Julia Morris Paul: Giving Voice to the Unspeakable

Co-Editor-in-Chief Ashley Hajimirsadeghi interviews poet Julia Morris Paul. Read Paul’s portfolio of poems here.

I want to provide insight into the disease of addiction through my poetry, but I want my poems to work as art, as well.

                      —Julia Morris Paul

In these poems, you seamlessly utilize different forms and white space on the page. As this is such a heavy topic, how did you find experimenting with form working against or with the poems?

Not having the benefit of a formal poetry education, I write and shape my poems instinctively and rely on trusted workshopping groups to steer me in the right direction. These poems are “heavy” as you say, so the white space, hopefully, provides some balance and breathing room. I find that the form of the poem is driven by the pacing that feels right for the content. It’s a bit like finding the right pot for the plant.

You’ve written an entire chapbook (Staring Down the Tracks) grappling with the impacts of opiate addiction on your son. How has the process of grappling with what has happened unfolded creatively? Has it been both healing and difficult at times to recall these memories?  

The experience of watching your child dissolve into addiction and all its horrors can never be adequately described in words. Writing these poems is an attempt to give voice to so much grief, fear, agony and anger. I am not sure healing is the right word—maybe better to say the writing provides a relief valve from the pressure cooker of overwhelming emotions.

When I read the poems published in the magazine, I found myself dwelling upon the concept of a scab: a wound, so clearly a wound still, in the process of healing. Many say the act of writing is a form of recalling: what have you discovered or rediscovered in the process of remembering and writing about it?

As a mother, there are aspects of my son’s suffering that I can only allow myself to explore through writing. What comes to mind, as an example, is the profound loneliness he must have experienced when he was estranged from family and friends. I try to find him and connect to him in that place and in all the dark places, including death. I try not to filter out anything.

Why did you ultimately choose poetry as the medium to convey these stories? 

Marie Howe refers to poetry as “a cup of language to hold what can’t be said.” Poetry has image, line break, meter, white space, form and other such devices that communicate as much as the words themselves. I want to provide insight into the disease of addiction through my poetry, but I want my poems to work as art, as well. Otherwise, how would I draw a reader in?

You’re both a writer and an attorney. While these are two completely different worlds, has one inspired or began to bleed into the other? 

Where the two worlds intersect is in the importance of the written word. There is much more writing involved in being an attorney than you would ever think based on movies and television shows! A lawyer’s writing needs to be persuasive, and I also think a poem needs to be persuasive. As an attorney I’m compelled to approach things logically, which is an urge I struggle to overcome in writing poetry.

What’s next for you as a poet and writer?

I have a book-length manuscript of poems that I will be sending out soon – a daunting venture, for sure. I have been working on and off on a chapbook about my cousin, who was part of the Warhol art and club scene in the seventies and eighties in New York City. Other than that, I’m just happy when the next poem comes.

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