“Landscape with Sex and Violence”: a necessary addition to every contemporary bookshelf

I’ve read quite a few books that discuss or explore sexual assault, trauma, domestic violence, wartime sexual crimes, and other similar topics (most notably, Sierra Demulder’s masterful We Slept Here); Landscape with Sex and Violence meanders through oft-unspoken-of facets of sexual trauma, including the tenderness that abusers can win survivors back over with.

I read this book at a very important time in my life, only a month before I was coerced by a woman I’d been dating; this book became a refuge, a friend who I didn’t need to explain anything to. Melnick’s poems understand the multifacetedness of emotional trauma that experiences like mine result in. These poems take every side, from the moments of self-blame and downward spiraling to moments of clarity and strength.

I interviewed Lynn earlier this year about the poems and content in this collection.

When was the seed for this collection planted?

This is the book I’ve always wanted to write but just wasn’t ready to write yet, for a lot of reasons, until I finished my first collection. I’ve always wanted to tell my story which, I think, is also a larger story about rape culture and sexual violence and patriarchy and America. Now that I’ve finished writing this book, I’m finding my new poems (what will hopefully be a third book) push even further, so maybe that’s just how it goes.

What reactions are you hoping to inspire in readers? What response does our society need to have to the issue of sex and violence?

I’m hoping to build awareness in some readers and to make other readers feel less alone. I’d love to offer solace and education, depending. I also hope I’ve written something that stands as poetry, as a hopefully beautiful and interesting work of art. As far as what response society as a whole needs to the issues of sex and violence, well that’s a very long list of things, but I’ll say society needs to believe women about both. We need to believe women that have been abused and we need to believe women who state their needs. Women should get to have enjoyable sex lives without stigma or danger. And boys and men need to be better educated about both!

“Turn on the television and all you hear / is the new way of speaking…” holds a personal meaning for me, implying that the way politicians “answer” a question without saying anything of real substance is the new norm. Could you talk about your political views and / or your hopes for women’s rights to become more central and important in our administration’s goals?

To be honest, I have no hope that women’s rights will become more central to our administration’s goals. I think our best hope is that they are distracted by other things and don’t set things further back for us. I mean, our president is an admitted – and proud! – sexual predator.

Until we have more women not only in politics, but across the board in positions of power, little will change. I wish I knew how to make this a reality except to support women running for office with my dollars when I have them.

I also think that it’s important to talk to girls about what the world is actually like, rather than just hyping them on “girl power” in a world that is so dominated by patriarchy. They’re gonna know pretty quick that that’s bullshit, so why not teach them from the beginning that, although the deck is seriously stacked against them, there are ways to fight, and running for office is one of those ways. That’s what I’m trying to do with my two daughters, anyway.

Reading “She’s Going to do Something Amazing” left me feeling so many things. How can survivors become empowered? How can survivors heal?

Oh gosh, I wish I knew the answer to these questions. If you find out, please tell me! I do think knowing you’re not alone, that the violence experienced wasn’t you’re fault, and that you’re believed helps. Believe women!! Also, as far as healing goes, please seek therapy. Mental health needs to be taken as seriously as physical health. There are many therapies and treatments that can help with PTSD and other trauma-related issues. From what I can tell, finding empowerment and healing is a lifelong process.

For sure. I know I’ve found cognitive behavioral therapy personally helpful. I retrained my negative self-talk and anxious habits thanks to two amazing therapists.

How does poetry offer therapy? How does poetry educate?

Well, I don’t want to say poetry offers therapy, because I really think therapy should be where people seek therapy. But poetry definitely offers comfort and understanding, and poetry definitely teaches us more about ourselves and others. Something about the music and syntax and form of poetry really expands our hearts and minds, I think, and helps us see things in a new and more intimate way. Every day, I’m grateful for poetry.

