Eva Lynch-Comer on Writing About Trauma with Nuance and Strong Imagery

capsule stories winter 2020 edition

Eva Lynch-Comer holds a BA in creative writing from Hamilton College, where she received the John V. A. Weaver Prize in Poetry and the Sydna Stern Weiss Essay Prize in Women’s Studies. Her work has appeared in the Hamilton College publications Grasping Roots and The Spectator. She was a poetry editor of the campus literary journal Red Weather. Eva now works in children’s editorial at a publishing company in New York City. Her hobbies include playing with her dog Osito, reading YA fantasy novels, drinking chai tea, and journaling outside on her front porch where she can enjoy nature.

Eva Lynch-Comer’s poems “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil” and “In Morning” are published in Capsule Stories Winter 2020 Edition. “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil” uses metaphor and natural imagery to explore the family dynamic between a child, her abusive father, and her mother. In the poem “In Morning,” the abused child is now an adult who has lashed out at her loved ones as a result of her trauma. The speaker must learn that her trauma history does not absolve her of the guilt of her actions and she must continually do the work of becoming a good person.

Capsule Stories: In “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil” you create such sharp imagery and metaphors: “the thorns and needles / that lie in the open spaces / of my heart. / I pull one out, / she pulls one out.” Talk about how you came up with and developed these images to create such vivid imagery and rich metaphors. Are there any ideas or images that you cut from earlier drafts of this poem?

Eva Lynch-Comer: The poem “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil” started with the line, “father rocked me in a cradle of thorns.” I was lying in bed trying to articulate the pain of abuse, and that line formed in my mind. Then I started expanding the metaphor. The thorns are buried in the heart, causing pain and scars. Some scars may hurt more than others, or take longer to heal. But they can be removed, and the wounds can be cared for. So it is with healing in the real world.

This poem was originally a lot more black and white. When I envisioned the “angel,” it was supposed to be a representation of the divine feminine and Mother Earth. I was working on healing and mothering my own inner child so I wanted to incorporate that purity into the poem. The image of a “halo of pinecones” was to be in direct opposition with the “cradle of thorns.” That’s how I wrote it in 2018 and then sat on it for a few years.

When I came back to it, I grounded the poem in reality and moved away from the strict fantastical image I had conjured in my mind years before. I realized that in a realistic family, no parent is divine—they are human and fallible. This was a hard realization for me to come to personally, but I think it helped bring more nuance to the poem. I wasn’t even going to go back to this poem, I was going to bury it in my poetic archive, but I’m glad I revisited it because it has found such a lovely home at Capsule

Capsule Stories: Your poems explore the gray areas that come with trauma and fraught family relationships. In “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil,” you write: “Mami sent me songs / on the backs of dragonflies. / Father rocked me in a cradle of thorns. / … / I do not know / who to hate more.” And in “In Morning”: “My dad left me first. / So, I lash out at my friends / or hold them too close.” These lines avoid simple answers or a good-bad dichotomy and instead push for a more nuanced understanding of how trauma affects us. How do you approach exploring this theme in your poetry? Why are you drawn to it?

Eva Lynch-Comer: I am drawn to this theme because a lot of it is based on my personal life experience and I find writing can help me work through my own past trauma. I can capture how I feel at different stages of my healing journey through poetry. Almost like little time capsules (see what I did there) of who I was in the past.

I love to explore difficult themes through metaphor and natural imagery. It helps me create the distance needed to process the events of my own life. I am drawn to an issue over and over until I find an understanding, then I move on for a bit until I need to write about it again. As I grow and evolve, so does my poetry. Some poems aren’t relevant to my life anymore because I’ve learned those lessons already, and that is a beautiful moment. Yet sometimes my poems are like friends or sentient beings—they understand me. I always say my poems are like love letters to myself. Sometimes I cannot be kind and gentle to myself the way I want to, so I write a poem and infuse it with the care I am unable to give myself in other areas of my life. When I return to it, I feel my own love radiating out toward me. It is when I explore these themes that I feel I am doing myself a great service. 

I tried really hard to avoid the good/bad dichotomies, so I’m glad you noticed that! As I said in the question before this, “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil” became more gray with time and life experience. And when I wrote “In Morning” I thought it was important to make it a more nuanced depiction of trauma because I wanted to show that healing isn’t always pretty and it isn’t linear. Sometimes we hurt people in the process. I myself have to keep holding myself accountable for how I treat people throughout my healing journey, and it is hard, but necessary work. 

Capsule Stories: These poems are very vulnerable in their exploration of trauma and healing. How do you make space for writing about such vulnerable feelings?

Eva Lynch-Comer: Once, my therapist said, “nothing is unspeakable,” and I carry that message with me all the time. It can be hard to write vulnerable poems. Sometimes I write poems and leave them in a journal. I have written dozens of poems I will never read again. But I had to write them. Sometimes there are long periods of time when I do not write vulnerable poetry at all. But I always come back to the heavier topics when I need to. Sometimes I wish I could write more palatable poetry. A poem about a dog would be a lot easier to share with my friends than a poem about trauma, for example. But that is what I need to write about right now. All parts of me are acceptable, worthy of love, and worthy of being captured in my poetry. Through poetry, I hope to write my way into healing.

Capsule Stories: What other themes do you gravitate toward in your writing?

Eva Lynch-Comer: In my poetry I am obsessed with using nature imagery, metaphor, and lyrical language. I also love fairy tales and mythology. I have written a few fantasy flash fiction pieces. I love to write about music, singing, the ocean, and Billie Holiday. I hope to share some of those poems with the world soon!

Capsule Stories: How has your experience in editing and publishing affected your writing?

Eva Lynch-Comer: I have realized that I have to be very intentional about my creative energy. When I have a long hard week of work, I need to rest and replenish my creative stores before I turn to my personal writing. So when I do write poetry, that time is sacred. As a result of this, I value my writing time a lot more. I also make sure to set small goals and stick to them. Even if it is to do one submission per month, I try my best to do it. But I also make sure to be really flexible if I don’t feel like writing everyday. I have to write when I have energy. 

I also get a look at the behind the scenes decision-making process for accepting and rejecting a manuscript, and that’s made me realize I shouldn’t take rejection so personally. Sometimes beautiful, stunning books are rejected for unexpected reasons, and not always as a result of the quality of work.

Eva Lynch-Comer
Eva Lynch-Comer

You can find more of Eva Lynch-Comer’s work on her website at evalynchcomer.weebly.com, and you can follow her on Instagram at @evalynch321.

Read Eva Lynch-Comer’s poems “Ask Me What It Was Like to Be Raised by an Angel and a Devil” and “In Morning” in Capsule Stories Winter 2020 Edition, now available in paperback.

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