Talking with Jessica Lynn Suchon

Jessica Lynn Suchon is the author of Scavenger, winner of the 2018 Vinyl 45 Chapbook Contest and forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2019. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Willow Springs, and Ninth Letter, among others.

Jessica’s poem “Aubade in Which the River is Full of Glass" will appear in the Summer 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe at a discount by June 30.

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Tell me about the names that inhabit this poem: Jack, Tristan, and Nathan.

Originally, when I first drafted it, the poem was written with the boys’ real names. I wish there were a less embarrassing answer to this question. To be entirely truthful, I just sat with the poem for a long time and tried to see what names came to mind.

I only realized, upon being asked this question, that they are all names derived from teen dramas I watched growing up. Jack is a character on Dawson’s Creek. Tristan is a character in Gilmore Girls. Nathan is a character on One Tree Hill. The names must have come from whatever strange recesses of my brain contain years and years of worthless WB and CW trivia. Similarly (and also embarrassing), I originally called my MFA thesis An Unkindness of Ravens, and then realized that, too, came from One Tree Hill. It’s the name of the main character’s novel.

None of the boys in the poem are anything like their namesakes, but I suppose my brain probably thought “high school” and made this odd connection—creating my own little poetic teen drama.

This poem is full of negatives, or negations: “I can’t stop staring,” “[can’t stop] listening,” “can’t get enough,” “I don’t even notice.” You write, “Suddenly, so full / of lack, I walk into the river.” What is the female body’s relationship to this lack, particularly because the poet-speaker is the only (presumably) female-bodied person in the poem? How might you connect these ideas to nature?

Most of what I remember about being a teenager and in my early twenties is the insatiable hunger I felt for absolutely everything. I felt so incredibly empty and I tried to fill that emptiness with whatever I could get my hands on—literally and figuratively—new experiences, music, drugs, alcohol, other people. I wanted the rush of anything that could distract me from myself.

So, here, when the speaker is hurt and bleeding, she can’t even feel it because she is so distracted by everything she feels is missing. Her only focus is to try and fix something that she feels responsible for breaking. She assigns so much meaning to every aspect of the boys in the poem, their intelligence, their physicality, and yet she simply disappears into them, into their actions.

I’ve been told by a friend, the Jack in the poem, that one night when I was about seventeen, I got very drunk and confessed that the reason I loved being outside was because the sensation of being surrounded by so much everything was so overwhelming that I felt I was being swallowed up by it. I could make myself cease to exist. He remembers this as being very profound, and I suppose at the time, I also thought I was pretty profound, but when I hear that I said that, all I hear as an adult woman who ended up very happy, is that I was a very sad girl who struggled to cope with existing, who prioritized everyone and everything above herself, not because she was selfless, but because thought she was the least deserving person in every room she entered.

With your poem’s title, you’ve proclaimed this poem an aubade. Tell me how you see its content (and its physical, meandering form, perhaps) aligning with what you know to be an aubade.

The first poem I ever really fell in love with was an aubade and I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. Formally, an aubade is a morning song for lovers parting ways, and to me that just seems so transitional and romantic. For me, an aubade, as a form, gives permission to write tenderly and romantically about people and places that were not always perfect, but sometimes felt as though they were—things we have moved on from, but remember with love. When I write this poem as an aubade, I feel like I am saying a proper goodbye to everything in it that I cared for. It gives me closure. I loved those boys so much, each in a very different way, but we are no longer in each other’s lives—some for reasons more dramatic, some for a natural drifting apart, but I never said goodbye.

In that same affectionate way, so much of what I write ends up sounding like a love poem to Michigan. I was visiting my hometown recently, and as I walked around I was struck by all of the places I came across that felt very tender and softly scarred by memories I had there. I did all my growing up in the summertime in Michigan. I can use the poem to say goodbye to that, too. I can say goodbye to this very sad girl I was who was never satisfied by anything.

For the most part, this poem reads as narrative, but there is a moment when the poem is interrupted by something of an abstraction: “I am always floating so far from my life.” What role does this line play in the poem?

I’ve always struggled with dissociation, ever since I was a little girl. In this new collection I’m working on, I’ve been reading my high school diaries and notebooks, and I’m struck by how often I seemed to be so far outside of my life and just how much it took to get me to feel present. I lived, largely, in extremes. I felt very happy or very sad. I felt entirely loved or I felt abandoned. I got blackout drunk or I was completely sober. I was seducing someone or I was indifferent to them.

In this poem, I wanted to make the narrative as visceral and sensory as possible. I wanted to convey the sensory overwhelm of everything surrounding the speaker, how everything is heightened and she wants more of it, and even then, she can’t feel anything. She’s cut and bleeding, and all she feels is lack. Nothing is satisfying or stimulating enough to pull her into her body or make her aware of it. It takes another body being aware of her body to pull her back into herself.

Your website doubles as a wellness blog. How does your poetry contribute to your personal wellness practice(s)?

In terms of my own wellness practices, poetry has always served as a great substitute for meditation. I am not someone who can sit and meditate for ten minutes, but there are other ways that I can hone in on a single thought and clear the rest of the world from my brain. It may not benefit me, personally, to sit still and whisper-breathe a word over and over again; but I do benefit from trying to find a synonym for a word in a poem, one that will sound better and benefit the poem rhythmically. I benefit from counting syllables or playing with linebreaks. This, too, feels like a way to practice mindfulness and focus my attention.

I also use writing poetry as a way of checking in with myself—my priorities, my sense of direction. I use it to reflect on younger versions of myself, their wants and needs, and I ask myself if those younger selves would be happy with the life I ended up living. It’s a good way for me to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the ways I have lived and am currently living my life.

Your chapbook, Scavenger, is forthcoming from YesYes Books. How does your aubade overlap the content of your chapbook (themes, forms, etc.)?

This poem is actually fairly different from the poems in Scavenger. Scavenger is largely lyrical and explores an overarching narrative of abuse. The poems in the new collection I’m working on, including this aubade, are much more narrative and don’t necessarily fit an overarching plot. Scavenger is full of poems I worked on for almost ten years. I’ve really been to the bottom and back with it. I set it aside for years at a time because it hurt me too much to write it, but these new poems, I feel, aren’t as painful for me to write. There’s a certain care and tenderness taken with the male characters in this aubade that I don’t necessarily pay to the male character in Scavenger. Overall, it’s more enjoyable to write poems based on a time I remember with imperfect, and perhaps sometimes undeserved fondness, than a time I remember with complete terror and would often rather not remember at all.