Poetry News

Diana Arterian and Natalie Eilbert in Conversation

By Harriet Staff

At Lit Hub, poets Diana Arterian and Natalie Eilbert, authors of Playing Monster :: Seiche (1913 Press) and Indictus (Noemi Press), respectively, are in conversation about trauma and "radical exposure," the latter a result of book publication: "I suppose there is this moment in the promotion where one must insist upon that wider audience," says Eilbert, "because sales, because marketing, because surviving the labor of your own hands. So, we interview and tell our stories in the most un-Dickinson way ('tell the truth but tell it slant!')." More:

[NE:] ...I’m curious about how you talk about your book now, as opposed to how you spoke about it when you first entered the editing process. I imagine this could change dramatically as you internalize this idea of writing the very painful and reconsider who is in pain on the other side of your own writing.

DA: I suppose it shifted from Playing Monster as “a story about abuse, extraction from that situation,” and Seiche as “an ecopoetic collection about my mother’s having a stalker” to something that, when combined, became a larger project regarding aggression and its many gradations—be it out-and-out beating to a quiet, menacing word from a stranger while walking your dog in the dark. When they were separate manuscripts they weren’t doing anything instructive, I don’t think. I mean they didn’t shed light on a narrative that is perhaps more obscure, holds a more difficult reality than that to which we often gravitate (i.e. I was an addict, it was bad, now I’m all better!).

As time went on and I wove the two books together, I realized how they collapse what I think to be the farcical notion that you can survive and escape trauma and abuse—fin. Those who have endured such realities often find themselves in similar situations again and again, no matter how hard they try. It’s a project that continues throughout one’s life, to learn to protect oneself from these encounters. This is all to say, I hope my collection does some of that work for people. Closes off the easy ending—just as yours does. This includes giving my father the dimension I had denied for decades—acknowledging the likelihood of his also being someone who endured sexual abuse as a child and the profound impact that had. That was a very late addition to the collection, and I’m so glad I included it. Trying to humanize my abuser, while certainly not the path everyone needs to take, is something I have been cultivating in earnest. This does not imply a desire to reconnect with him, but ultimately aims toward internal healing (I hope).

I recently came across a quotation from Alice Notley when she was writing The Descent of Alette. She writes, “I wanted to make an epic / I want to find the Paradise of this minute, in this city, country, while I am suffering. That would be my greatest gift to people. But I’m not sure I want to keep on suffering so much in order to find it.” I also think of Toi Derricotte, who wrote in The Black Notebooks, “How can I publish these words when they come so much out of my own sickness? Without answers, do I cause more harm?…I want to burn the book until the sickness dies in me.” Of course, this is something we all pray for when we’re in the throes of emotionally difficult production: meaning, catharsis. I deeply connect with the worry that it’s not just about the creator of the art (“Without answers, do I cause more harm?”). The fact that these thoughts were in Derricotte’s published work (versus a diary, for Notley) felt revolutionary to me. It so baldly states the stakes that artists rarely discuss...

Please read the full interview at Lit Hub.


Originally Published: September 14th, 2018