Tasslyn Magnussen blog

Some of my poems deal with my own traumatic experiences. I get the question often – how do I write about my trauma? Before I answer that question, let’s talk about what it’s like BEFORE a traumatic memory becomes a poem.

Phase One: I start to feel anxious. Like my fingers can’t stop moving. I want to walk around my house. Mess bothers me. I feel a pull to binge watch TV. I feel a little queasy and a little bit like I’ve got to eat everything I can get my hands on (we’ll talk binge eating disorder at a later time).

Phase Two: I sit down at the computer or at my writing notebook. The blank page makes me mad. And the fingers keep jumping. Sometimes I start to get a headache, probably from clenching my jaw.

Phase Three: Pick a form. For my Defining poems I made up my own form – a dictionary definition. But I’ve used list poems, sestinas, villanelles, you name it, I’ve tried it. If I really am struggling, I chose haiku. A structured poem, I’ve found, allows my mind to focus on something other than that bad memory that wants out.

Phase Four: Write. Sometimes I close my eyes and just type or write. Sometimes I just write haiku after haiku. It’s like I’m vomiting up the trauma.

Does it always go like this? No. And not all my poems are like this.

I’ve learned the signs – the symptoms – of a hard poem. The fact is, my brain or memories, they don’t care what else is happening in my life. They just decide – now is the time to write the hard shit. I’ve learned that clearing the decks for it is the best possible way to cope with the poem and my soul. Trauma hurts you the first time. Writing about trauma fucking hurts a second time. For me, I’ve got to write about those memories. I’ve got to get the words on paper. Because once the words are out and on paper, I’m in control. I’m the writer. I’ll write the trauma – and maybe, just maybe, some of the trauma will stop writing me.