Well, it depends. Though I admire the way Sharon Olds, for example, doesn’t explain anything—the audience by now knows what to expect and so nothing extraneous needs to be said—I still spell it out at times. The main reason is to combat shame. The other reason I do it is more public. It isn’t that the poems can’t speak for themselves. It’s because I’m thinking of victims or survivors who are silent. But when I introduce a poem in this way, with words that appear in newspapers or courtrooms, there’s another danger: official terminology could establish a mask that’s hard to see past. That’s another reason why I sometimes prefer to let a poem speak for itself. I do this because one of my goals in my poems is to go beyond the official language to the experience itself.
And, that returns us to ‘Disassociation,’ which begins with a trigger. (See how official words get in the way, and don’t really convey anything real?):
During sex, the mind-spirit drifts freeIn “Dream Song 67,” John Berryman describes poetry as surgery on the self (“I am obliged to perform in complete darkness / operations of great delicacy / on my self.”). What I do in poems like “Disassociation” is to go back into the memory core to deal with volatile and toxic materials. The poem is both the hazmat suit and the ceramic form that contains and makes sense of fragmented, overwhelming experiences. If some radioactivity still seeps out, it could be due to flaws in the poem (I’m also thinking of those steaming ghost traps in Ghostbusters). Though, I like to think that if I’ve done my job right, the seepage will be because of the fact that if you were to make the poem completely safe, then it would not convey the original experience at all (ergo, the trace of radioactivity, and of danger).
so slightly, a gull
—a gulf—off the body’s edge
back to the realm
I think, too, that a certain strangeness will also be present. This happens because I’m writing about memories that were drowned, and found a way to breathe underwater. So when they surface, it’s inevitable for them to be strange and slightly misshapen in the light of day. What’s crucial is the use of imagery and metaphor. One stream of imagery that has been important is from fairytales (Sleeping Beauty, specifically): the sleep that takes over the castle and everyone in the land (mirroring the hypnosis a clever perpetrator sows around him); the hedge of thorns, the forest; and the guides and helpers that, in this poem, take the form of
an intense buzzing of bees,The key in any poem is to find the image register: the world from which the poem wants to speak. For me, fairy tales are a rich territory: probably because they’ve been carrying metaphors for trauma for centuries, as well as ways of healing, and ways of overcoming the enemy. And that is what this strand in my poetry aims to do.
insects, little pins and needles:
helpers—or maybe mice
to wake the young hero
from the sleep he was in
and has been in all these years
David McLoghlin is from Dublin, Ireland, and has lived in Brooklyn since 2010. A graduate of University College, Dublin and NYU’s MFA Program, his first collection, Waiting for Saint Brendan and Other Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2012), was awarded 2nd prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Awards, Ireland’s most established awards for a first unpublished manuscript. He received an Irish Arts Council Bursary (grant) in 2006, and was the Howard Nemerov Scholar at the 2011 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His work has appeared in Irish journals of note, and is published or forthcoming in the United States in Spoon River Poetry Review, Natural Bridge, The Hopkins Review, Black Lawrence Press, Psychology Tomorrow and Éire-Ireland. In December 2013, a poem was selected by Alice Quinn to appear on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish. He is currently Resident Writer at Hunts Point Alliance for Children in the Bronx, and works in Citymeals-on-wheels as a Database Assistant. His poem “Disassociation” appears in HFR 54.