Tracy Dimond co-curates Ink Press Productions. A 2016 Baker Artist Award finalist, she is the author of four chapbooks, most recently To Tracy Like / To Like / Like (Akinoga Press, 2018). She holds her MFA in creative writing and publishing arts from the University of Baltimore. Find her online at tracydimond.tumblr.com and on Twitter @snarkysyntax.
Q: You have a chapbook titled To Tracy Like / To Like / Like and a poem titled “Landscape / Landscape / Land Escape.” Is there a word for this sort of wordplay?
Other than repetition, I haven’t encountered a word for it. Most of what I learn comes from reading and learning with the ear–I am influenced by the work of Claudia Rankine, Dorothea Lasky, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Gertrude Stein. Stein especially uses repetition and slight sound changes to create a newness of understanding in her work. I love listening to recordings and getting lost in the sound. Lasky will repeat or rephrase lines to create a feeling. There’s something about Rankine and Shaughnessy that circles back, and then moves forward. If there is a formal term for these techniques, someone should write it in the comments.
Q: In this artist statement you write that you “interrogate the role of the female body and what it means to have chronic pain in my poetry.” That struck me because I hadn’t noticed chronic pain when I first read your poem. I re-read some lines with a new sense of what might be behind them, like this one, “A billboard / screams Go outside and live! Thank you for the / feedback.”
I wonder if that could be part of the point – it can be so easy to miss the pain others suffer beneath the surface. But when we’re aware of that possibility, it creates a new empathy within us. Or I’m totally off, which would be quite normal?
Possibility in new understanding may be why I write poetry. I pull from things I read and overhear to create a feeling for the reader. Saying “this hurts” doesn’t connect in the same way a specific experience does–I’m trying to communicate the physical cost of having a body. Everyday things like advertisements on billboards, in a new context, can create new understanding. They set a tone for how we frame the world, whether it’s accepting or pushing against a role. I hope the unusual syntax that can be used in poetry illuminates how unnatural and imbalanced social constructs are–so we can talk about how to change them.
Q: How did pain become such a topic for you?
It’s always been a part of my life. That sounds so dramatic.
I started swimming seriously at a young age. The sport is built on repetition and refinement, like ballet. Zadie Smith wrote in Swing Time, “Elegance attracted me. I liked the way it hid pain.” Swimming for hours, staring at a black line in a chlorinated pool, is physically and mentally painful, but feels special when the strokes look effortless in competition. I’ve ingrained that sort of struggle–feeling pain, but hiding it–in my writing.
More literally, since my teens, I’ve had intense pain with my period. I’ll be pretty specific here because I’ve seen other women open up or go to the doctor after hearing someone else’s story. By my mid-twenties, I would spend a month (usually feeling some version of awful for at least 2 or 3 weeks a month–if you’re counting, that gives me about a week of feeling OK) with a low-grade fever and sweating from the pain of cramps, probably throwing up. Time is critical when you’re in cycles of pain–you know it’s coming, you have to prepare, you hope it’s different this time. My concerns had been dismissed so often by doctors that I had convinced myself I was being weak. It took until 29 to find a doctor that said, and then confirmed with surgery, that the amorphous pain is/was endometriosis. It’s a travesty that chronic illnesses, especially autoimmune illnesses characterized by pain and experienced by individuals with female reproductive organs, are dismissed. I’m still navigating how I write about my experience in the broader context of illness and disability in writing.