Chasing the sound

O'Tierney, Bryce M., author
Dungy, Camille, advisor
Steensen, Sasha, committee member
Pippen, John, committee member
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"Chasing the sound" has been a direction in my mind from the moment I first heard a violin played. My primary relationship with the instrument has been fundamental to the shaping of my relationship with my body and with other bodies. I have been humbled by the process of writing these poems, allowing them to arrive, tuning their forms, sequencing and re-sequencing their positions, and identifying guide notes and echoes, toward orchestrating a coherent whole. The MS writes into interwoven questions concerning identity, connection, and belonging, representative of a particular stage of my becoming as woman and artist. These poems have taught me how to better read myself, have shown me ways toward a re-integration of Self, in the context of intergenerational trauma, mental illness, relational complexity, and queer identity. To me, this collection embodies an ecology with a basis in sound and sounding(-out). If asked to describe this poetry collection in two words, I would respond: inheritance, desire. I feel these poems traveling the contours of longing and loss, harmony and dissonance. I find that they reflect a process of healing off-the-page with respect to disentangling the relationship of the body with the instrument from: the relationship of the body with nourishment from: the relationship of the body with a beloved. Perhaps most striking to me is the way these poems have opened me toward a forward-movement of my body, how reaching or "walking" back toward points of origin has offered an embrace of creativity that includes the possibility of future motherhood. An early and abiding intention of the manuscript has been to bring the embodied experience of musicmaking to the page. In my first workshop here, I found myself taking up a work of uncovering/recovering Indigenous heritage on my mother's side, a conversation begun years prior at my grandmother's kitchen table. At the center of my inquiry was the interlinkage of bodies across four generations through the life of an instrument (my great-grandmother Orleta's fiddle). I am the sole violin-player today across both maternal and paternal (Irish American) bloodlines. I have felt drawn to bring musicmaking to the page as a site of intergenerational encounter. I encounter a poetic form as an inheritance of the body, the body in turn an inheritance of the surrounding world/landscape (of dimensions both corporeal and spiritual). Through my time in this program, the field of the page has further opened to me and the poems, allowing for more fully embodied forms, projective of both identity and place. The heightened participation of white space in the musical scoring of a poem has also propelled my coming-into a more intentional gestural logic of punctuation, in particular, use of the colon, with the parenthesis and em dash especially behaving in dynamic relation. The colon feels vital to transformative possibility within and across poems, as threshold, entryway, opening, movement between manifest and unmanifest. Dimensionality and directionality, parataxis and hypotaxis, centrifugal and centripetal motion—sculptural shape has been teaching me how to write narratively without plot, and, to enact a generative tension between feeling and understanding. Composing along multiple axes has expanded my repertoire for enacting multiplicity/multivocality. The forms of these poems feel more authentically aligned with my lifeway as a musician, scored through exchange between nonverbal and verbal, human and greater-than-human, the improvised and composed. Inclinations to speak/not speak or reveal/conceal guide holding of silences and absences relative to inheritance—musicmaking, maternal lineage, epigenetics, human: greater-than-human interactivity. There is variation in the way these poems engage in spatial mapping of the proprioceptive, as well as, and in contrast with, showing a process of thinking on the page, which feels both vulnerable and gratifying. A significant development through this writing process has been diversifying the relationship between syntax and the line, elongating breath and cognitive movement through cumulative sentence structure, experimenting with inversion and the provisional. The prose poems, as well as the series of compressed untitled poems (marked by ~), represent a shift from open field to portraying movement of the mind within bounded form—the need for a kind of structured improvisation. I'm interested in the way form can variously hold content—to protect, expose, declare, recall. I experience form participating in contours of grace and mercy—allowing space or enclosure for processing, healing, dialogue, with self and with others, past, present, and future. The compilation of these poems has charged me with pushing synesthesia within my work, e.g., in the form of rhyming images, in play with aural refrain. Additionally, I have become more conscientious about how section breaks can serve to clarify scene/simultaneity/boundary/ threshold. Each of these aspects feels aligned with an embrace of fluidity, in one sense, a search for relinquishing repressive forms of (self-)control, and in another, a deepening in the queering of erotics in the work. I'm interested in how this collection might articulate those moments of living double, where grief and hope/joy are two sides of one fold, and self a continuum of becoming through interrelation. It has been a fulfilling process to get my arms around these poems as a body entire, puzzling out the sectioning and ordering of the collection, given the number and range of poems. The 83 poems collected here represent a passage across: ground of being in relationship with music/the violin; to origin through my maternal line, writing into questions of Seminole heritage and inheritance; to a navigation of beloved relationships; to an intertwining of these facets in a final section that re-situates the speaker in community. My greatest challenge in bringing these poems together has been to make more legible the interplay between pronouns. I am satisfied in where I've arrived in terms of distinguishing for the reader the meaning of the "she" and "i" with respect to the estrangement from Self I experience when in a depressed state/depressive episode. The "she" in the manuscript also works on the level of engaging the gifts of depression, particularly depression as a threshold of access to ancestral experience and re-connection. Beginning last semester, I have been engaged in an independent study of movement/dance alongside the writing practice, which has deeply re-informed my own bodily understanding of this multiplicity of self. Furthermore, I needed to find a balance in making evident the various beloveds in the "chasing the sound" section, approaching this via gender, while also allowing for fluidity of experience. Finding a three-part movement across this section allowed me to situate a beloved "you" that affirms where I am in my current lived experience as a bisexual woman, affirming attraction and romantic love as being not about the gender, but about the person. Additional valences of "you" include the primacy of relation between myself and the violin, and myself and my twin sister.
2023 Spring.
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Embargo Expires: 05/26/2025
mental illness
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