INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA WHITE
What is the name of the piece that you have in Grabbed?
What was the inspiration for your piece? What compelled you to write it?
It’s odd to think of trauma as inspiration, but humans have been using art, whether it’s music or painting or the written word, since the beginning to tell stories about their lives. I survived what could have been a fatal attack. I buried the incident for decades. Poetry offered me a way to control the narrative, to transform the trauma into something new, outside of myself.
What compelled you to submit your work for this anthology? Was it a difficult decision?
I had already submitted this poem a few places and had it rejected. I was happy when it found a home in Grabbed. To be part of a community, to reach readers in a meaningful way is important. For other survivors of sexual assault, and for a larger audience. Sexual violence is all about power and silencing. The more we speak out, the more we reclaim our power.
Why did you choose this particular form or genre for this piece?
The main reason is that I’m a poet, not a writer of memoir or fiction. I like the freedom that poetry gives me. Compression, wielding of imagery and metaphor—these are tools for turning thought, feeling, and memory into the lyric.
Can you speak to the evolution of writing your piece? How long did it take you to write this piece, including revision?
It took me 30 years before I tried to write about what happened to me. And even then, it wasn’t until I read a poem by Charles Rafferty that I was able to find a way in. It’s often good practice to model a poem on someone else’s. In this case, it afforded me a certain distance from the material.
As a writer, do you feel obliged to share difficult experiences?
I’m not sure “share” is exactly the word. I think writing, poetry in particular, gives us the opportunity to transform our experiences, and ideally, ourselves. I agree with the poet Gregory Orr who says, “I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and traumatic events that come with being alive.”
What do you feel the impact of the #MeToo movement has been on your work, if any?
I think the outpouring of stories, of voices, has given me a feeling of validation, a recognition that my experience matters, that it’s a piece of a bigger story.
What would you say to another writer who has been uncomfortable or silent about their experience? How can they begin to share their experiences?
Again, maybe “share” isn’t exactly the word. What writing affords, particularly forms like poetry and fiction, is a way to take the raw material of one’s life and turn it into something powerful or beautiful or comical or satirical, even all of those things at once. And that is what is shared with the reader. It is still a vulnerable act. I think getting distance is helpful, whether it’s time or writing in the third person or in the voice of a fictional character. For me, the key is taking control of the narrative.
How can a publication such as Grabbed help to empower or heal readers?
Knowing one isn’t alone is very healing. Witnessing others speak out about their experiences, turn them into art, can be an inspiration. As I mentioned, sexual violence is a kind of silencing. Anthologies like Grabbed are the opposite of silence.
Cynthia White’s poems have appeared in Massachusetts Review, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, Grist, and Catamaran among others. She was a finalist for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize as well as New Letter’s Patricia Cleary Prize, and was the winner of the Julia Darling Memorial Prize from Kallisto Gaia Press. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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