Harvesting the Difficult: The Gift of Learning What to Say

Lauren K. Alleyne Lauren K. Alleyne
Alpha Nu Chi Chapter
University of Dubuque, IA

It's mere days to the release date of my first collection of poetry, Difficult Fruit. On the one hand, it seems unreal: I have a book in my hand. It's beautiful. It has my name on it. I can't wait to see who I'll be shelved next to—Akhmatova? Alcott? Anonymous? On the other hand, it's all too real—the mystery of the process long gone. I've been working on this book in this incarnation of itself for at least six years, but in fact, the oldest poem in the book dates back to 2002, and was written during my first masters program in Ames, Iowa. The collection has had several names and identities; it has been rejected, revised, and re-submitted in a near-constant cycle over the course of those years. It has been a finalist eight times in prestigious national contests, and so in many ways, this is as much relief as it is disbelief.

Difficult Fruit - cover

What I can say, though, is that the journey to this book has been one I wouldn't trade for the world. I read once that equal parts of hubris and despair go into the making of a writer. I've now lived that long enough to know that it's true. Over the course of trying to find a home for this collection, what kept me sending it out was the former, what kept me working on it was the latter. There's something bracing about believing that one has something to say, and that it's not enough to say it privately—it demands air, audience, or at least access to bodies where it might go, make itself live. At the same time, a kind of plasticity is required—the ability to go back and back and back, re-defining, re-seeing and re-writing the work, a sense of never quite getting the thing right. Step by step, I was learning what I wanted to say and why saying it mattered, while learning how to say it better.

As members of Sigma Tau Delta, we've invested in a literary life—a life where words are the instruments of our consciousness, discipline, and often, even our leisure. We are, in the words of Adrienne Rich, "susceptible to language." This means that we've wrestled, one way or another, with the beautiful and frustrating paradox of language: its ability to signify what is always just out of reach. As a writer, one engages this paradox even more intimately—both summoning and writing toward that which is unspeakable even as it demands to be heard. The process of writing and revising the poems in Difficult Fruit drew me into that paradox again and again, reminding me with every draft and discovery that working within words is to never quite be complete, but to surrender to the flux of possibility.

So while I await my book's emergence into the world with thrill and awe, I am also keenly aware that the real gift has been in the process itself, in inhabiting the possibilities along the way, and growing as a writer and a person as a result. Publication is not an end, but a delightful stop on a journey that has been both difficult and fruitful.