Born and raised in France — before school in England and some time in Canada — San Antonio transplant and poet Candice Louisa Daquin grew up understanding America from an outsider’s perspective. In France, one can say that she experienced a slightly more progressive (though increasingly less so) version of the same mirage of Western Democracy (and all the social ails that come with it) as someone living in the States might have. In her poetry, which is rich with powerful and relatable images/metaphors of suffering and overcoming (at the hands of social and individual forces), Daquin’s unique voice becomes a source of exploration, defiance and healing for both writer and reader.
In previewing her fifth poetry collection Pinch the Lock, I felt as if I was reading a piece that was specifically intended for these challenging times; not because the poetry is overtly political or preachy, but because it is precisely the opposite. Through an acute awareness of how her own internal universe is, paradoxically, a common ground from which to grapple with the human struggle writ large, Daquin is able to create a reflective space in her work. In a long interview, Daquin and I discussed Pinch the Lock, her worldview and the healing powers of poetry.
Tell me a bit about when poetry began for you. What drew/draws you to the form and how do you keep creative/inspired?
As a young child I had Dyscalculia, but it had yet to be understood and my teachers would remark that whilst I was terrible at math, I was so good at writing. I probably over-compensated with writing because I had a deficit in math, and this proved useful, as otherwise I truly believe I would have quit school very early on. The form of poetry struck me because it is a way of conveying complex thoughts in a brief exchange of words and at the same time it’s much more challenging than writing the thoughts out literally. My best friend and I would write poetry together and compete in poetry competitions when we were very young. I keep creative by insisting on a discipline of more reading and writing than anything else. It is also something you cannot learn so much as it just turns out being who you are if you nurture it. Alongside writing, I count dance and art as close seconds in my appreciation of creative pursuits.
The poems in Pinch the Lock are charged with images and sentiments of revolution, social upheaval, existentialist lamentations, etc. When were they written and to what extent do political elections and the tenor of public discourse impact your writing?
I was elated when Finishing Line Press wrote and said they wished to publish Pinch the Lock. It is a lot shorter than my other books and as such, it’s more of a “amuse bouche” of thought at the world, a bit like trying to get to know someone through a kaleidoscope. My writing is typically considered very image-heavy which is deliberate, and this helps me write about often-difficult subjects. If I wrote starkly, it may be unpalatable, if you focus on imagery to describe your emotions it’s easier to “go further.” I am not out to shock or educate, I want to describe and give voice to emotions and experiences people find it hard to verbalize. You are right to say it holds existentialist lamentations, this is also deliberate, because it’s my intention to discuss what we often do not look at, even at the price of putting people off. You cannot write honestly and people-please at the same time. I find it hard to be condemned for some of my subjects but you cannot let that hold you back or you will stifle yourself. Politics is a key aspect of our existence so they’re omnipresent as is public discourse, though in many ways, it’s an interior (emotional) discourse rather than say, a mimicry of social media. Additionally, as a queer woman coming to America I saw the difference and it was humorous because I felt like a real beginner in terms of relating with other queers. You assume because you have that in common, it will fall into place and it really doesn’t. There is a lot of loneliness and isolation in the gay community and art is one form of cohesion.
Can you unpack the wonderful title Pinch the Lock?
Well it’s a line in a poem I wrote. When I was thinking of the title, I thought of what stands out for me, as being representational of who I am as a person and writer. I think picking the lock (on life, on my heart, on the world, on secrets and emotions) is an accurate metaphor that encompasses me as a writer and emotional being. So I supplanted pick with pinch because the idea of a pinch hurting seemed to take it a step further. Life can be beautiful and it can hurt, we only experience joy if we know sorrow and vice versa … On another level I felt that I was a foreigner in America and I couldn’t relate well enough. I was always trying to pinch the lock and escape that feeling of not quite fitting in and that included the gay community. The transformative point was in realizing so many others experience this, whether immigrants, LGBT or just living life. I would like to think if my work helps one person feel they are more understood and less alone, it’s been worth it. Our community has a higher than average rate of abuse, alcoholism and suicide. That may seem negative but it’s reality and the best way of dealing with it, is to address the issues, directly and honestly. Sometimes that seems like a downer when we’re young and wanting to party but that’s exactly when people should be considering it, because we put into motion certain lifestyles and sometimes we don’t know how to make changes. I’ve always found a lot of comfort in reading and hearing what others have experienced. It’s a bit like having an older sibling who totally gets what you’re going through and can help you.
