Violence is Repetitive: Paige Lindsay in Conversation with Patrick Grace

Patrick Grace

Malahat Review volunteer Paige Lindsay talks with Patrick Grace, winner of the 2020 Open Season Award for poetry with his poem, "A Violence." 


Patrick Grace is a queer writer from Vancouver. His poetry has been longlisted for CV2's Young Buck Poetry Prize and twice for PRISM international's Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize. He is the managing editor of Plenitude Magazine

In “A Violence,” you pick up violence with poetry and examine it from so many different angles. It is “winded,” “frightening,” a “clumsy dance.” Language itself is implicated: “the hard fist or the harder word.” You wonder when the first instance of violence occurred and where it might fall on a timeline, nestled between scientific discoveries. And then, when we think we might be able to plot out violence in time and perhaps understand it, you point to a “man in blue” who must be convinced, must be made to believe that violence happened. The semblance of understanding breaks apart, shatters. “I still find / glass in the bedroom.” In writing this poem and studying and questioning violence in this way, did you learn anything unexpected about your subject matter? What do you hope your readers take with them?

“A Violence” chronicles the final moments of a relationship I had with a man who engaged in emotional, psychological, and, ultimately, physical abuse. In writing this poem, I confronted my ex-boyfriend’s intimidation, his drinking, his infidelity, the lies he told, the excuses he made. The shadows he hid under his ruthless charisma. The endless gaslighting. The threats to my life. This poem was never about discovering an outlet or finding healing. It was a way for me to capture the actions of one person, to never forget what he’d done, to stop finding excuses, and to begin to examine how and why men make the choices they make.

The final stanza introduces a “man in blue,” the Vancouver police officer who took the 911 call on that last night. I remember his mannerisms, his expression, his words, basically telling me to man up and get over it. It’s harrowing, having to convince someone who trivializes the abuse you’ve just experienced by saying, don’t talk to each other for a few days, give it some time. It was important for the police officer to be included in this poem, especially at the end, where the idea of witness is examined in contrast. I’m a gay man—how could I possibly put my trust in an officer who acted with no empathy or understanding of gay male-to-male domestic violence?

For a long time, I was wracked with fear whether to submit this poem to a magazine, let alone a contest. He’ll find out. He’ll come after you. He’ll skew reality, as he always did. What solace would I find here? Was I asking for trouble? Because it didn’t end after that night. My ex soon engaged in virtual stalking. He sent taunting messages and videos of himself. I deleted my social media apps, but many times he found me and tried to add me as a friend. He called from unknown or private numbers over and over, many times a day. He even contacted one of my exes in another city. It was unreal. So for me, this poem confronts the dark, violent side of certain men and the things they do to other men. How they treat the men in their lives when things get bad. The malice that comes forth. Intimidation. Threatening behaviour. And the preconceived notions on the part of policemen who are meant to protect us. All of this is what I hope readers take away with them.

When I first read “A Violence,” I was immediately drawn in by the rhythm, line breaks, and repetitions. As Open Season Award poetry judge A. Light Zachary writes in their blurb about your poem, it is “[a] master class in line breaks—each one a sharp little tooth—and epistrophe.” Would you share with us your thoughts on your use of these structural techniques in your work in general and this poem in particular?

I appreciated A. Light Zachary’s comments on my poem—each line as sharp, especially. This poem was originally part of a longer sequence where I challenged myself to be rid of punctuation and long lines. Break the ends unknowingly, hang the lines as micro statements, mini questions, my own ruminations standalone. The repetition was intentional. Violence is repetitive. I chose the same words repeated over many lines in different scenarios to mimic violence and the many faces it wears. “Courage” as a stand-in for the artifacts we use to fight back. “Violence” as a stand-in for my abuser’s real name. “Believe,” because in the after, it’s still not over. I can’t speak for other victims of assault or abuse, physical or emotional or otherwise, but trying to convince a male police officer of my story was the last thing I wanted to do. And so I appreciated A. Light Zachary’s other comment, further lifting the line: “it’s always a man.” A man I escaped from, another man I ran to. It’s maddening, this endless circle of men, and I tried to imbue the poem with this same sense of circularity, returning to familiar images or questions with no clear answers. The dreamlike quality to the poem was also intentional. Nothing in my life was certain after that final night.

Could you give us a glimpse into your process? Do you have an ideal writing environment? What does one of your poems look like at the very beginning? Do you repeatedly revise your work, or do you try not to touch it too much once you’ve got it out?

