Conversations in the Author's Corner: Lora Robinson
About the Author: Lora Robinson is a poet, photographer and public health nursing student from Salisbury, Maryland. She is a poetry reader for Cobra Milk and an alumni of Art Farm Nebraska. Her work has appeared in The Meadow, The Shore, The West Review, Superfroot, Hooligan, and San Pedro River Review, among others. In her spare time, you can find her hiking, fly-fishing, plant shopping, singing to her two cats, and reading. Her first book, An Essential Melancholy, is available now through akinoga press.
Lena Crown: What does your writing practice look like these days?
Lora Robinson: I participate in a weekly poetry group with two of my friends, which helps me keep a structure since I always have new pieces to write and revise. Other than that, I don't keep a regular practice. I always walk around with a little notebook, and I take notes on words or phrases I encounter out in the world. So my practice is really fluid. And for me, that's the easiest way to keep it.
LC: The first poem in An Essential Melancholy, “Forgiveness, or something like it,” sets out an intention, or a look behind the curtain at what the speaker is “trying” to do throughout the book: forgive, but also leave, and erase the horror, and heal. Was this poem always the first in the collection?
LR: As soon as I wrote it, I knew that it had to be the first poem. And as far as what the intention really is: healing is not linear. I liked the duality of calling it forgiveness, but also saying, ‘Hey, there's a lot of anger here,” and there is this deep longing to undo the damage. But erasing something doesn't make it go away. It just makes you forget it and maybe repeat mistakes. Healing was definitely the most important aspect of it for me, which is messy and complicated: the goal was to not just physically leave the relationship, but to leave it behind me so it’s no longer affecting myself in my life.
LC: What is the role of anger in your poetics?
LR: I believe anger can be a really useful tool for social justice. But especially as a woman, I've always had a very complex relationship with anger. In a grieving process, which a lot of this book is grieving, anger is an important emotion, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me or my readers. I made the agreement with myself that when I wrote this book, I wouldn't spare anything, I wouldn't shy away.
LC: Several of these poems engage with mythology; what does that help you access or understand?
LR: I've been a lifelong atheist. So I grew up reading a lot of mythology, and I always felt fascinated with how we try to make sense of the world around us. As a woman writer, it offers an opportunity to reclaim narratives where women are tools for men's desires or anger. They're the handmaiden stereotype or the sacrificial lamb. Or you have badass women like Athena, who are subjects of internalized misogyny. And I felt those could be such interesting characters to reclaim.
LC: In the poems “Barrier zones” and “Ruby-throat,” the ‘you’ seems to be addressing different audiences or subjects; the first may be directed to the reader or a more general ‘you’, and the latter seems to be speaking directly to a person, perhaps the speaker’s abuser. Who did you find yourself writing towards when writing these poems?
LR: “Ruby-throat” is certainly addressing the abuser. But empathy plays an important role in this project for me, and empathy is a second hand emotion. Not to say it's not important, of course it is. But we can never truly understand somebody else's experiences because we did not experience them ourselves. And so I think empathy is that second person voice, saying, What if this was you? This could be your life. What do you think about that? It doesn’t feel like a way of distancing; for me, it feels like closing the distance.
LC: “Probability distribution” is the only poem with multiple sections, the openings of which engage with research and statistics about intimate partner violence and gender-based violence. How did the structure of this poem come to be?
LR: It felt like the most intimate poem for me. Putting it in the middle of the book was like a protective move, almost as though I were surrounded. But the structure of the poem itself actually came from my weekly poetry group. I originally had it all together as just one long poem, and the sections were broken up into stanzas. And my readers suggested breaking them up on each page, so the reader has time to sit with each statistic and really process it. And the moment they said that, I knew the poem could not be in any other form. And I also think that this rupture—this distinct form from the rest of the book—helps the reader sit back and go, Okay, one in three people; I can name off three women right now. Statistically, one of them has experienced this.
I am also a research-based writer, I love doing research. And I kept finding all these alarming statistics, many of which I had never read before. And from this process, I got the overwhelming feeling that I shouldn't even be alive after everything that happened. I don't know how I made it out. And I did. And that's really what I wanted to leave the reader with for the rest of the collection, especially as we end on a more hopeful note.
Watch the entire interview on YouTube here:
About The Inner Loop: The Inner Loop is a literary reading series and network for creative writers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. We aim to create a space for both emerging and established writers to connect with their community, and to transform the written word into a shared experience through the act of reading aloud. This interview is part of our Author’s Corner campaign, promoting local authors publishing with indie presses.