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Julia Farney on Exploring Trauma Through Poetry

capsule stories autumn 2020 edition burning up

Content warning: sexual assault

Julia Farney is an angsty therapist prone to sporadic existential crises and spontaneous travels across the country. She makes questionable art to cope with her existence and listens to too much surf punk.

Her poems “Don’t Blink,” “gutted,” “Skin Graft,” and “platoon” are published in Capsule Stories Autumn 2020 Edition. The poems explore the trauma of sexual assault with vivid imagery and striking metaphors.

Capsule Stories: You shared with us that you wrote these poems in response to a sexual assault. Talk a little about the themes and images that you found yourself drawn to when writing about this topic.

Julia Farney: When I was recovering from my trauma, I noticed that all of my poems had a lingering theme of fire, especially the feeling of being burned alive. It is common for rape survivors to feel dirty and take frequent hot showers to try to rid themselves of the sensation of filth. Subconsciously, I think that the imagery of burning my skin off was my mind’s way of trying to get rid of the sensations of filth—just to a brutal extreme.

Capsule Stories: Writing about trauma can be deeply personal and rooted in emotional release. I imagine it can be difficult to then distance yourself from the trauma as you revise and self-edit. Tell me about your revision process. How do you create the space necessary to read and edit your poetry from a more objective viewpoint to ensure that it communicates your ideas effectively and strikes a chord with readers?

Julia Farney: I was fifteen when I was assaulted and I wrote dozens of poems within the next few years. When I was moving to college, I began sorting all my notebooks that I had kept in various locations of my bedroom. I found all these poems filled with gruesome imagery that I didn’t even recognize. It was almost as if I had completely blacked out while I scribbled these writings down, then tossed them in some corner of my room and refused to look at it again. Collecting and revising the poems—I eventually sorted them into a thirty-page chapbook—made me realize how automatic it is to repress trauma. I literally had no memory of writing these poems.

It scared me, for sure. I was like, How did I manage to write thirty-plus poems about lighting myself on fire and tearing myself apart and I don’t remember it? Editing and reading them over felt like watching a scary movie—terrifying but difficult to look away. However, it made me realize how far I had come and how important it is to keep asking for help.

I started seeing my therapist weekly when I found them because it obviously kicked up a lot of stuff. I ran lots of miles, hung out with lots of friends, and watched a lot of That ’70s Show and Bob’s Burgers. I’m still going to therapy. Asking for help is an ongoing process that can go on for years, decades, even forever.

Capsule Stories: It’s not easy to write about trauma, much less publish your writing about it and talk about it. Tell us about your journey that got you here.

Julia Farney: It took me a long time to even admit that I was assaulted. It was about two years later when I told a very close friend about it. After I told her, it took me another few months to start going to therapy for it. I was so secretive and ashamed about it, as if it was my mistake, my fault.

However, I eventually began to open up and tell more friends about my experience. So many of my friends had similar situations happen to them and they felt too afraid to say anything. It was heartbreaking to look at my friends who I adored so much and think, Wait, this has happened to you, too? Sexual assault is disgustingly common. I remember feeling so infuriated, wondering how many people were suffering in silence.

I have a passion for talking about sexual assault and trauma because it affects so many people. I have gone through enough recovery and therapy that I can talk about it very openly, so I like to speak up for those who struggle with talking about it. Trauma is so difficult to talk about; it’s so difficult to even acknowledge. As soon as I realized I could be a beacon to others, I began to share my story to help others feel safe to share theirs, as well.

I can’t pretend that I’m healed from my sexual assault—I still struggle. But there is something comforting about being able to sit and talk with someone who has been through something similar. Shared trauma can be a very unifying experience.

Capsule Stories: Has your work as a therapist affected or influenced your writing?

Julia Farney: Oh, for sure. A lot of my writings are influenced by the people I work with. I am constantly moved by the stories I hear and humbled by the people I get to help. I want my writings to raise awareness of real issues—like abuse, sexual assault, addiction, and mental illness. These issues are so prevalent but so stigmatized. It needs to be talked about. 

Capsule Stories: What are you working on next?

Julia Farney: I’m actually writing a novel right now. I’ll give a brief synopsis.

My novel is about an abusive relationship. Over the last few years I’ve experienced and seen abusive relationships. The common responses to abusive relationships are typically, “Well, why don’t they just get out of it?” and “Why are they tolerating that abuse?” It’s unfortunately not that easy to just get up and go, otherwise we wouldn’t have so many victims of abuse. In fact, it’s not easy to realize you’re in an abusive relationship to begin with. The novel I’m working on mimics the feeling of being in an abusive relationship—where you don’t realize it’s abusive until later, when the abuse gets intense and overt. My goal is to help people understand the complexities of these relationships.

Capsule Stories: Where can readers follow you and find your work?

Julia Farney: Readers can follow my Instagram, @juliafarney. I would love to provide a safe space for anyone who feels ready to talk about trauma. My DMs are open!

You can read Julia Farney’s poems in Capsule Stories Autumn 2020 Edition. Buy a paperback or ebook copy today.

Julia Farney sitting on a rock with mountains in the background
Julia Farney