the role of each person in chipping away at the foundation of a partnership? Not to place blame, but to see things honestly. To bloom out of a point of stagnation.
At the beginning of the poem, the speaker speaks mostly in terms of we, equally sharing the blame for toxic behavior with a partner. By the end of the poem, the speaker realizes their part in the slow demise of their relationship and speaks with I, taking responsibility for their past inaction. They are moved to action, to altering what needs to be altered. To undoing what’s already been done. Most of the time, these realizations are lessons that I have learned or are in the process of learning.
RR: We’re interested in the image of the loom as it calls up craft in terms of domesticity but also poetry, and it hints toward Penelope. What brought that image into the poem for you?
EA: The loom is normally a generative symbol, but in the poem, what the speaker is weaving is wholly destructive (excuses, lies). To dismantle it, then, is an act of love. It’s the recognition of a difficult truth, which is challenging enough, coupled with the concrete actions that must be taken to change that truth. I’ve learned over the years that words are significantly less important than the actions we choose to take to support them. In the poem, the speaker realizes this as well; that the excuses for their inaction, while beautiful, are worthless.
To me, the image of Penelope immediately brings to mind the idea of undoing as an act of love. While Penelope undoes her work each night, the speaker in “Unmaking the Room” takes this act and radicalizes it, destroying not just their work, but the loom itself. This dismantling emphasizes the truth that is realized by the end of the poem: creation is not always good. Destruction is not always bad.
RR: You mention in your bio that you work as an English teacher. How has teaching affected your writing?
EA: Being both an avid reader and an English Language Arts teacher, I’m surrounded by good literature. I feel very lucky for that. I often think that my purpose in life is to share my love for literature with my students and encourage and support them as they find what makes their souls sing. I’m always inspired by my students and in awe of their resiliency and creativity. I often read poems or pieces of writing by students that are so raw and beautifully honest that I have a hard time keeping my composure. I get to see students fill up with joy after they’ve finally found a book that they can connect with. It all feels like such a gift, and to walk through each day (even the rough ones) feeling like that- it influences everything.
RR: You’ve built up a large following on Instagram, with over 19,000 followers. Has social media influenced your sense of audience for your writing?
EA: When I started posting on Instagram a few years ago, my writing, in my opinion, was underdeveloped and weak. I hadn’t found my voice as a writer (though I think I’ll always be tumbling through this process). But because I was posting regularly (then, twice a day), I gained a significant following. Ultimately, I wasn’t proud of the work I was creating, and it started to feel inauthentic.
About a year ago, I took a few steps back to focus on improving and experimenting. I started posting less often and posting longer pieces that I’m actually proud of- that I feel represent my voice as a poet and me as a human being. There’s a really supportive community of writers on Instagram that make me feel safe and seen, which means my work has become increasingly more vulnerable and honest to who I am. I think that it’s extremely important to focus on staying genuine to who you are and what you like to create. The likes, follows, comments, and shares don’t matter nearly as much as community, creative expression, and authenticity.
Emily Adams-Aucoin’s work in Issue 8.1: