Tuesday May 21

RuthBaumann Ruth Baumann is the author of Parse, forthcoming in 2018 from Black Lawrence Press. She is also the author of four chapbooks: A Thousand Ars Poeticas (forthcoming in 2018, Sixth Finch), Retribution Binary (Black Lawrence Press, 2017), wildcold (Slash Pines Press, 2016) & I’ll Love You Forever & Other Temporary Valentines (Salt Hill, 2015). Her poems have been published in Colorado Review, Sonora Review, Sycamore Review, The Journal, Third Coast & others. She received an AWP Intro Journals Project Award in 2014. She holds an MFA from the University of Memphis & is pursuing her PhD at Florida State University.

Ruth Baumann Interview, with Ösel Jessica Plante

You talk about trauma in your work, which I really appreciate. Do you see a connection between trauma and creativity? There's that Leonard Cohen quote I think about from time to time, that "the cracks are where the light gets in." Do you think your poetry comes from those the cracks that trauma brings?

Yes, I do. But not all of it.

I think much of my poetry has come from what I’ve needed to work through—has been a sort of reclamation process, a way to be able to shape and control my narrative. It’s especially empowering to speak about and after a traumatic experience—trauma, after all, does most of its damage by rendering its target(s) helpless and out of control. Trauma rocks belief systems, causes people to lose faith in their sense of order, justice, and the hearts of others. Poetry has helped me by allowing me to find new normals and to refuse to be silenced in the process, as I’ve found speaking up is a form of survival. I had a fairly chaotic life when I was younger, and it took years to write (and, you know, go to therapy and clean up my life and whatnot) myself into a more even state. Writing has been catharsis and exploration and rebuilding. Through writing about pain, I’ve erased much of the (false) sense of isolation that suffering induces, and been able to both feel more human and connect to others (maybe even, ideally even, allow others to feel less alone, too).

I’ve been writing less about trauma, though, as the years have gone by and I’ve healed more and more (not fully, because who ever does? but just more). I think there are always shadows of loss in my work, but sometimes now that’s all they are—shadows.

Your first full-length collection, Parse, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2018. Can you tell me what you've enjoyed most about putting Parse together as a collection?

I don’t know if I can say I enjoyed the process, as the book came out of the trauma we just talked about, but I can say there was a sense of relief at having written the book I felt I needed to write. Often I come back to work and find it… not great…(sometimes I send trash can emojis next to fire emojis when I show friends my poems online), or find that its message seems diluted, its ideas shaky, but the poems and the heart of this book hold together, for me. The story it tells isn’t pleasant and I hope won’t be received as negative or one-dimensionally angry, but it was a really important process for me, to let myself feel and see my reality in ways I had been (mostly unknowingly) hiding for years, and to hold those truths up to light. I believe that secrets keep us sick, and my hope with the book is that it will help move a little darkness away.

You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway—my regret, or perhaps just my hang up, about the book is that it might not demonstrate as much compassion as I wish it did. But it is true to the experience I was going through (I feel like I’m doing what the kids call ‘vague-booking’—the book is about the experience of growing up in a home with a lot of drinking and having been an addict myself and what it felt like to start having childhood/ teenage flashbacks at seven years clean, as an adult). I like to think that there is great value in speaking one’s truth, probably more value than the speaker can ever see.
The last thing I’ll say is that there is also a profound sense of gratitude. I’m incredibly grateful to have gotten from point A to point B, to have been given the gift of walking through those hurts. It’s my experience that not everyone gets so lucky, to confront their pasts and work towards change, and I am deeply thankful for the second chance I’ve been given at life.

I know you love cats a lot. So, tough question, if you had to choose one: cats or poems, and why?

What? That’s impossible. Cats are poetry. J
Seriously, though, I can’t answer that. There’s a cat curled up on me right this second. Her name is Joy and she is perfect.

I love the way your poems master the art of "telling it slant," as Emily Dickinson says. What do you think makes your poems slanted?

I think I came to poetry originally as a way of telling what I couldn’t quite tell, which I think is a common experience. I have tried to become more clear and blunt recently, but I think part of the beauty of poetry in general is how it lets you come to its ideas mostly on your own, how it gives you breathing room. Sometimes that can be frustrating, as distress and fear can cause me to want simple answers and clear cut solutions, but it’s ultimately more rewarding, I think, to learn to live in some of the grey, and poetry certainly provides ample grey. So my poems might be slanted because of the difficulty in telling specific events in a straightforward manner, or to demonstrate how subjective experience is, or to demonstrate the murkiness of feeling and how there’s usually more than one feeling present at a time (thus more than one experience to an experience), or maybe just because I’m a weirdo. Did I tell this answer slant?

What is your favorite food?

Cheese. Forever cheese.
These poems are dedicated to Otto.
Small Biography

I grew up with my head out of sand. We had no sand. Just booze,
just well water, just this ability to run dry but never stop drinking.
Men, I’ve prayed. Men, I’ve said here is my form, as if shape
could fill missing shape, as if shape had a taste, a substance,
a home address. Love in some circles being a combative
& hungry word. Love in some circles being a word, thin,
an elastic snap. At some point though, lord, at some point
it gets tiring, serenading all these tone-deaf ghosts & you,
lord. It’s said you don’t have to stay where you fall.
These words I take to my bones, I ground to their powder, I let
them color the deliberate motions they let me make.

No Eulogy

This is what we ask of a fallen tree:
not its sound, but its surroundings.
Was it uprooted? Was it isolated?
This weekend the hurricane didn’t
even show. The bed I laid in
never moved. So what if he & he
& he don’t love me. So what
if the world is on fire, its own
store-bought, cherished fire. So what
if it’s like my father said,
you’ll regret this one day, listening
to me talk a lot of smack like
I liked to when I liked to live
just on the edge of dying.
Everything in the wild
should have a chance not to cry,
but to change its mind. In this
debris I pray. In this debris
I pray.

New Night, Same Ask

Somewhere in the middle of my wanting, I walked.
I walked out. I walked in. I walked until my thoughts said this,
none of this matters but that was the opposite of the heart
I sought large, not flexing not stewing but just like a flag
waving inside my house, never for show. I have treated prayers
like raindrops, thought an accumulation would flood
& push away the city that slept stretched in loneliness,
thought they’d deliver a whole new town, new walls
& checks & unbalanced beginnings. But that’s not it,
& it never was. Tonight I pray show me how to give care
& god said, how many times should I do this.