Fragmenting Language, An SRPR Found Poem

By Emily R. Johnston, SRPR Blog Contributor

Emily Johnston’s series “Traumatic Emplacement” explores poetics of emplacement, and the simultaneity of dislocation and enmeshment in traumatic poetry.

Comprised of lines from poems in the 39.1 Summer 2014 issue by Chloe Anne Campbell, Bill Edmondson, Clayton Eshleman, Shawn Fawson, John Goodhue, Emily Grelle, Emily Hockaday, Jennifer Schomburg Kanke, Katharyn Howd Machan, T.J. Sandella, and Rachel Jamison Webster (SRPR Illinois Poet).

Inspired by connections I discovered across poems in SRPR 39.1—particularly in terms of imagery, color and sound—I composed this found poem about the traumatic intensity of childbirth. Having never actually given birth myself, I do not know this intensity personally. However, themes of violence and childbirth co-emerged organically as I read the current issue. So I selected, arranged and adapted lines to reflect that co-emergence. As traumatic events (such as childbirth) can produce dissociation, fragmenting memory as well as the language needed for describing the trauma, I tried to capture that dissociative state by presenting partial images that then, quite literally, bleed into the other images around them. This strategy effectively obscures the details of the actual traumatic event (childbirth) and focuses attention instead on the emotional, physiological experience of the traumatic event.

Through the silent snarls of thick blood,
Fertile flesh pitted with bullets that bloom red,
She hears the soft earth harden, shrink, stifle all pulsing.
Fear widens the space around her.
Night folds back into its bruise—
Every color epileptic dark,
A box filled with thousands of years
That burn and burn until the world begins
To gain a hue again, like an old wound.
The corn rises up, the tomatoes redden.
Her birth hole, a tangle of dream thoughts,
Spends eight hours screaming you out of her body.
A circle of twelve dead birds,
Broken bodies, silhouettes,
Strips of light trying to get where they need to be.
Tell no one this is your life.

Emily R. Johnston

Emily is from Boston, San Francisco, Fairbanks, Alaska, and Central Illinois. Holding a Ph.D. in English Studies and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry, her work emerges at the intersections of writing studies, social justice pedagogy, trauma theory, film theory, and narrativity. In particular, she researches and publishes on students’ literacy learning in relation to issues of sexualized trauma. She has taught courses in academic writing, public writing, creative writing, gender studies, literature and film, and English as a Second Language. Emily is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Writing Pedagogy at The University of Delaware, and Managing Editor of Spoon River Poetry Review (SRPR).


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