Guest Post, Chelsea Dingman: On Writing During Ongoing Crisis

I’ve been thinking about the world we will leave our children. In the wake of what is happening with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many people mourning the inability to return to a world as we knew it, yet this may be the only world that today’s youth will have any memory of.

Memory: fault line; fissure; an inability to reason with the past.

The instinct of a new writer might be to create drama in a piece—at least that was what I found when teaching. Some teachers I had forbid us to kill anyone in a poem or story because we felt the need to create stakes by doing so. To make people care. A professor of mine once said that all poems must have conflict, but that conflict might be as subtle as the way the light falls across the road. I want to believe him, to value that, to be able to sit still, but, when I am called to write, the ghosts ascend, the sky falls, and I can only see what is down the dark tunnel in my mind.

I’ve always written from a place of risk: what do I need to say? Why is that? Is the dramatic situation complicated in an interesting way? Do I recognize the difference between melodrama and drama? Why am I attracted to poems where the stakes are high? Must every poem be about death, somehow, some way?

What I learned through this crisis is that I have trouble writing a quietly complicated moment because I have not had time to appreciate those moments in my life in a great while. Right now, I swing between the inability to get out of bed (inertia) and being overly productive as my two coping mechanisms. I’m not sure which is less effective. Yet, crises have come in waves over the last few years, whether in the form of catastrophic weather (hurricanes on the Gulf coast where I was living), or gun control, or money problems, or health issues, or the deaths of loved ones. How can anyone be expected to write about the light falling across the road when all around us worlds are falling? On the other hand, I read Tranströmer, for example, and understand that both are possible at once.

[The site of resistance as the body]—

My father died when I was nine. I’ve written about that incident a lot. I’ve resisted calling it trauma. Yet, right now, children are experiencing trauma in a new way that feels much like that event: something that they won’t realize is traumatic until years from now. I’m trying to stay hopeful that the lives children dream of will one day be possible. I worry that, much like many of our ancestors, there will not be a place beyond struggle to reach for—which brings me back to my question: what world will we leave our children?

Chelsea Dingman
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Chelsea Dingman

Visit my webpage at chelseadingman.com
Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw , was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Her second poetry collection, Through a Small Ghost, won The Georgia Poetry Prize (University of Georgia Press, February 2020). She is also the author of the chapbook, What Bodies Have I Moved (Madhouse Press, 2018). Her new work can be found in The Kenyon Review and The Colorado Review , among others.
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