Landscape with Sex and Violence ($18, on sale right now for $16.20) is available from YesYes Books or your local bookstore!

anxious? you aren’t alone

Kelsey May                                                                                                                 February 7, 2017

I’ve been working on myself this year, really paying attention to my body’s needs and voicing my concerns as soon as they arise. I got married last fall (hurrah!) but only a month after the wedding, I was crying almost every day for no reason. I felt unhappy, like a merry-go-round spinning in place, not going anywhere even though I was going through the actions of life. My partner held me and tried to understand why I was upset, but there really wasn’t a reason; I just was.

I started seeing a therapist at Spectrum Health – an awesome testament to how far mental health has come, that my doctor’s office is employing a full time social worker to address issues of mental wellness. She was amazing; she listened and offered practical advice; she talked about deep breathing and the normalcy of anxiety; in follow-up appointments, she remembered concerns I had previously brought up.

It was incredible to be acknowledged by a professional, to have my anxieties aired and empathized with. Many of us struggle with anxiety and depression. Personally, I feel anxious when I’m around a lot of people who I want to “fit in” with or whose admiration I desire. I have bad habits derived from my anxiety: I pick my nails and nail beds, I scratch my head, I chew things and fiddle with objects. These aren’t attractive character traits, but I’m admitting them so you, reader, might see your own tendencies in them and feel a sense of community. You aren’t alone in your struggle. You are one of millions of other teens and young adults who get nervous before public speeches or make impulsive choices to feel a sense of belonging. We want to feel part of something larger than ourselves, but we don’t always make the best decisions about how to do that. And others, those people we so desperately yearn to connect to, often hurt us out of their own selfishness and painfully low self-esteem.

So how do we meet our needs and work toward mental wellness?

One amazing thing I’ve learned is that there are two types of expectations we hold: our ideal expectation and the standard expectation. Here’s an excerpt from The Art of Happiness (interviews with the Dalai Lama):

For example, my ideal expectation in my relationship would be hugs every single day, fun, creative dates almost every day, and never having to clean up after each other. The standard (or more realistic) expectation would be: hugs every day we see each other, fun, creative dates when we can afford them, and minimal cleaning up after each other. See the subtle differences?

Here’s an example of a way I held myself to the wrong expectation. I gained about fifteen pounds last year after I came down with mono and wasn’t allowed to participate in any rigorous activity for fear of a spleen rupture (yikes!). I wanted to lose those fifteen pounds and felt awful about my appearance every day, even though I wasn’t making time to exercise so there was no way to lose the weight. But I ideally wanted to attain my lower weight, so I was mentally dissatisfied with myself, feeling disappointed in my figure, feeling sorry about my situation. It was absurd to expect that I could lose the pounds without time and effort, so I adopted a more realistic expectation, that I simply start exercising and that became my goal, rather than focusing on my physical appearance. It helped. I’ve lost three pounds, and even if I don’t lose anymore, I’m gaining muscle and definition, and my stamina is improving, and that makes me proud.

I also highly recommend that you see a counselor or therapist. If the first person doesn’t help, keep trying new therapists until you find one who understands you and who gives you the advice or assistance you need. My first counselor was kind and a great listener, but she didn’t give me practical advice. My current therapist specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, meaning she focuses on how I can change my own thinking and adopt healthier habits. That is the kind of assistance I needed, and it’s made a noticeable difference in my attitude and spirit. My partner has noticed a significant change in my day-to-day wellbeing; I haven’t cried for no reason in two weeks. I am motivated to write and hang out with my family and clean my desk. I am more honest and talk about my feelings before they turn into problems. I actually want to wake up in the morning and get started with my day.

So what changes do you need to make in your mental wellness habits? Do you want to implement yoga or start journaling? Do you need to take one night off a week to just spend some time alone and practice self-care? Do you need to be more honest with a significant other or a friend about how you’re feeling? Do you need to talk with your parents about your emotions and seek professional help?

Feel free to comment here, and I’ll do my best to connect you with resources or give advice, if I feel competent! Thanks for reading! Live well, reader. Peace.

Photo credit: Mr. Edventure