Lots of people talk of writing, especially poetry, in terms of its therapeutic value. Does it have this value for you?
I am a trained psychotherapist but I found actually working in the field too draining, because I’m an empath and I would take on the emotion of the clients too much and find it impossible not to take it home with me. I wanted to help but I found the system of psychotherapy very broken. During this time I began to write poetry again and some of my poetry reflects the transfer from being a psychotherapist to a writer, still seeking to solve problems and pain for others and myself. In that sense I think the two are interchangeable, the shared pursuit of healing, transformation and personal growth. Those can be catch-phrases or they can actually work, it depends upon whether you want to “go there” or you want to take a pill and opt out. The good thing about writing poetry is we discuss many of the same subjects as in therapy and many times it feels similar. At the same time you can hide behind it as an art form and not have to do the “trench work” as I call it when you are drowning in others’ sorrow. Ideally I could handle that but practically I find it silences me, so by writing it out, I can still “go there” without letting it overwhelm me (or the reader) … Many therapists are not trained sufficiently to deal with the “issues” unique to LGBT populations. I have even heard them say they are not really supportive of their “lifestyle” but bound to serve, which I think is a crummy perspective. Personally I’d only ever want to see a therapist who did support my lifestyle, but either way, because of that deficit and lack of funding in mental healthcare for LGBT populations, I feel other routes have been taken to bring support to our community — one is through the writing and art of those who care about imparting their own experiences and learning.
Specifically in terms of the issues surrounding sexuality and gender — what power/potential do you see in poetry to help heal people and/or change people for the better?
Good question. Specifically in terms of gender and sexuality, there is such an overdose of pornography and nudity and sexuality in our world today. I wonder what I would be like if I were 14 nowadays. I’m glad that I am not to be honest. I’m of the mindset that overdosing ourselves only proves to desensitize ourselves; and as much as we know, we know less. So because there is so much information out there, I wonder if we’re just tuning out the value and keeping the soundbites. If that is true, then poetry can be a clarification on emotion. That may seem strange given that poetry is sometimes allegorical and not always very easy to interpret, but maybe it’s that concentration we have to give — reading poetry — that helps us to invest in it and thus, the meaning behind it. I have been continually surprised at how many people will “unpick” a poem I wrote and really spend time trying to understand it at deeper levels; and this feels really good because it shows [that] in a very attention-deficit world, we can still pay attention and be mindful … As far as healing, I think slowing down and taking time to consider important things is always necessary. For some, avoidance seems to work better, but I am a proponent of dealing with things and I see that as being one potential in poetry and writing in general. We can heal simply by having a conversation so why not by reading a poem or thinking about something rather than tuning it out? As for sexuality, we’re losing touch with real understanding of what intimacy and connections can be, as we become more depersonalized and technology-based … I like the idea of poetry being one medium that retains its passion and longing. Some of the most passionate things I have ever read have been songs and poems. We should never lose touch with that … On a tongue in cheek note, I like making fun of my sexuality and my “gayness” sometimes and I will switch directions and write quite satirical or sarcastic poems about being gay, because the power of laughing and (kind) ridicule can be equally cathartic.
What advice would you offer young members of the LGBTQIA community — or anyone — who is looking to pursue creative writing professionally?
Making a living that will pay your bills is not very viable in the early stages. My recommendation is to consider paring your writing with another job that is related in some way. One of my first jobs was in Europe, [where] I worked first as an editorial assistant then finally working my way up to running the production and publication department of a medium-sized magazine. This helped me hone the discipline needed to work without guidance. I have also taught and the structure of learning academically can be beneficial as a writer; although you do not want to let that be your only voice so I’d recommend an element of education in any writing field. Lastly, networking is the key if you wish to write professionally and that involves taking on jobs that you see leading to other jobs down the road. Before it was one of the largest U.S. poetry magazines, Rattle started out humbly and I was one of the original writers (reviewing books of poetry) because I saw the “long-view” … That said, it’s as rewarding to write in your spare time as it is full-time and perhaps more realistic. Every generation has a distinctive voice, and adding your thoughts to that canon is very rewarding. I would like to think I have achieved this a little in my focus on the experience of my gender, sexuality, mental illness and other overlooked subjects. I encourage more LGBTQIA to write because we have a relatively marginalized voice and the more we speak out, the more the myths are dispelled.