First things first, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’m grateful for it. To begin, I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your writing space. Do you have a specific location for writing and reading?
Thank YOU for talking to me!
Since I started my post-grad job, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing at my desk when I’m on my lunch break. In my new apartment, I sort of built a little creative space in the living room with a velvet floor cushion and some candles sitting on top of my coffee table. It’s cozy and my cats like to sit in my lap while I write.
Speaking of reading, who and what have you been reading lately?
I’m currently reading Juliet Escoria’s debut novel, JULIET THE MANIAC, which is autofiction in a sort of diary format. I’ve also been reading as many nonfiction essays that I can get my hands on, as well as a lot of true crime. Living in the nonfiction world really helps my poetry because I consider the majority of my poems to be nonfiction. Rax King has been putting out some killer essays lately.
In an essay on Medium, the poet Natalie Eilbert writes the following: “Visibility does not heal. It threatens survivors. Before we can work on healing, we must engage in the confrontation.” How has writing a book aided your understanding of, and recovery from, trauma?
I started writing Final Girl after I was assaulted in 2016, right before I started my MFA program. It (writing the book) helped me navigate what I was going through, and helped me bring a lot of other things I was suppressing to the surface. The book I’m currently working on is sort of a sequel – it’s a collection of poems that take place directly after, about the person I’ve evolved into within the last three years. If that makes sense. I think the poems are so much better, too. I’m stronger, so the poems are stronger. Writing is a necessary evil. It’s not something I do because I want to…I do it because I have to. And I feel like a lot of it is my brain trying to cope, to make all of the pain and suffering worth something. I’ve processed so much in therapy, and in EMDR, the goal is to process a traumatic event so that you no longer have this insane emotional reaction when you think about it. So some of the most awful things you’ve ever been through become just that: things you’ve been through. Information. So a lot of my writing is sifting through the piles of information and piecing them together.
You recently received your M.F.A. (Congratulations! I don’t know if I ever formally said so.) I was wondering how that experience influenced your understanding of being a person and a writer and the overlap of those identities.
Thank you! It was rough. I had a lot of push back from my peers when it came to writing about trauma (my poem Once Upon a Time addresses one of my peers directly), in addition to being ostracized by most of the department for coming out about my assault and having to see the person who assaulted me on campus, in classes, and in my office building every single day. I spent the majority of my MFA fighting – and it was a pretty disheartening experience. The degree got me a job right out of graduation, though, so I can’t complain too much. Overall, I feel like I learned more about my will to survive than I did about writing better poems. The poems are definitely better, though.
You and I share space in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017) and you also had a poem (“Once Upon a Time”—which also appears in Drunk Monkeys) in You Are Not Your Rape (Rhythm & Bones Press, 2018), how have those anthologies impacted you?
It’s always an honor to find a home in an anthology that showcases the works of so many brilliant and talented survivors. Sometimes healing feels like the loneliest thing in the world. These anthologies have made me feel less alone.
When I say the Final Girl by Lauren Milici, what feelings come up? How does it feel having a book out in the wild?
It’s awesome – and weird -but mostly awesome. It can suck when people say that chapbooks don’t qualify as real books…but they absolutely do. A collection of poetry is a collection of poetry, and I am super proud of mine.
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Stephen Furlong is a recent graduate with an M.A. in English from Southeast Missouri State University. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pine Hills Review, and Yes Poetry, among others. He also had a poem in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault which was edited by Joanna C. Valente and published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. He can be reached at @StephenJFurlong on Twitter.
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