#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop: Autism and Poetry as an Act of Translation

First of all, I’d like to thank Michael Scott Monje, Jr. for inviting me to participate in this blog hop. Michael and his predecessor in the hop, Jeannie Davide-Rivera, spoke of their writing processes as autistic individuals. I am glad that I have the opportunity to speak about how this works for me as a poet.

On what project(s) are you working?

When I initially saw this question, I was not sure how to answer it. As a poet, I have mostly focused on individual poems without really seeing or planning them to be in any sort of collection or cohesive manuscript. I’ve released three self-published chapbooks: two which were not organized on any central theme, and the last one, Novena (remixed), for which poems were selected to fit within a loose central theme of “poem as prayer”.

I began to think in terms of broader story lines or collections sometime in 2010. Since then, I have written poems for a few different themes or story arcs, some of which are locked away on my hard drive and have not seen the light of day yet. These themes and arcs include:

  • “Dead Letter Office” – a working title for a project in which I write epistle-style poems to correspond with deceased famous or historical figures…and they write back. I’ve crafted fictional conversations between John of Patmos and Nero in which I butt into the conversation. Part of that project includes a conversation with Adele Florence Nicholson (a Victorian-era English poet who lived in India and wrote under the pen name Lawrence Hope). And, there is also an extended conversation with Jim Morrison. Because I tend to work on projects piecemeal and as I become inspired, I haven’t done much with this one in the last year. But it is there, and I know at some point I’ll pick it up again.
  • “Steelville Chronicles” – I am very excited about this project. I’ve also been writing poems for it since about 2010, and this is a bit more complex than DLO. “Steelville” is a fictional small Midwestern steel town based on Middletown, Ohio where I spent my teenaged years and where I graduated from high school. There are several characters in this universe, including:
    • Nick Williams, a biracial queer autistic male writer in his mid-thirties;
    • Rachel McCoy, a young autistic white female artist who befriends Nick in junior high (but dies in car accident a few weeks before their graduation);
    • Sebastian “Spike” Morrison, an African-American punk musician who is Nick’s first crush; and,
    • Helen R. “Aanteekwa” Jones, an elderly autistic African-American woman with clairvoyant capabilities.

Lately I’ve mostly been creating story arcs involving Helen, or as she is now known, Aanteekwa. Aanteekwa is a Miami word which means “crow”, and she was given this name in a poem series I wrote last summer which I’m calling the Great River Visions series. She is also in another series of poems I have been writing since late October of 2013, which for lack of a better title I’m referring to as the Digital Purgatory Series. In Digital Purgatory, she enters a virtual digital world and becomes trapped there – throughout her journey, she meets new friends and together they seek to escape while avoiding destruction by a super-powerful artificial intelligence which calls itself JHVH.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

That’s a good question. The best thing that I can tell you is that I see myself as a storyteller with a camera mind, My poetry tends to be rather lengthy at times and expansive – recently in a poetry workshop our workshop leader called me a “poet of excess”. When I’m writing, I feel as if I’m trying to catch every detail so that I do not lose it.

Why do you write what you do?

I have always strived to communicate in some way, shape, or form – if nothing else, to express myself in detailed and expansive ways when simple speech will not do. I feel that we all have something valuable which needs to be released into the world, and I am no different.

I discovered poetry when I was 12 years old, and I found that the written word was a natural mode of expression for me. Language has always been a natural fascination of mine, and my desire to communicate has manifested itself through poetry in storytelling, lyrical expression, and verbal portraits.

Some of what generates my poetry from inside my mind and heart are products of what I have observed or result from my own personal experiences. Pop culture, particularly music, has left a very strong impression on me, so it tends to leak out into my poetry. Additionally, I’m fascinated by speculative fiction — namely Star Trek and Doctor Who — so some elements of these have found their way into my poems as well. In fact, the Digital Purgatory series was inspired by reading Michael’s novel The Mirror Project. I wanted to explore ideas such as: what exactly constitutes “reality”, where does humanity end and transhumanity begin, the distance between an artist’s self and their creation, and how humanity’s actions and a technological singularity could bring about an end to humanity — at the very least, humanity existing in physical, fleshly bodies as we do now. I also wanted to explore these ideas using an autistic non-white protagonist and telling the story entirely in verse — similar to how poet Vikram Seth wrote The Golden Gate, except my verse is more of the free verse sort and more loosely structured than his. Truthfully, some of what I’ve written probably borders on flash fiction — but I’ll worry about classification later.

How does your writing process work?

I am a primarily a visual thinker, so I tend to “see” the poem happening (scenery, events, details, etc.) in my head first. Them, I find the language to describe what I am seeing to convert it into a poem (draft or finished product). This, in essence, an act of translation I perform every time I write. Most of my poems come out as either completed works or highly developed first drafts which need some minor revisions to make them complete.

With my method of composition, I am often picking out and showing the reader fine details, or trying to find extraordinary ways to describe what might otherwise be ordinary. Many of us who studied poetry were taught to do that very thing anyway in metaphor and concrete imagery, but I try to take this to a whole new level. I know, however, that as I grow as a poet, one of my goals is to be more selective in the details I choose in order to create the sort of effect I desire in my poems.

Next Monday (May 26)

Next week, poet Lucas Scheelk will be sharing his thoughts on the same questions. I invited Lucas in the hop to include more autistic poets in the discussion of process and creation.

Also, I wanted to mention Barking Sycamores, a journal founded by I and my fiancé to showcase neurodivergent (autistic, ADHD, bipolar, etc.) poetic voice as well as add to the discussion about neurodivergence and the craft of poetics. Poems by both Michael and Lucas have been featured in Issue 1. I invite you to not only read their work but to check out the rest of Issue 1.

About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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4 Responses to #MyWritingProcess Blog Hop: Autism and Poetry as an Act of Translation

  1. Pingback: #My Writing Process Blog Hop: Writing is Community Action Occurring in Solitude | Unstrange Mind

  2. Pingback: Barking Sycamores Authors in the #MyWritingProcess Blog Hop | Barking Sycamores

  3. Stephen Stringer says:

    Hi Thanks so much for sharing this with us and for an insight into how you work. So interesting.

    I have long been a fan of the poetry of Laurence Hope (Adele Nicholson). What inspired you to choose her to be one of your “Dead Letter Office” correspondence? Sadly she is not well known – I assume you admire her work? It would be great to know how you got to know about her poetry.

    Thanks

    Stephen Stringer

  4. Well, to be honest, Stephen, what first fascinated me was the fact that she wrote under a male pen name…knowing what the times were, I understand why but find it a bit troubling that they caused her to believe that she had to do so. Also, her last name is similar to mine…difference by one letter. :) Additionally, there’s the fact that she and her husband rejected many of the conventions of British culture..she wore saris, for example, and they chose to immerse themselves more in Indian culture than their contemporaries living in India. Finally, there’s her (although slightly prejudiced by a Western point of view) way in which she attempts to give voice to what she sees in India…the Garden of Kama, for example, is a fascinating book in this regard.

    When I was part of the Read Write Poem community, someone profiled her as part of a series on obscure poets…namely in this post (http://readwritepoem.org/blog/2009/08/24/obscure-poets-laurence-hope/). That’s how I even found out about her.

    -Nicole

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