L'Éphémère Review interviewer Olivia Hu speaks to Amy Lauren on her chapbook Prodigal, published with Bottlecap Press. A Mississippi poet and semi-finalist in the Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest, Amy Lauren is the author of Prodigal (Bottlecap Press, 2017) and God With Us (Headmistress Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in Believe Out Loud, Sinister Wisdom, and Cordite Poetry Review, and she has received nominations for the Best of the Net anthology and Pushcart Prize.
Their talk revolved around the way poetry allows the reclaiming and healing of one's identity, when culture and setting will not.
OLIVIA HU: Hi Amy! So nice to speak with you today. To readers who have not yet familiarized themselves with your work—what is a quick introduction to you and your work?
AMY LAUREN: Hey Olivia, thanks so much for your time! Mostly, I write poetry mainly focused on life in the Deep South, particularly as a young lesbian. Lately, I’ve also experimented more with form and new ways of telling stories through poetry.
First of all, congratulations on getting your chapbook Prodigal published with Bottlecap Press! Can you give readers a brief summary on what themes the work is constituted of?
Thank you, I was so excited to see my first collection of poems in print. Written during my junior year of college, the themes mainly deal with stories gathered from not just my own life, but many of my friends’ lives as LGBT people in Mississippi. Whether gender-nonconforming, a gay man, the child of a preacher or otherwise, queer people often mention a wrestling with their identity and dealing with trauma as common experiences of life here.
You mentioned that Prodigal explores the many ways one reconciles with identity. How has your own life shaped these narratives?
I wrote many of the poems as I came to terms with my own identity. After some time had passed between revising and receiving the proof copy of my book, I realized upon rereading it that these poems often focus on sad subjects. But it was important to me that I speak honestly of the difficult circumstances facing young people here, including my own experience, and then hopefully move past it. One thing I learned is that imagination plays a crucial role in recovery from trauma, so the final poem in Prodigal envisions a potential future marriage and child. It was my attempt not to point toward an easy “fix,” but to say, this slow process of embracing one’s self can have an eventual and beautiful result.
Some artists refer to their work almost in an autobiographical sense. Do you find that Prodigal is a reflection of your own story?
Only a few poems, like "St. Valentine", are really autobiographical. I think the word “reflection” fits well in that the poems do reflect, as in water, a dimmed and blurred reality. It was not my intention to publish a journal or literal retellings of my own experience, but to incorporate elements from stories heard in gay bars, meet-ups and gatherings. It helped me to create a healthy distance so that I could focus on the “nuts and bolts” of writing the poems, and I also liked the idea of amplifying stories that would otherwise go unheard.
How have your origins—living in the South and being surrounded by religion— affected your life? In what ways do they interweave in Prodigal?
Every LGBT person here deals with religion in one way or another. Sometimes the most intensely homophobic individuals often are secretly gay themselves and just trying to distract from their own lives. In Prodigal, the religious culture influences many of these stories as people fear to hold hands in public, visit a church, or even live in their own homes. But because my fiancée and I have found a wonderfully accepting church, I also tried to show the healthy and affirming sides of religion. It’s not all good nor all bad, and I want readers to see there is also great hope among religious people, if they truly use that faith to practice love.
When writing Prodigal, what was your purpose or goal? Do you find yourself seeking a meaning when writing—whether to fill an emotional dimension, raise a social issue, etc.?
Except for a few fantastic writers, there’s generally a lack of LGBT representation for young people. In addition, my hope is that all readers would appreciate the collection and feel a greater compassion for situations and experiences they haven’t faced firsthand.
Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment? Where can readers find you or your work?
Last March, Headmistress Press published my chapbook God With Us, and I’m currently revising a full-length manuscript. A new poem, “La Petite Mort,” will appear in Cordite Poetry Review just a little later this month. Finally, readers can follow my Instagram @amylaurenwrites for snippets of my writing!
Great! Thank you so much for joining me. It was a lovely talk!
I appreciate your thoughtful questions! Have a wonderful day.
AMY LAUREN is a graduate music student in Mississippi. Among other publications, her poetry appears in Sinister Wisdom, Wherewithal, and Lavender Review. Her debut chapbook, Prodigal, received publication through Bottlecap Press in 2017.