INTERVIEW WITH GINA LEE
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We love how “On the Line with My Therapist” shows us the personal moment of the phone call to bring attention to people of color fighting to survive. How do you think the struggle for survival affects people of color’s mental health?
Gina Lee: There’s a daily mental survival for Black Americans that often goes unconsidered. Our timelines are flooded with viral videos and news stories of Black bodies being murdered and brutalized. For some reason, we’re constantly defending our worth, not only as Americans but as humans. Yet, we still have to carry on in the office and workplace, at school and in public without a trace of mental anguish. That’s a lot to handle and it’s detrimental to self-care and mental health in the Black community.
RR: We’re interested in the major tone shift in how the therapist relates to the speaker near the end of the poem, in the lines “because in truth, i’m not supposed to survive / she said, ‘very good talk soon’.” Do you see this kind of dismissive response as reflective of personal or broader societal experiences?
GL: This is a great question—while the image of seeing a therapist in the Black community is often stigmatized, this poem was intended to (1) say it’s okay to talk to a therapist and (2) convey a safe space for Black thought. I once had a great therapist who never stopped my stream of thought. Sometimes, I would go on and on because the space felt open and safe and that’s all I needed in that moment. It didn’t feel dismissive, actually. It was refreshing because I knew at some point after talking to her, the inevitable would happen—I’d go back to defending my Blackness. Lately, I think a lot of us find ourselves constantly debating and defending ourselves on social media platforms or with people who barely know us, which is just as mentally exhausting as not speaking to anyone at all. The exaggerated silence and the one-line response from the therapist was an intentional act of respect for the speaker’s raw emotion and thought process. It’s important to note, the therapist in the poem is a black woman like the speaker. Her response, “very good talk soon,” acts as a “what’s understood is understood” moment.
RR: Do you have any methods which have helped you through writer’s block?
GL: I stopped claiming to have writer’s block this past year. There’s always something I can write about, always a subject to explore. If I’m putting any word to paper, even if it’s one word that triggers a preliminary thought, that’s the opposite of writer’s block. If I’m thinking about forming a poem and the tiniest ideas are turning in my head, maybe it’s that one word—that’s still the opposite of writer’s block. The act of writing is a process and I think most writers see their work in everything around them. The longer I claimed writer’s block the more I accepted my lack of writing. It’s a negative snowball effect. I’d rather admit I’m just not in the mood to write right now, than to say I can’t write.
RR: We understand you’re an Associate Poetry Editor for Poets Reading the News. How has your work as an editor impacted your writing?
GL: Reading poetry from other writers has been the best thing I’ve done all year! Writing can seem like a lonely process, but when I see all of these great poems come through from such a diverse pool of writers, it encourages me to keep writing and telling stories and it confirms that I’m not alone.
RR: What is your biggest motivator for writing poetry?
GL: Life. Everything around me is a poem if I want it to be.
Gina Lee’s work in Issue 8.2: