DEFINING (chapbook) by Tasslyn MagnussonI told my therapist last week, as we admired the pretty picture of Defining on my phone, writing it was a little bit like vomiting up word nails. Now, as I read it, I understand those words spell out some bad shit. Sad shit. Some trauma. But do you know what I see? Glowing words spelling out my story. For the first time. In my voice.

But I didn’t start with that.

As I prepared to graduate from my MFA program, words pounded me. Cut. Rip. Bleed. Destroy. Eat. And then, coral. Coral that sits on a shelf, looking pretty. Coral that splinters into shards if you smash it. Coral that bites you. Slices you. I didn’t know what to do with all those words.

I started with definition poems because I really wanted to freak somebody out. I wanted to talk about some of my own trauma but do it in a way that totally creeped you out. Or maybe I wanted to creep me out. I thought if I hid my story in something as common as a dictionary definition, you’d be sucked in and couldn’t escape. Kind of an apt metaphor for childhood sexual abuse, perhaps?

When I had a few definition poems ready, I sent them out to a journal – Room – because I liked the name. They won their top poetry prize and I was astonished. I made a poetry mentor friend by winning a silent auction review of my work. I didn’t send her the definition poems. But after I got back the critique, I said, “I’ve got a few new things.” She said keep going. I offered them to a poetry teacher for review. She said – “I want to make sure you are taking care of yourself as you write this.” I cried when I got back into the car. Nobody listened to my story quite like that before.

When they had been rejected, as a collection, from their fifth or sixth chapbook contest, I asked my first poetry mentor what to do. She said they needed a special home. One that would embrace their creativity and understand and celebrate their subject matter. I picked dancing girl because the name made me happy.

Now when I read the poems I see the glow. I see the trauma. But I also see art. And I am proud. Proud to have taken trauma and hammered into something more, something that celebrates me and my voice. Something that deliberately uses words to engage you in a story of how I found light. I made art.

Want to experience my art? Go to “My Chapbook” and click the buy button. I’ll even send it to you signed!

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