An Interview with Alessandra Lynch
Alessandra Lynch is the author of three previous collections of poems, Sails the Wind Left Behind, It was a terrible cloud at twilight (winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Award), and Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment (finalist for the LA Times Poetry Book Prize and winner of the 2017 Balcones Prize in Poetry). She is Poet-in-Residence at Butler University and lives in Indianapolis with her family, four cats, and a burgeoning backyard forest.
“I have become a yard of cruel secrets,” Alessandra Lynch discloses in her latest collection, Pretty Tripwire, newly released with Alice James Books in 2021. Fragmentary, lyric poems serve as tunnels that lead toward cascading, long sequences which tell a narrative of the female body, sexual violence, and paralysis. In the interview that follows, we discuss her journey along “the threshold[s] between longing and need / appetite and hunger” to unearth the “[s]piky venomous split-haired root” of a voice that has been buried deep in the earth’s soft moss.
Natalie Tombasco: Pretty Tripwire initiates with “Supplication—,” a form of prayer, a humble plea for one party to provide something on behalf of another—perhaps, a transaction or gesture of reciprocity between the poet and dear reader. Spoken as an incantation, this opening requests a reentering into a wound, a memory, an event that lingers in “the arctic / room of the skull...its sea / of icy shards.” By returning to the “familiar edges” of experience, how did you find yourself expanding into new terrain from previous collections? As your refrain chants, what were you hoping to be provided “this time”?
Alessandra Lynch: Thank you for this lovely understanding of the first poem in Pretty Tripwire, which, once upon a time, was positioned last in the manuscript till I realized not only did the poet-speaker of the book need to drum up the courage to enter the new terrain of the old wound, but the reader needed an escort into that oft-harsh place.
“Expanding” is a choice word for this collection, as the lines—especially in the long poems—lengthened, abruptly broke, curved, fell short. My son describes them as “shaky.” Some lines leap outward, others huddle together. I also feel more space here, as though they’re cleaved open. I have never before broken lines quite this way and the impulse to do so helped me light out into new strata in the psyche.
I was and am hoping to be provided expansiveness and depth, perspective and steadiness, deeper inhabitation of mystery and imagination, and self-compassion. I am hoping to be heard. Instead of floating above the “familiar edges” or skirting them, I turned to them—as directly and as tenderly as I could—to allow myself to grieve what I hadn’t known before there was to grieve about.
This time, I entered that cold place, that arctic room of the skull to, however unwittingly at first, authenticate my own experience—to break through a disassociated state of being (disassociated even in previous collections of poetry) and to transform a narrative of paralysis.
NT: Your third collection, Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment, explores the brutal reality and aftermath of sexual violence. It denies the word “rape” because “assault was prettier. Assault was less invasive.” In Pretty Tripwire, there is a comparable yearning to beautify the harm or make it more aesthetically palatable. Can you discuss the presence of the tripwire in the book?
AL: Since I could walk, I would walk into the woods, through the swamp cabbage and wild geranium, and ferns, a safe realm for the heart, for me to feel anything, for me to grieve. It can be a little sad, almost a little strange to consider how many of us don’t feel safe feeling our feelings in certain places, certain contexts—that it can actually be dangerous to feel, to be emotional, even when no one else is around. As a child, where did I cry? Rarely in the house, mostly in the woods.
“Beautifying the harm” always has allowed me to enter the space of the harm in order to be essentially emotionally connected to it. Beauty has always lived with, within, and outside of ugliness. There is always a yellow flower growing in a war zone, a worm beneath the ground making more earth where someone’s been shot.
I also think of Tomaž Šalamun’s short poem “Rain,” where he juxtaposes the wonderment of simple observations of nature with human horror:
It rained during the night. Did the snails sleep or paddle? The pine tree strained itself and grew for a millimeter and there, far away, Lebanon was bombed.
Tripwires live underground and, in being alive, are deadly. At times, especially as a young child, I have believed my own life could be deadly to others. I believed in my psyche, that if I asked or needed too much, my support system would vanish. I had to move gingerly through the world as one might move over a minefield. In this case, I was moving gingerly over my buried, deadly seeming self. I felt more dread about being a tripwire than a sense of power. <