I write in the evenings after work, or in the morning on weekends, surrounded by plants in my living room. I have a view of the North Shore mountains in Vancouver from my balcony. As I’m writing, I often stare out the window and watch the lights dotting the hills. I’m not a fast writer. I think a lot about what I will write. That doesn’t mean each poem is painstakingly slow—sometimes a poem emerges in a day and I’m content to leave it alone. Other times I have an idea and the emotion just isn’t there yet, so I write a few lines and return to it the next day or so.

I find I’m more focused when I wake early and immediately shut out the world by picking up a book instead of my phone. The daily bullshit inevitably makes its way through, but I can usually hold it off for a few hours by reading poetry with a style similar to my own, and then diving into recent poems I’ve written.

When it comes to revisions, I honestly believe poetry should be in its most raw form. The more you shift it around, the more you break it. That original emotion is so important. If you need to rewrite it entirely, go ahead. I’ve done this for many of my poems and I’m much happier with the outcome of a completely rewritten poem than one where I’ve altered this verb, that noun, those adjectives. I once heard that a poem isn’t finished until you edit it a hundred times, and I used to think it was true, at least for my early poetry. It took me years to unlearn the common revision rituals of university-level poetry workshops. These days, it all amounts to the feeling I get—has the lock mechanism clicked or is the key still sitting there, waiting to be turned? Who holds that key? Only the writer. Don’t look to others to turn it.

Your work has been longlisted for CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize and twice for PRISM international’s Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize. What does being selected as the winner of The Malahat Review’s Open Season Award for poetry mean to you?

It means someone believed in my work, which means others might, too. And that gives me hope for my future writings. I don’t often share my poems or submit them to literary journals—I’m too critical of my own craft. It’s an ongoing battle to quell that voice, that hesitation. The doubt. Maybe me. Why not me? The deadline for this contest fell at a time when I was producing a lot of poetry, so I gave it a chance. And I waited, as poets often do. I turned that secret hope over and over inside me each day.

I remember how jagged my emotions were when I found out I’d won. I was immediately giddy, overtaken with a raw, childlike excitement. I’ve won something big! But shock, self-doubt, anger—they all flooded in. This poem was born of a terrible place. Why did I write it? Why did I write this violent, vulnerable poem. I shifted to grief and stayed there. I let it burn in my throat. It was familiar. Grief, not just for my shattered relationship and the ultimate betrayal and violence, but for my grandad, who had passed away a few months prior. He always supported my poetry, even if he never got a chance to read it. I wanted to call him and tell him the news, to drive out to the nursing home so he could be proud of me, but I couldn’t, and this emotion hit me the hardest.

How does your role as managing editor of Plenitude Magazine influence your writing? Do you prefer to keep these two areas separate, or do you like them to intermingle?

Since taking over as managing editor of Plenitude, I’ve discovered many new authors whose work I admire. There are many queer writers out there taking risks. It’s vulnerable. It’s encouraging to see. The book reviews also give me a lot to think about—I’m very interested in reading Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House.

My work as editor gives me a quiet respite from the day. I work full time as a primary school teacher, so it’s a welcome shift, coming home after the bustle. It’s good to be in the silence, to nerd out over website content or social media posts, to read through submissions. It’s often this quiet that takes me to my own poetry later in the night.

What is a writing goal of yours or a project you would like to pursue? What was the last poem you read that moved you?

My first collection of poems would be a good start. This poem will absolutely be a part of it. Lately, I’ve written many poems that encounter violence or intimidation in gay male relationships. Where does it start? In childhood? In coming to terms with our sexuality? In our first breakup? Why do gay men act the way they do. And where does that malice originate. Is it self-hatred or desire. Loathing. Urges passed on from previous men in our lives. The men who take care of us as children, or don’t.

I can’t say a specific poem has recently moved me, but for poets, the list starts with anything by Anne Carson—The Beauty of the Husband, for example, a fictional essay in 29 tangos. “What is this, what future is there / I thought / You said / We never.” It’s poetic verse like this that fuels my own writing. I’m drawn to disjointed poetry, unfinished sentences, no punctuation, unanswered questions. Short bursts. Fragments. Fred Wah’s is a door, or J. H. Prynne’s The White Stones. There’s also Vasko Popa, a Serbo-Croatian poet whose work has been translated by Charles Simic. Much of his poetry has a folkloric quality. Dark fables: “Ring nobody’s ring / How did you get lost / Fell from heaven somewhere / Everywhere more likely than somewhere.” I discovered Elizabeth Willis, an American poet, around Christmastime, and spent most of New Year’s Eve and Day reading Alive, a collection of new and selected poems. I’m enthralled by her lyricism, the cropped lines, the blocky poetics. “Where’s the organ an animal forgives with / Where’s my ‘heart’ within the cells I cotton to.” I’m struck by poetic envy whenever I open her collection.


Paige Lindsay

Paige Lindsay

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