Contributor Spotlight: Sandy Longhorn
Both “Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country” and “I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep” appear in my narrative sequence, Fevers of Unknown Origin, currently making the rounds with publishers. Before this project, I had never written a book-length manuscript featuring one speaker and a clear story; however, I had often looked on those poets capable of doing so with wonder and curiosity. In fact, I didn’t set out to write this type of “project” book. Instead, the first poems in the sequence took shape one after the other, until they built a certain momentum, and I had to keep writing them.
The woman at the heart of these poems became known to me as the sickly speaker, and as I blogged about the poems, I had to reassure many folks that I was not sick, that these were persona poems. I was fortunate to experience a speaker who took control of the poems and led me to what she wanted to say, another new experience for me. As I worked through the poem sequence, much of it written in chronological order, I didn’t know myself the fate of the sickly speaker until I wrote the final poems, but I came to know her world, that of “a woman [she] called mother by mistake” who brought her to this medical facility / institution, of the “whitecoats” or doctors, the nurses, the “mystics” or orderlies / non-medical characters, and of her mentor to whom she writes letters addressed “Dear Madame.”
In these poems, readers will find echoes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Emily Dickinson’s “Master Letters,” along with Lucie Brock-Broido’s book, The Master Letters. In writing, I often turned to Dickinson, Brock-Broido, and a few other poets for generating my titles in particular. Usually, after drafting a poem, although every once in a while before writing anything, I would re-read those inspiration texts until a phrase caught my eye / ear and could be reworked into a title.
Throughout the process, I posted draft notes on my blog. In these posts, I commented on the genesis for each new poem in the sequence, eventually discussing the compilation of the manuscript as a whole. (For those interested, process notes for “Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country” can be found here, and notes for “I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep” can be found here.) In the end, the sequence became a commentary on what I call “the medical-industrial-complex” and the way, in the worst cases, the medical industry sees a person as a body disconnected from the mind and the emotional core.
Sandy Longhorn is the author of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, winner of the 2013 Jacar Press Full Length Poetry Book Contest, and Blood Almanac, winner of the 2005 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. New poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Hotel Amerika, North American Review, The Southeast Review, and elsewhere. Longhorn teaches at Pulaski Technical College, where she directs the Big Rock Reading Series, and for the low-residency MFA Program at the University of Arkansas Monticello. In addition, she co-edits the online journal Heron Tree and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty. Her poems can be found in HFR53.