Defense Date

2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Kathleen Graber

Second Advisor

David Wojahn

Third Advisor

Bryant Mangum

Abstract

I know this is now a daily statement, almost a platitude, almost a greeting or filler phrase, but: Things have been strange.

Completing the last half of my MFA during a pandemic has altered my writing in ways that I could have never imagined. I find myself even more aware of my body and how it inhabits space, time, gender, consciousness, presence, and absence. And as my poetry has become more metaphysical, it has also needed to become more physical.

There is a phrase that came to my mind unbidden during a particularly intense dissociative state: “I’m a crunchy crunchy spring roll and God is flattening me with her palm for an ASMR video.” It makes perfect sense to me, of course. Not so much to other people I tell that phrase. My poetry has intensified in both reality and in dreamspace, at times fusing into unconscious reality, lucid dreaming, and surreality that spans all states of mind. How else does one write about mental illness, gender, suicide, eating disorders, all the while the world collapses inward? Every day has become strange, and acclimating to it has been both a collective and isolated struggle.

One of my first poetry professors told me I wrote “on the edge of pain.” That sounds about right, I thought, until I was given the word liminal. When you walk into a room and immediately forget why you’re there is an example of how thresholds work on our minds. The threshold, the in-betweens—that’s liminal space. It’s unsettling, comforting, inhabits my brain and yours. It’s a residential street at 2AM, the fog lit with diffuse lamplight. It’s dream-reality. For trans or nonbinary people, who already embody mental and sometimes physical spectrums, it can be those fleeting moments of gender euphoria brought on by strange images. Liminal can be eating a mango in a CVS parking lot in the middle of a city you don’t live in. Or the shift between seasons. Or bedhead. It’s a feeling and a nonfeeling and sometimes both.

Most importantly, it’s something you experience on your own, and often alone. There’s something about liminal spaces that allow you to fill the empty space with your youness, how much space you’re allowed to breathe into. And breath as something we’ve been holding for a long, long time now.

My odes have been works in progress for a few years. I believe in the ability to celebrate almost anything, regardless of where they lie on the perceived spectrum of good and evil. In my poem “Ode to Sensory Overload,” my brain, experiencing the first week of a medication, is so totally overwhelmed by a Texan grocery store, and how everything does truly seem to be bigger in Texas. And yet, that level of intensity and its newness seemed deserving of recognition. Pain is an important experience. My odes also inhabit those spaces in-between: the dark highway mile between the gay bar and home; an 11-day stay on a friend’s floor, sharing an air mattress; the distance an electron travels so that we might have the color blue.

In many ways this thesis has been an attempt to synthesize the overwhelming, cluttered, chaotic world into a smaller sample that I might explore on my own terms. My medium happens to be poetry.

Thank you for reading.

Killian

Rights

© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

5-13-2021

Available for download on Monday, March 26, 2221

Included in

Poetry Commons

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