Lauren Myers-Hinkle is an emerging poet with a background in Cinema and Media Studies from The University of Chicago. Her work is forthcoming in RHINO. She received an honorable mention in Carve’s 2019 Prose & Poetry Contest.
Lauren’s poem “How to Build a Nervous System” will appear in the Spring 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe with a discount by March 31.
I want to begin by talking about your poem’s use of pronouns. You begin the poem with instructions, dictated by its title, “How to Build a Nervous System,” addressed to a (presumed) second person “you,” but by the poem’s prose-like last stanza, the reader has read “you,” “I,” “me,” “our,” and “they” in equal measure. I see in these words bodily proximity and I’m wondering whether these ideas, these bodies, exist in other poems you’ve written (or in other art you’ve created; see next question)?
The “you,” as I originally intended it, is the female audience being targeted by pharmaceutical commercials. However, this poem evolved toward an intentional slippage between the voice/perspective of these commercials, the “you” of the actors in the commercials, and the viewer filtering the commercials through her own perspective. The “they,” “me,” “our,” and “I” in the final section thus become ambiguous: Are we reading the mind of one woman or are we immersed in a composite female experience? Alternatively, are the commercials themselves co-opting female consciousness for their own ends?
My reason for creating this fluidity and ambiguity of perspective is a grounding in phenomenology—the idea that we are porous, constantly shaped and reshaped by our interactions with other selves and the material world. I am also influenced by the idea that worlds on screen, and in commercials in particular, seep into our consciousness and the very fabric of our thought processes.
Yes, these bodies exist in other poems. I’m interested in looking at the mixed messaging, pressures, and repressive institutions that women face and the way that they infiltrate and shape female individual and collective experience.
Regarding the poem’s reference to “the camera” and to a “Technicolor Oz,” what is your relationship to visual art or media?
I went to graduate school at The University of Chicago, where I studied film and visual media. One of my projects is to think about the impact of visual media on our bodies and psyches and the way in which poetry can engage that experience.
I think, broadly, your poem speaks to the many ways anxiety manifests itself—in the mind, in the body, in a culture’s zeitgeist. In its third stanza, you write, “because / there's no place like home / before me too mindfulness self care.” How do you practice mindfulness and self-care? Is “a garden / an emerald eternity of poppies to tend” any part of it?
For me mindfulness and self-care are about carving out a time each day that is just about me and my work. They are about resisting being lulled by societal messaging geared toward getting me to swallow my pain. Instead, they become a means of traveling into the heart of that pain—asking uncomfortable questions about the roots of female suffering and confronting the paternalism that is still pervasive in our culture. I try to spend at least ten minutes a day in quiet reflection, listening to solfeggio frequencies.
As for the line about the garden that you referenced, that is my personal nightmare and my fear for other women: being stuck in a seemingly idyllic but in actuality suffocating domestic space, tending constantly to others’ needs. There’s such a weird tension between the cultural idea that we’re free to do anything and the push to keep us in a maintenance role. Advertising is an interesting window into this tension.
When you write, do you imagine an audience, a readership? If so, to whom are you writing?
I am writing for a readership that appreciates poems with a centrifugal element. In other words, I am writing for people who enjoy poems that spiral out from themselves—are suggestive but leave meaning in flux and retain a quality of mystery. I love poems that resist easy digestion and invite the reader to enter into dialogue with the text and participate in meaning production.
What or who do you read while you’re writing? Do you read authors making similar moves to yours, or do you keep your writing and reading wholly separate? What or who are you are reading right now?
I read a huge range of poetry while writing. I definitely read poets making similar moves, but I restlessly seek out new and alternative perspectives, as I want to avoid the pitfall of getting too entrenched in a particular kind of poetry. I also love poets who experiment and cross styles and genres. Right now, I am reading through all of the writings of Paisley Rekdal.
And finally, what were you doing before you opened my e-mail with these questions inside?
I was about to head out to the gym and read poetry on the elliptical. Admittedly, it’s a weird way to read poetry, but it’s such a nice respite from the ever dismal news!