Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
 print preview

Traveling Light: From Photography to Poetry

The first art form I really threw myself into was darkroom photography. I was in high school and my sister was my reluctant model, and I would shoot her in these little surrealist narratives—a double exposure in which she transformed into a rosebush, a shot in which she stood in a field and I burned out the tree line so she looked like the little prince standing on the edge of his planet. What I liked about it was the potential for a simple adjustment of light to make the ordinary bizarre. I try to bring that photographic sensibility into writing. As with photography, some parts of the poetry writing process are arduous and mechanical, and some are like a flash of light: you look over and see something amazing and take the shot. But even the most serendipitous flashes of inspiration may take hours in the darkroom, fiddling with exposure times and contrast filters. The great thing about writing is that it doesn’t take any additional equipment—just time.

I didn’t begin to think of myself as a writer until I began writing poetry. I’ve always kept journals that were part therapeutic, and part archive of stories, scenes, and dialogues I observed. I didn’t know what to do with any of it until I found poetry. I can arrange whole scenes or collage them or make them into little surrealist compositions. There’s so much freedom that it can be intimidating. That’s when constraints can be helpful—sometimes if I am stuck, I might try a traditional form or a nonce form. I’m always down to try a prompt. One of the poems published here, “Fairy Tale,” is the product of a prompt. You never know what will emerge when a poem is put under that kind of pressure.

I think that, at the core, my writing process relies most on collective storytelling and collaboration. Both of the poems published here in Blackbird are examples of stories that I have observed being told. I love the depth that many voices can give to a story, and how a story can take a life of its own over time. As a recorder of collective stories and scenes and images, I think about my accountability to the people whose stories I tell, and those whose stories are tangled up with my own.  

return to top