an interview with Lyn Patterson, author of “Whisperings of the Wild and Wilting”
J - Hi Lyn! I’m so excited about the launch of your debut collection of poetry, “Whisperings of the Wild and Wilting.” It is such an impactful book on womanhood, identity and overcoming trauma. Can you tell our readers what inspired you to write it?
L - Hi! Well, I’ve been writing poetry for a long time and every time I sit down to reflect or write about the things I’m grappling with it always turns into a poem. When I started sharing my poetry on Instagram I was purely looking for an outlet. As I posted people started to share how my words had impacted them or resonated with them. It made me realize what a gift writing can be in helping people to heal or even realize their own power. I started to think about who I was ten years ago and who I needed during that very difficult time in my life. I decided I wanted to write a book for that girl to atone in a way for not being able to be who I needed then and for not realizing that I was actually everything I needed to be.
J - Your work is very introspective, and you share some very personal details about your life — what emotions did this conjure up? After writing the poems, did you feel like a weight was lifted off your chest?
L - I think that some of my writing can be very introspective because I really wrote most of this book without the intention of ever sharing the poems. It is my diary in a way and that in itself stirs up the emotion of fear. I put a lot of myself into this book, a lot of my inner thought, and inner dialogue. In a way those who read it will know me better than even some of my family members and that feels very intimate. I would also say solace, there was a lot of comfort that came from being able to see my own personal growth and knowing that I had overcome a lot of what I used to write about. Putting it out there is sort of triumphant because it is the last chapter in being able to overcome my past in a way.
J - As someone who’s always felt torn between two identities, I absolutely cherished your chapter on connecting with your ancestors and making peace with your own identity. How did you struggle with this in the beginning? Where has your journey led to?
L - Growing up I never fully knew how to “identify” myself. I have an extremely diverse family and all of us are multi-racial but culturally my family is black. Identity is such a nuanced concept that we often boil down into this or that, we forget that most of us have “ands”. Growing up I would dread the constant question from strangers, “What are you?” I used to resent this a lot, but I realized it was because I didn’t know the answer. It felt like it took something away from me every time I couldn’t fully give people the answer they expected.
My journey has led me everywhere. I started tracking down my ancestry and talking to elders in my family to learn everything they know. I then started visiting places that my family has roots; Montana, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, and Ireland. I’ve learned a lot about my ancestors and collected a lot of stories. I found that personality traits like wildness, stubbornness, and compassion can definitely be inherited. Being able to place your family roots in great migrations, share cropping, famines, and revolutions really help you to place yourself in space and time. You realize that you are a collection of people and that histories tend to repeat themselves in people too.
J - Since you emailed me the finalized manuscript of your book, what kind of liberation have you felt? Do you feel like you’ve opened a new chapter of your life? (Pun intended)
L - I have felt so much liberation. I don’t think people realize how much work it takes to put a manuscript together. I’ve probably read my own book at least twenty times from start to finish, obsessing over the details of its content. Many of the poems in this book I wrote when I was 20-23 years old and my voice as a poet has changed so much since then. The devices that I am able to use and my command over language and structure are completely different.
But I won’t disregard the poetry of my earlier adulthood, I had a lot of passion brewing inside me back then. That passion was often disguised in the turmoil, so I wanted to make sure that I was able to honor that voice before moving on. The book coincides with me entering a new decade in my life and a new phase. I am in my thirties now, I feel like I am finally “a woman” and content with always evolving. So yes! New decade, new chapter, semi-new Lyn.
J - Before I read your book, I hadn't been aware of how much I hadn't been reading with intention. I read what was handed to me in school and I didn’t question why the only time we read about Black people was in relation to slavery, or when the author perpetuated obvious stereotypes. It took reading WWW to help me examine a bias that went unnoticed, and examine a huge flaw in multiple industries. How do you think WWW will help normalize Blackness?
