Sheila Squillante: Tell me about a time you recovered your language.
Ashley Inguanta: I remember understanding that the sun was going to set, but I headed to Malibu anyway. I flew in from Florida, my home, that morning. In a few days, I would read from my first collection, The Way Home, at Book Soup. Until then, I had time to rest, to discover, to navigate, to learn. I wrote The Way Home at a time I felt extremely lonely, and I wanted to take time to understand what that meant to me now, in these present moments of healing.
The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I had a very severe panic attack, and my neighbor came over to sit with me. We spoke about loneliness, finding pieces of connection in the world. In the morning, I felt grounded enough to leave, but I still felt sore, almost paper thin.
So I went to one of my favorite places in America: That spot where road meets rock meets ocean, the place where Santa Monica becomes Malibu. I sat, smoked tobacco, and listened. I remember birds gliding, the rhythm of the Pacific’s waves swelling like one worn, strong heart.
And then Dylan appeared, like magic, out of nowhere. He asked for a cigarette; I gave him one and a light. He asked why I was here and I told him about the reading. He said, Can I read your book? I said, Yes. I gave him a copy and he started reading it right there, in that very specific place where road meets rock meets ocean. He marked his favorite pages with the cigarette. And when he got to the part about living on the outskirts of another woman’s life, he said he understood. He told me that he was an artist, too, but his job was to create everything “out there,” and pointed to the ocean.
I remember writing those words: “to live on the outskirts of another woman’s life” and all of the pain and beauty and growth that came along with them. Dylan didn’t have to say it–I could tell he understood. And as he sat on those big Malibu rocks and read words I wrote, I felt connected to something much, much larger. I could feel myself changing shape, recovering my language, a language I was beginning to lose trust in, lose connection with. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening, but I knew that my story connected with his story, and that bigness warmed my spirit.
SS: Tell me about a time you recovered from language.
AI: I often find myself recovering from the language of tradition and expectation. I consider Florida to be my long-term home, but I do not consider myself “from” Florida. I do not consider myself “from” anywhere, really, and I find that language to be very limiting. I feel extraordinarily connected to place, and because of that, I do not want my origin to be bound. In each and every place I go to, my spirit changes–a birth. Even if the change is slight, it’s there. I experience these shifts through sea-level changes, temperature changes, the way soil and grass and concrete spread, generously provide ground for us.
I can get lost in “from/origin” if I am not careful. With these energies, staying true to myself and my experience is a practice.
SS: Whose body do you remember in your skin?
AI: I remember the woman who helped me heal and nurture her heart, as well as my own heart. I remember her body in my skin with the precision that seed grows into flower.
SS: How does writing move us toward and away from embodiment?
AI: I believe that when we write, we hold space for our bodies and spirits to transform–to change shape (however minute) to express the discoveries we have made in our poems. I also believe that we are not the poem, and sometimes I catch myself feeling like the journey ends at the poem–but then I get thrown into the tangible world, off paper, and understand that I must affirm/question/navigate the energy the poem holds with my own body, in this world.
So, to answer the question simply: Poetry moves us toward embodiment by allowing change to take shape inside of us. Poetry moves us away from embodiment when our world becomes only the page.
SS: What are you actively trying to recover right now and how can poetry help you do that?
AI: I am trying to recover a part of myself that I lost when I moved to Brooklyn. I left so many people I loved behind. I experienced many powerful, moving, and healing moments in New York City, but I also understood that I was losing the part of myself that understood how to nurture, how to be brave, and how to care for another human during a big spurt of growth.
In Florida, I used to leap into oceans–no hesitation–no matter how big the wave. I used to find beauty in every single cloverflower–each one feeling like a miracle. The earth used to shake when I would make these discoveries: The tiniest flower there, the biggest wave I have ever moved through. I made the decision to return home when I traveled back for Easter and saw my beautiful friends; my flight was late, and when I arrived at our meeting place, they were all waiting for me. It felt like I had died and came back to life: I was finally, finally home again.
Here, in Florida, I have been able to slowly find that brave, strong, nurturing part of myself. Poetry has been my best friend for nearly my entire life, and poetry has been by my side for each and every moment of this journey (and still is). I write to navigate, to affirm, to question, to heal–and I read for the same reasons. Poetry helps me heal in this beautiful, colossal way. And for that, I am grateful.