Caitlin Scarano happily considering the darker side of poetry
Puritan alumna Caitlin Scarano discusses finitude, Freud, and poetic energy, and how they fuelled her work, which appeared in Issue 29.
My boyfriend’s grandfather died nearly two years ago. Fall was turning to early winter in southwestern Virginia. He died not far from where my father recently died in Tennessee. I don’t know that I can do justice to a person or the complexity of death when I write about their passing, but it seems like one of the most pressing, consistent themes of my poetry. My boyfriend’s grandfather was at home—they set up a hospital bed in the kitchen and his family (his wife, children, and grandchildren) took turns taking care of him after he decided to go off dialysis. They were all there when he died. I’ve never seen a person die, the moment they take their last breath, but I was struck by the intimacy of this experience.
I often wonder about the connection between the death drive (mortality) and human sexuality. You can see this contemplation in “Slow to Marvel.” I’ve written about this before—how sex may be the ultimate act against death and its finality. But now, after having known several people who have died, I am not so certain that death is so finite. Death, like sex, may carry its own dense energy, ambiguity, and possibility.
Last winter, my boyfriend and I visited the Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago. I was struck by how we were both drawn to and depressed by these rooms, how they seem part of a larger whole (a house? another world?), but the doors don’t actually go anywhere; it is an illusion. Still, we can appreciate the design and beauty even if the rooms are finite.
It depends on the day, I guess. For me, some are harder than others. Sometimes I think my father is completely gone, unreachable. Other days I believe there is something of him, still in me and in the world around me. It just might not be in the reality I see, or maybe I can’t recognize it because of my limited understanding of reality. That certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I am not religious. I wouldn’t even call myself spiritual. But just the complexity of what naturally exists, the simple, unbelievable state of things as they currently are, without a higher being or creator (the solar system, the human brain and nervous system, the Milwaukee River near my apartment and its ecosystem, how a bull moose regrows its antlers each year, etc) is beautiful beyond what I can comprehend and plenty enough for me to live for and write for. At this point in my life, in my late twenties, what I crave more than anything (more than money, or happiness, or love) is experience. I want to see as many places and people and things as I possibly can, while I have the physical and mental ability to do so.
I love to be alone. I like to write in a quiet room in an empty house or apartment. But sometimes when I am writing (or struggling to come up with something to write) I feel very lonely, as if I don’t have something important to say or I don’t have someone to stay it to. At times, especially in certain cultural and political climates (the state of Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker, for example), poetry, and art at large, can seem meaningless and futile. As artists we ask ourselves, what is the purpose of this work? What does this thing I have made do? What are its parts and how does it work? How does it affect people and their suffering? What is beauty? What is art? Who decides? And if I create a beautiful thing or an ugly thing, what impact does this thing have on the world? Is there any tangible value to it? Does the value even need to be tangible?
When a strange, beautiful, or startling idea, image, or line comes to me (finds me?), when a poem first sparks, I feel a certain kind of pleasure, excitement, and purpose that I can’t compare to anything else. Even if I am alone in a room, I feel like I am communicating with someone, and taking part in a conversation—about aesthetics, humanity, complexity, and issues that actually effect people and the environment—that really matters.
Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology. Her recent work can be found in Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, and Chattahoochee Review. She has two poetry chapbooks: The White Dog Year (dancing girl press, 2015) and The Salt and Shadow Coiled (Zoo Cake Press, 2015).