“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!

Thoughts on “Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths” by Elizabeth Acevedo

This 32-page edition from YesYes Books‘ Vinyl 45 Series is a quick read but demands an almost-immediate re-read, with many lingering tales of superstitions and personal anecdotes. I was left hungering for a thicker collection to sink my teeth into. I drowned in some of the poems here: “La Santa Maria”, which explored the terrible history of conquest and peoples born out of the remains of “an ocean of ghosts / … hundreds of thousands.”

Liz Acevedo.jpg

Many pieces paint a beautiful homage to Acevedo’s Dominican ancestry and cultural traditions, with a little imagination sprinkled in. Poems that explore Trujillo, La Ciguapa, and brujeria mingle with pieces that take on a more personal note, from her family’s immigration to her own body.

Acevedo has been vocal about body positivity and love of self for years, and her poem “Pressing” continues this platform:

“I close my eyes & hold a couch cushion on top of my lap / press thumb to self fervently, moan… / press & pray…”

The honesty, too, in Acevedo’s poetry is necessary. She writes, in “Liminalities”, about a childhood betrayal when she might have given over the “hardened…egg” of another girl’s name to “some older gang members” who proceeded to attack her. She writes also of a time, fictional or not, when she witnessed a young teenage girl being fondled by a European tourist and, after continuing to sip her Presidente, called for help. Justice is twisted up in personal fears, desires, and uncertainties in this chapbook.

One of my favorite themes of Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths was that of her family, who appear in political poems, mythological poems, and personal musings. Her mother, especially, shows up numerous times, whether to tell a bedtime story or show the poet how handwashing one’s delicates results in a superior cleaning.

acevedo mic

My favorite poem is “It Almost Curdles my Womb Dry.” This piece is a promise from Acevedo to her daughter that she will “not smile polite as men make war on her” but that she will be strong enough to resist shame, sexism, violence, and silencing. If we can’t all have Acevedo for a mother, perhaps we can be satisfied with her as a role model and teacher instead.

Photo credit (black and white image): Bethany Thomas