L - That is such a difficult question to answer because my blackness is so much a part of who I am. I feel like it would be impossible for me to write anything that wasn’t steeped in my blackness but I as a poet I write about a lot of themes. I am constantly pushing myself to write about and make ordinary things seem extraordinary. We are in a great time right now as black creatives where people are starting to realize that black people can tell stories that are about our everyday lives. That black people have normal everyday lives that are layered, complicated, and which represent the human experience. Yes, I am a black woman who has also been in love, worked a job that I hated, been treated for bipolar disorder, and had a parent who was an alcoholic. Identity and experience are so multi-layered and multi-faceted that I can talk about my experience as a woman and parts of it can resonate with other women, while my experiences as a black woman might add a layer of meaning that is difficult for them to fully understand. I just know that I am a black woman with story to tell and that many black and brown creatives have been fighting for years for me to be able to tell my story.
J - I just wanted to add that this book addresses so many topics that society seems to brush pass, even though so many people suffer from them in the US; racial injustice, gender inequality, addiction, sexual assault—it’s almost like it captured a moment in history where everyone is screaming for help but they’re being ignored.
Womanhood seems to be a huge taboo where we all grow boobs overnight and have to wax our legs until we can afford to get laser hair removal — but WWW selves into so much detail that it honestly felt like reading the Holy Grail of Truths. Everything I felt but was too afraid to ask my mom about was answered or i could relate to in the book — are you ok with others using your experience for answers? How does this make you feel?
L - First of all, fuck shaving your legs and anything else you don’t want to shave. Secondly, yes I am absolutely ok with people learning from my experiences.
Listen, the title is ‘Whisperings of the Wild & Wilting” for a reason. There is a 20-25-year-old girl in that book who was honestly a complete mess. She was beautiful, hot tempered, angry, depressed, she got into trouble, broke people’s hearts including her own, and got into some pretty precarious situations. There were times back then when I honestly felt like I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out of my circumstances, and I often felt stuck. So please read this and learn from my experiences.
Also, learn how to embrace those parts of yourself that we work so hard to change. Now that I am older I’m starting to understand that its ok that I laugh too loudly, drink too much, curse like a sailor, love dirty dancing, and can get into trouble. I feel more in control of my wildness than I ever have. I feel I am better able to steer it toward experiences and people which empower me. So when people read it I hope they can learn from that realization as well.
J - Why poetry?
L -I’m not certain that I have a choice. Poetry is honestly what flows out of me. Every time I try to write in another genre or even write introspectively poetry comes out. When I was a kid I lived in a household that was ruled by fear. I remember my parents telling me, “what happens in this house, stays in this house.” I had this feeling that if I told anyone about the addiction and the pain it was causing bad things would happen. So when I discovered poetry it empowered me to write about my feelings. It allowed me the freedom to hide my pain and process my trauma without fear of retribution. Ever since then poems have been flowing out.
J - What does “Whisperings of the Wild and Wilting” mean to you?
L - Wild and wilting symbolizes our cycle as human beings. We often forget that human beings are subject to natures forces. We experience ups and downs which are triggered by the seasons, elements, and nature. We were never mean to be on the earth as docile and complacent beings but instead to be one with the universe. We go through life trying to tame our wild and ignore our wilting but when we embrace and affirm it we move a little closer to being our most authentic selves.
Whisperings has a double meaning. In my opinion, ancestors pass on wisdom to us by whispering to our instincts and guiding our third eye. These whisperings sit deep within our chests and often erupt as a spirit of wildness or a contentment with wilting. My world travels have taught me to listen to ancestors as they are always whispering us toward our divine purpose. The whisperings also represent my former self, that girl that I used to be that has grown into a woman. The girl that was often shunned our got into trouble in school for being “unmanageable” or “too much.” That girl is eternally wild and I have to learn how to listen to her too because she is also guiding me to my purpose.
J - Do you have a special message for your readers?
L - Yes, thank you so much for your continued support. From the bottom of my heart I am so grateful to all who have seen things in my poetry that I had not fully realized for myself. I am so excited to see my book in your hands. As you read it please reach out message me on Instagram, shoot me an email, or send a picture when you get your copy. I love connecting with people over poetry and would love to continue connecting over the poems in this debut collection.
J - Your book was like reading an instruction manual that an older sister handed down to me to prepare me for womanhood. It was everything I thought I needed and more. Thank you.
”Whisperings of the Wild and Wilting” comes out February 5th. Keep up with Lyn on Instagram — Instagram.com/poetryntings