New on The Dock: Andrew Eaton's "Inventory of Diseases"
Read Andrew's poem over on The Dock and check out an interview between poetry editor, Jackie Balderrama, and Andrew below.
JB: I am very attracted to the parallels this poem draws between physical and mental disease. It calls to mind an awareness that suggests pain can be both visible and hidden to the observer. I think the piece especially resonates with the events of this past year's Ebola outbreaks. How did you decide to describe these diseases with the address of "you"?
AE: Beyond being a type of list, this is also a persona poem, so the second person is reflexive, conversational. I imagine this poem in the voice of someone in captivity.
JB: Is it attached to the empathy of the observers?
AE: Yes, in a way. This poem is spoken by someone who is narrating, reflecting, being interviewed about their captivity. So I think there’s an intrinsic awareness of empathy both on the speaker’s and the listener’s part, and empathy toward the suffering of others, though I find myself avoiding the word empathy lately. I find it too narrow a substitute for words like “compassion” or “justice”, which I think are more demanding and more challenging. In terms of its origin, this poem was written in the voice of my grandfather who died before I was born and who was captive in a prison camp in Makassar, Indonesia during the Second World War. I inherited a set of audio recordings of his voice narrating his experiences. This is one of many poems written out of my listening, though I don’t think understanding that is central to reading the poem. As far as empathy and observers, I hope a poem like this offers readers a chance to increase their empathy, though I might say compassion.
JB: It oddly becomes more personal with the third person narrative in the final section.
AE: It does. I think of this as as a lyric poem, with a voice inside it telling a story, or rather stories. Each of the sections corresponds to an individual experience. But the suffering of the individual is in a group. So everyone is effected. Everyone is changed. The final image of course echoes the idea of home, but it stays an illusion, since they were still captive at that moment. Again, that’s background, and not essential to the poem. But there is a narrative, a story, which is always personal.
JB: And lastly, I'm interested in the focus on the body as a space or temple for this inventory. How did you come to decide on the title?
AE: The poem came as a response to a list of diseases due to malnutrition and humidity among other issues. It was difficult to face the problem of aestheticising suffering at all, and since it wasn’t my own suffering that problem seemed even more daunting. Likewise, there is the temptation to over-intellectualise the suffering in history, to distance ourselves from it. Poetry for me often becomes a route toward things as they are, the res, rather than abstracting them. I like thinking of the body as a space, as a temple, and this goes along with on my my preoccupations with voice (another troubled word), the vox humana. A voice is in a body. A narrative is in a voice. And when we hear it, we are made complicit, capable of compassion. personal. Less objective correlative, I suppose, than auditory correlative. But the image is inside the voice, so what I like is how all of this complication, the image and the auditory referring back to each other, expresses the chaos of suffering and captivity.