Friday, 5 August 2011

Tracy Franklin interview

So here, as promised, is the interview with Tracy Franklin, author of Angst, Anger, Love, Hope. Enjoy!

I get the impression that you have moved around a fair bit. Where have you come from and where are you now?

I live in the US. I grew up in the South, mostly in west Tennessee. I live in the Northeast now, near Philadelphia, PA. I've lived other places as well, ending up in particular towns because of school or marriage or divorce.

Do you feel that living in these different places has been important in your poetry?

I think it helped me realize that regardless of accents or industry, people are the same everywhere you go. There are kind and unkind people everywhere, and class distinctions based not only on income and education, but on stuff like whether you were born in a particular locale. In the North, some people are quite comfortable sharing decidedly unfunny jokes and open disdain; in the South, you're sometimes just persona non grata if you haven't lived in a place all your life.

You've obviously seen a fair bit of life. Can you tell me some of the things you've done and the jobs you've held that have affected the way that you write?

I spent a lot of time in service industries before I got my degree, and some time behind counters afterward, too, since I moved across the country and had to start a job hunt in the middle of our economic downturn. For some reason, an awful lot of people seem to think it's okay to speak to people who work in service industries as though they're so much trash. I'm as well read and well informed as anyone, but so what if I wasn't? Human worth isn't decided by intellect or money or education. Feeling disenfranchised from the rest of society has definitely affected the way I write.

When I saw a video of you reading your poetry to an audience, I was struck by how angry your words sounded. Would you say that a lot of your poetry is angry?

Definitely. I think anger has its place, its purpose. It's only the misdirection and misuse that cause problems. Justified anger is a great catalyst for social change.

Do you think you're an angry person?

No, but I know that others often see me that way. I think of myself as compartmentalized. I'm always happy about some things and always angry about others. I make it a point to generally think about those people and things in my life for which I'm grateful, but I don't begrudge myself anger for those situations that deserve it. I've gotten some useful stuff done because I've been angry about injustices.

I have the impression that you are concerned about the way that society treats people at the bottom of the ladder. Do you feel that your poetry carries a political message?

Yes. I think it carries a very social message, but I don't think it carries a partisan message. Everyone can agree that there is greed in our society, but I think a real danger is that we still have some vestiges of Manifest Destiny floating around, only now they're connected to our ideas about self sufficiency instead of cultural expansionism. "You made your bed, now lie in it" and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of stuff.

I would like to see the person who did everything right without help, or the person who fixed every mistake without help. These people don't exist. But life at the bottom of the ladder is hard - traumatic, even, filled with constant fear and shame. We tend to wipe our memories as we move up the rungs; pretty soon, we're keeping the romantic parts of the stories that showcase our hard work and pluck, and we're keeping quiet about handouts and sheer luck. There are things I won't talk about either, but I'll go on the record and say that I had lots of help along the way. And I hope that I never let myself forget those things I won't talk about.

I know you have a rare genetic disease that leaves you in a lot of pain. You blog about this but you don't seem to mention it in your poetry. Other poets are happy to use their own physical problems in their art. Why don't you?

Actually, that's just a matter of timing.

It seems to be almost impossible to be taken seriously when you don't look ill. I look normal, I'm capable of rational thought and conversation, everything looks like it moves the right way - it's really impossible for most people to accept that I battle constant fatigue, muscle stiffness, and pain. Even if they get it intellectually, they don't get it emotionally. They'll still ask for a quick, unplanned trip through a discount store if we're traveling together; their first thought if they catch me napping in the afternoon will still be that I'm indulging myself in some way. Sometimes people are nice and ask me if I can hold things, carry things, whatever - but I haven't learned how to tell people outright that I can't when I can't. So they'll have seen me carry groceries in or go up and down stairs, and that makes it harder to take the physical problems seriously. What they don't see after I've carried groceries or gone up and down stairs is that I might have trouble pulling my shirt on over my head later, that my jaw is clenched so tightly I'm in danger of cracking another tooth down through the root, that I'll be awake and twisting my legs until 5:00 a.m. because I'm in too much pain to sleep until I fall out from sheer exhaustion.

I knew that without a diagnosis, it would just be that much harder to be taken seriously, and most of the poems in Angst were written before I had a diagnosis. Now that I have one, I am working on a themed collection dealing with the difficulty of getting a diagnosis and the issues that surround the disease itself. I have to be careful, though, because without the right blend of humor and the right mix of issues, the collection could be overwhelmingly depressing.

When I reviewed your poetry I said that poems that come from suffering often read better than those written when you're happy. Do you agree? Do you think that you've suffered and do you think that makes stronger poetry?

Overall, I agree. I don't think that has to be the case, though. Instead, I think I'm still finding my voice with the happier poetry. I think that experience in general makes for better writing, and suffering is definitely a part of that. The happier poems that I am pleased with certainly reflect an awareness of life's darker possibilities.

I think that I've suffered, but I don't think that I've suffered more than other people. In fact, I think I've suffered a lot less than many. I think everyone has a few key issues with which they have to deal. I'd definitely rather have to deal with poverty and a physical disorder than a lot of the other horrors in the world. I've really been quite fortunate.

I have the impression that your life is happier now than it used to be. Do you find that it is easier or harder to write when things are going well? Do we have to keep our fingers crossed that you'll be unhappy so that we get more good stuff out of you?

My life is definitely happier now than it used to be, but I don't think the happiness is an issue, at least not more than tangentially. As I said, I'm still finding my voice in that way, but I am finding it. The real problem I have is finding the time to write. Write more poems, you'll have more poems to vet - and more good work to pull.

Another problem is the potassium-aggravated myotonia; the time I do have has to be very carefully managed. I guess I should say some good writerly thing like, "A real poet makes the time," but that won't come out of my mouth. I have obligations to people other than myself, and I've always thought the self-important temperamental artistes of the world asinine. The whole stereotype is tiresome. Try to be a decent human being before anything else.

I know you have lots of poems that you selected from when putting the book together. Are you collecting more? Can we expect another book and, if so, when?

I am writing new stuff, mostly for the medically themed collection I mentioned earlier. I was hoping maybe a year, but now I might be taking a detour into fiction. I'm not sure. There's an idea brewing that it might be time to start getting down on paper; then again, it might come to nothing. My fiction efforts usually peter out early on.

What are the three most important things in your life?

Values and family are a close first and second, and since those cover almost everything, I guess I'd choose art as a distant third.

Thank you, Tracy.

Tracy's book is available on Amazon or directly from her publisher, JMS Books.


  1. Great interview! I'm particularly interested in that Tracy has some ideas for a work of fiction, because I've always said she should write a novel. :-)

  2. Thank you, Tom! This was a blast.

  3. Great interview and I agree Tracy should write a novel :)

    Tracy, I chose my husband based on his manners toward service staff. I figured if a man could be so pleasant to the waiter that dropped a milkshake in his lap, he must be a very nice man. :) When he asked for a second date, I accepted.

  4. Heck, yes, Kimberlee! Sounds like he is a gem. Mine, too - he's had his share of service jobs in the past. And he's amazing with the PAM - has NEVER made me feel like a drag on him. In fact, has gone out of his way to make sure I don't.