Lauren DeGaine is a poet who explores language, place, and the body through her work. Originally from Palm Springs, CA, Lauren now lives in Victoria, BC. Before arriving on the island, Lauren obtained her bachelor's degree in Writing and Literature from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School in Colorado.
Lauren DeGaine is a poet who explores language, place, and the body through her work. Originally from Palm Springs, CA, Lauren now lives in Victoria, BC. Before arriving on the island, Lauren obtained her bachelor's degree in Writing and Literature from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School in Colorado. This summer she is travelling across the provinces with her partner, living in a van and writing along the way. She currently writes for Betty and Kora, an online blog focusing on festival and music culture. In the fall of 2016 she will be preparing her applications for MFA programs in Canada and the US.
ineffable had the opportunity to chat with Lauren about her work, which she describes as "cross-genre . . . most often in the form of prose poetry." For her, poetry is an embodied experience; by revealing the physicality and sensuality of language, Lauren challenges the perceived discrepancies between the immateriality and fluidity of words (semiotics) and the artist's corporeal, boundary-defined form. Hers is a strategy of circling and expanding; breaking free through experimental forms, Lauren organically returns to the idea that language resides inside the body, radiating into the surrounding world from there.
Below are two selections from Lauren's mixed-media fantasy poem, entitled "The Valley." This story tells the "ways" of a community of people who live in a glacier-formed valley: the way their language functions, the way their bodies function, the way their landscape functions, and the magical undercurrent that holds it all together.
1. Can you tell ineffable a bit about your history as a poet—when you began this mode of personal expression, as well as your education history?
I started writing poetry as far back as I can remember writing. Back then, I wrote mainly about birds and unicorns and princesses—although, I suppose I still write about those things. In high school I started reading the transcendentalists, and that really affected my aesthetic. I started paying a lot more attention to nature. After high school I didn’t get into any of the schools I really wanted to go to. After a year of community college, I stumbled, by chance, upon the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where I eventually graduated with a dual degree in Creative Writing/Literature and Traditional Eastern Arts (Yoga).
2. Can you tell me a bit more about your time at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics? What about this program resonated with you in your personal artistic journey, and what are some the works you created there?
Funnily enough, the thing that sparked excitement about Naropa for me was the fact that they didn’t offer a single math class at the school, nor was it a general requirement for graduation. I abhor any math over the level of algebra. I started doing more research and discovered that this anti-math phenomenon spoke to a focus on creative thinking, contemplation, and the arts. I learned that the school was co-founded by Anne Waldman, and I read work by the program’s professors. I visited the school, and I’ll never forget walking onto the tiny campus and thinking, “This is my Hogwarts.” It was all bare feet and dreadlocks. I was in love. Boulder, CO is also a beautiful city surrounded by gigantic mountains and gorgeous forest.
While I was at Naropa, I worked on many projects. I discovered a love of printmaking on antique movable-type presses. In my junior year I started working on my critical thesis, "Helene Cixous and Modern Fantasy: A Feminist Exploration of Game of Thrones.” I also completed by creative thesis, “A Wooden Box, A Quartz Castle.” The first project was an exploration of the translation of the first two installments of George R.R. Martin's series into television through the lens of feminist literary theory. The second project was a somatic poetry project consisting of 8 handmade mixed-media books contained in a wooden box.
3. I had the opportunity to see some of your multi-media works in person. Not only do you make your own chapbooks, but you also create works that blend the genres of poetry, painting, and book printing. Can you describe the significance for you in crafting works of art that are both visual and literary?
I think that language exists in the body first. Before any written word or spoken word there is an urge to express, to be heard. For me, a text portrays or points towards this physicality more effectively when it incorporates some texture or image.
4. Your style is fragmentary, and heavily imagistic. You have a profound way of leaving the reader with a sensorial experience; each line of your poetry carries synesthetic, full-bodied weight. How would you describe your style, and what are some of theories or theorists informing it?
I am heavily influenced by Cixous, Hejinian, Jardine and Waldrop. I describe myself as an eco-feminist love poet (a term stolen from Emily Carr, who is the director of the creative writing low-res at Oregon State University). I try to slow my writing down. I try to think about the way things move, the way physics is functioning in the world of the poem. Language is always gesturing toward something, and I love to focus on the curvature of the hand that gestures: the angles of the fingers, the texture of the skin.
5. Can you define poethics for us, and briefly, describe your own poethics?
I have to say that I am almost positive I use the word “poethics” incorrectly. However, what I like to think that it means is one’s own theory of poetry and how poetic language can be wielded to effect change.
For me, that has come to mean realizing that I have no control over language. So much of what has been detrimental about patriarchy is based in the subjugation of language—we all know and are bored by the canon. So many styles of language and people have been left out of mainstream literature because of the dominant discourse, which over-utilizes the “I/author” mode of writing. This mode exerts the author’s authority all over the text and attempts to dictate the reader’s experience.
The writing that I find to be more interesting—and potentially a form of activism—is writing that acknowledges the faultiness of language, writing that is transparent about the fact that you will never 100% be able to understand what I am saying when I turn to you and speak. But in that faultiness there is freedom, and pleasure. To utter, to gesture toward something, is a privilege and an art form in and of itself. I adore writing that celebrates this.
6. You have graciously provided excerpts from a mixed-media fantasy fixed poem that is currently in progress. Can you provide a brief synopsis of this work? What is the role of magic in this work, and how does magic manifest itself?
The mixed-media fantasy fiction poem is tentatively titled, “The Valley.” It is set in a fictional universe that has similar geographical properties as our own earth. The focus of the story is a group of people who live in a valley that was created by a melting glacier long ago. Each character has their own storyline, and these storylines interact with each other. There is also an underlying magical force that holds the people and the earth together. This magic is the driving force in the text; in many ways it is the protagonist. It manifests in varying ways: as a generalized unifying force, as a transformative tool, and as specific talents/powers.
7. Briefly, what are the connections between language and the body that you’re exploring in this work?
I love this line from Rosemarie Waldrops' Curves to the Apple, in which she describes bodies as “two parallel lengths of feeling.” As bodies, we radiate. We ache for touch. Not just physical touch. We ache to be seen, to be confronted by the world around us. Language and the body are inseparable because the landscape of our meaning-making depends on some type of connective force that none of us really understand as we desperately cling to the things that make us feel.
8. Can you illuminate the relation and symbolic meanings of “holding” and “pressing,” as you use them in "Chapter 5: The Baker"? It seems significant that neither of these words/experiences can be encapsulated by language.
“How does one invoke your pressing?” Every day we are rubbed up against the world around us. We come into contact with the air and the environment that crashes around in the spaces between bodies. Physical forces are constantly at work, and when you add into that all the biochemical processes taking place in our bodies we find that we are constantly existing within this intricate whirlpool of energetic resources. We can only contain so much! But there is so much to contain. That urge can hold us together or rip us apart. This is the boundary of pleasure and pain, and I find it to be incredibly delicious and rich to consider and write about.
"The Valley" © Lauren DeGaine, reproduced with permission.