When the cicadas went to sleep,
I was nine and afraid of widow maker spiders,
even though I had never seen one up close:
only in books with crumbs buried in their spines.
My skin was unmarked except for birthmarks
and I watched as my mother stood at the edge
of the yard in a storm. She remained—
until she felt a lightning
strike traverse her skin through
the shoulder and nestle inside her body.
I didn’t see contact—
I saw a shiver.
A twitch of the left leg, skin stretching
over earth tones and the thinnest layers
of ice. A crack in the shape of the left anterior
artery flourishing like film.
Where the lightning struck her,
I developed a mark on my shoulder—
I became polished metal,
a conductor of electricity,
a living mirror who could reminisce
about that spectacular strike.
Amy LeBlanc is a PhD student in English at the University of Calgary.
Questions and Answers
How/where do you find inspiration today?
I have definitely struggled to find inspiration for writing poems since the pandemic began—I am still realizing how much inspiration I derive from existing out in the world and having new experiences, and so I have been working to find inspiration in new places and a lot of that inspiration comes from other poems and from other poets. I try to go to as many online readings as I can and I read a lot of chapbooks, poetry collections, and literary journals. I find that the best way to get excited about writing poetry is to read poetry or listen to it. I’m still amazed at the work that poets are sharing and I have been able to see poets in online readings that I never might have heard otherwise. I also listen to a lot of podcasts about weird history and folklore and sometimes those turn into inspiration for poems.
For this poem in particular, I wrote it in the summer while taking an online poetry class with Brandon Wint. We had been reading Tyree Daye’s poem “Inheritance” and discussing how we write poetry about what we inherit and how we may not even know what we inherit until we name it. I remembered my mother telling me a story about being in the backyard when she felt a lightning strike (not enough to damage her, but enough to feel a jolt through her body) and I thought it would be interesting to explore inheritance through a single experience like a lightning strike. As a poet, I try to stay curious and open to new experiences, new work, and new modes of writing even when my usual ways of getting inspired aren’t open to me.
As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?
I have lots of advice and I find it easiest to group my tips under three main umbrellas: community, organization, and rest.
Community: It’s important to keep a balance and not get overworked, but I have learned so much about writing and the writing life from volunteering with literary journals and from diving headfirst into community work. One of the best parts about volunteering with literary journals is that is demystifies some of the publication process, especially the dreaded slush pile. You get to meet like-minded people who will geek out about really good poems with you, who will send calls for submissions your way, who will help you hold yourself accountable to your goals. If you provide this kind of support for others, you can foster a community of care that will be excited for you when you experience success.
Organization: I thrive on schedules and organization, so this step comes naturally to me, but keeping your time, schedule, and work organized is integral to writing success. I have a giant spreadsheet of work that is currently out for consideration, deadlines for calls I want to submit to, deadlines for when I want to finish certain pieces, etc. There’s no one way to keep everything organized and every writer has their own system (some people can keep things straight in their heads, but I’ve always needed to write everything down).
Rest: It’s a tough sell for most of us, but rest is also integral and necessary! My best writing insights tend to come to me after periods of time away from pieces. As a PhD student, sometimes I have to switch gears quickly between different kinds of work, but I can change my brain space by working on critical work when I need time away from creative pieces and vice versa. I also try to commit to some structured downtime to read for fun, play Animal Crossing, or knit some socks and watch Netflix. I try to remember that this isn’t useless downtime or a waste of time, it’s the time I give myself so that I can do good work later and show up for my community when it matters.
How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?
“Fulmination” started out as a different poem which was going to be about spiders and the mythology of the ‘widow maker,’ but I could tell that it was missing something major. When I started working on a new poem for Brandon’s workshop, I realized that I was incorporating elements of that original poem into something new that had so much more heart and feeling. I still have the original draft but the process of writing “Fulmination” felt simple because of the percolation work had been happening in the background. I just needed to write it down and tighten it with edits. I tend to read my poems out loud to myself to figure out where line breaks should be and how the sounds of the poem work together as a whole. This poem took some refining for the sound work to come together the way I wanted it to, but ultimately this poem felt familiar and homey when it finally landed on the page in its final form.