Jennifer Givhan’s soul-nourishing “Lifeline”

Kelsey May | October 15th, 2017

Published this year by Glass Poetry PressLifeline slices into emotional and cultural landscapes to bare both juices and rot. As good poetry does, Givhan’s pieces bring life to barren moments and resurrect the ancestral traditions of Mexican, Latinx, and indigenous lifestyles to teach modern readers of important lessons and insights.

Givhan’s style marries unusual syntax with careful attention to detail; she notes such instants as plucking “mosquitoes… from calves” and the way Lake Tahoe “pools its light”. I reveled in such beautiful lines as “I’ve asked for your lungs so I can breathe.” and “In vain I have opened mirrors & edges of mirrors.”

Several poems stuck with me long after finishing Lifeline: “O Shake It Sister”, which quite literally sings the female body electric in its praise and love for all the scars, tattoos, weight, sex, and words our bodies hold. “O Shake It Sister” is the poem I’ve been wanting to read for years and nearly cried to have found. The other poem that stuck with me is “Girl with Death Mask”, an ode to and celebration of Frida Kahlo.

After finishing Lifeline, I asked Jennifer if she’d be willing to do a brief interview about writing, self-esteem, and this chapbook.

One of my favorite poems in the book is “Girl with Death Mask”. It’s so inventive! What inspired you to write about her?

Frida is my spirit guide. I light a Saint Frida candle often when I write. I have at least nine paintings of hers around my writing room. The poem is based on a true event with a Frida painting and my daughter’s response. lifeline.png

Another piece that really hit me is “O Shake It Sister”. What advice would you give to women and girls having a hard time with confidence and self-esteem?

You are a badass powerhouse. The voices that tell you otherwise are liars. I know it’s hard. I struggle every day, no matter the accolades, no matter the praise. Power comes from within. You gotta keep pulling it up every damn day. Every damn day, you gotta throw that darkness out with the garbage and hang on so tightly to your strength. I believe in you.

Who are you inspired by?

The women who’ve come before me and the women who’ll come after. I am a verse in the never-ending song. A break in the chain toward freedom. I’m inspired by contemporaries Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Ada Limón, Irena Praitis, Lisa Chavez, Joy Harjo, Toni Morison, and the song goes on. Most especially, by my mother and my daughter.

These lines:

“He didn’t save me.

I only pretend, like Mrs. Sheets, //

that saints can redeem us.”

are powerful. Could you talk briefly about your views on what happens when you die and how you reconcile that difficult topic in your poetry?

Oh, this would take another lifetime. I haven’t reconciled it. I am a split cactus. Spindles on the outside, life-sustaining water on the inside, though it often feels the other way around. If heaven is what we make of it, then I am grateful for love. If heaven is the imagination, then I am grateful it’s so powerful.

What’s your advice for other creative people wanting to tackle a big project?

Light your figurative or literal candles, and write. Quiet the voices that ask you for anything more than whatever truths you have to lay bare on that page.

Lifeline is available for purchase through Glass Poetry Press.

Thank you to Jennifer for the interview and headshot and to Glass Poetry Press for a reviewer copy of Lifeline.

How to love your body, according to Lizzy Doezema

  1. Only consume body-positive media. Check out Tess Holiday and Joanna Spicer. Surround yourself with body-positive and mental health-positive images. Look for good media to consume.
  2. Prioritize yourself. Declutter. Give away clothes that you don’t feel confident in. Only buy clothes that make you feel like yourself. DSCN1451
  3. Extract yourself from relationships that don’t bring you joy.
  4. Practice positive self-talk (Editor’s note: yes, this is really hard), even when you don’t feel like it. I’ll voice my feelings when I’m having a low-confidence day, then try to reply aloud with loving affirmations.
  5. Find hobbies that make you feel good about yourself and do them. I draw and ballroom dance and do makeup.
  6. Disregard the idea that there’s a male audience (or any audience) you have to do anything for.
  7. Take selfies that make you feel like yourself. Honestly, taking nude selfies (although not necessarily sending them to anyone) can really help. (Editor’s note: be careful not to keep nude photos in storage on your phone, as they could end up somewhere you don’t want them. But pose away for those self-love moments! Your body is yours!)
  8. Support other women. It circles back and rejuvenates you. Actively promote body / mental health positivity. For a while, I tried to start a little trend called “tummy love.”


What ways are you going to start loving yourself better? (Start right now!)

Edited for grammar and clarity.

in front of the mirror

So im standing in front of the mirror
And im looking at my body
And i dont know how i got here
So im going to retrace my steps
And try to change the view
So im standing in front of the mirror
And im looking at how
My waist turns into my hips
And my hips turns into my thighs
And my thighs turn into my legs
And i dont like it
So im standing in front of the mirror
And i see how ive sculpted
My waist and my hips
And my thighs
 with starvation
And im looking at the hollow scars
That carve my ribs out
And make my hip bones sharper
Than their words
So im standing in front of the mirror
And im looking at how
My pale face is littered
With acne
and flaws
and dark circles
And i dont like it
So im standing in front of the mirror
And i see how ive hidden
My true skin
With a porcelain doll’s face
The only crack in the mask
Is the hollow look in my eyes
So im standing in front of the mirror
And im looking my clothes
Which are comfortable
And casual
And anything but sexy
And everything that says prude
And i don’t like it
So im standing in front of the mirror
And i see how
Ive changed my entire look
With a skimpy black
Mini skirt
Red lips
And a hickey barely hidden beneath my
Collar bone
And everything that says slut
So im standing in front of the mirror
And im looking at my feet
Which are flat
And unpainted
And bland
And i dont like it
So im standing in front of the mirror
And im see how
I have reformed my feet
The bones harshly restructured to
Fit heels that do not
Fit me
And im standing in front of the mirror
And im looking at her body
And i don’t know how she got here
So im going to retrace her steps
And try to change our views.