Healing, Tattoos, & Purple Lipstick: An Interview with Kristin Ryan

Kristin Ryan is a poet working towards healing, and full sleeves of tattoos. She is a recipient of the Nancy D. Hargrove Editor’s Prize in Poetry, was listed as a Write Bloody Finalist, has been nominated for Best New Poets, and Best of the Net. Her poems have been featured in Glass, Jabberwock Review, Milk and Beans, and SWWIM Everyday among others.  Her debut full length poetry collection, MORNING, WITH BANDAGES is forthcoming June 2020 from Bone & Ink Press. She holds an MFA from Ashland University and works in the mental health field.

Kristin Ryan September 2019

Audrey Bowers: What does the word brave mean to you?

Kristin Ryan: For me, the word brave means going back to my five-year-old self and loving her every single day. It is kissing her forehead, telling her that she is safe. 

AB: How can poets & writers be brave when working on their own writing?

KR: Be gentle with yourself. Have coping skills when you’re writing the dark and gritty stuff. Don’t push through, feeling like you need to do everything at once. Take breaks, no matter how long they are, and eventually come back to your work.

AB: Your poem in issue #1 titled Case Study: Husband seems to be about the speaker’s husbands’ perception of them and their eating disorder. Can you explain what inspired this poem?

KR: It is based on true events. I suffered from a severe eating disorder from 2002-2012 that nearly killed me. One day I asked my husband to write his first impressions of me when we met in undergrad back in 2009 (when I was at my sickest) for a poem I was working on. He was able to see through all my tricks, and tried his best to help me. The poem was his response word for word.

AB: You were Brave Voices’ very first poetry editor. Can you explain what that experience was like?

KR: It was a blessing, and so much fun to be poetry editor. As the saying goes, the more you read, the more you write. Reading everyone’s submissions pushed me to make my poems the best they could be, and helped me gauge which poems to send out to journals. I firmly believe that everyone should try to be an editor, or at least volunteer to read submissions for a journal. It just makes you a better writer.

AB: Your poetry collection MORNING, WITH BANDAGES is coming out in 2020. What can we expect from the book? What was the writing process of the book like?

KR: When people ask me what the book is about, I usually clam up and turn red. It is very personal, and shame creeps in. The best way I can describe it is how my good friend and MFA director Christian Kiefer described it: a surreal, lyrical, trauma narrative. It’s very dark, dealing with childhood sexual abuse, eating disorders, and snippets of therapeutic conversations.

Writing the book broke me, quite literally. While I was in my MFA program, I started a sort of Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at a sexual assault support center. Not knowing how to cope, I started writing about what I was experiencing in therapy and in my body—memories of the abuse—for the first time.

By my thesis semester, I was exhausted, severely depressed, unable to write, and actively suicidal. I spent two and a half days in the hospital on a behavioral health unit. There are two long poems in the manuscript that deal with this event: one chronicling the intake process, and the other composed of fragments of all the poems that come before in the manuscript, as the speaker realizes the weight of the abuse for the first time.

I spent about six months away from the manuscript once I graduated, and then spent two years in deep revisions, and countless rejections until it was finally picked up at Bone & Ink Press, which was on my list of dream publications.

AB: I know you’re dabbling in CNF, how has that genre been different than poetry for you?

KR: I am not sure just yet, to be honest. Even though I took a CNF class over a decade ago, I don’t remember much, except that I was very resistant, and fought the entire way when I was told to dig deeper. But you grow a lot between 19 and 29, and I am finally ready to write. It is kind of like therapy, you need to be willing to do the work for it to help you heal.

What I do know is that for me, poetry is so much easier to write. I can hide with surrealism and metaphor, distance myself with third person.

I found out last week that someone gifted me the opportunity to take Katherine Standefer’s 8-week, CNF class, “Unlocking Tough Stories” which focuses on learning tools to craft the stories that have resisted telling. This is a huge, huge gift, in so many ways. I have been trying to write this braided essay about meeting Amanda Palmer, my inability to cry, and processing new trauma memories since May of this year. Every time I go to start writing, I get hung up, filled with fear and shame, and guilt. How do I possibly begin? How do I give myself permission to write about myself? About those things that still rattle me? I am hoping Katherine’s class will help me with this. Just because I was able to write about what I have gone through doesn’t necessarily mean I am healed. I still have a long way to go.

AB: What else can readers look forward to from you?

KR: More healing, more tattoos, more purple lipstick, and hopefully a finished CNF essay. MORNING, WITH BANDAGES will be out June 2020.



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