Katy Dycus in conversation with poet, Alexandra Corinth. She’ll be performing on December 11th at Inner Moonlight, our poetry reading series.
Katy Dycus – Your chaplet, Deus Ex Diagnosi, provides a glimpse of what it´s like to be a patient encountering the cold surfaces of medicine. How have these experiences shaped your creative work?
Alexandra Cornth – These experiences have provided new contexts in which to explore the body with my creative work. I have often written about my body—whether through the dysphoria of eating disorders, gender, or sexual assault. This journey of diagnosis has provided yet another lens with which to view myself, to consider how my body fits in the world around me, and how other bodies like mine exist in unexplained pain every day. All of these considerations give dimension to my work, even the art I make that doesn’t directly address chronic illness or disability.
While this collection focuses on “cold surfaces,” my encounters with the American healthcare system have also opened me up to a broader community of chronically ill and disabled artists and activists. I believe that community is essential to creativity, and while I would never wish this process on anyone, I am grateful for the circle of friends I have made through our shared experiences. These relationships help me be a better advocate through my work.
KD – In “MRI #1” you talk about the “the limbo of almost diagnosis, almost Understanding.” Where do poets and doctors fit within this space? Can they occupy the same space?
AC – I believe they absolutely can occupy the same space, especially in the “limbo of almost diagnosis.” However, I feel that poets and doctors speak different languages of the body.
I try to explain my symptoms to my physician, and she asks me to break it down more plainly, more clinically. But the experience isn’t always a clinical one—it is visceral, near violence, and I struggle to find another way to describe it.
It has been a learning process, for sure. When I am too emphatic, I risk being dismissed as overdramatic or not truly ill; when I am too detached, I risk hiding the severity of a symptom that could lead to the right test or scan. Neither is a risk I cannot afford to take.
I am lucky to now have doctors willing to learn how to speak with me as much as I am willing to learn how to speak with them—but that too has been a journey.
KD – In “Bloodwork,” you mark disease with geographical resonance: possible routes, an atlas of syndrome, “roads erased as bruises fade.” Why this metaphor?
AC – For many years, I thought of “diagnosis” as a physical place—one with borders and a mayor and laws that would change my life and unravel every unknown into understanding.
When I wrote “Bloodwork” in late 2018, it seemed like doing each blood test was akin to choosing a direction on a map. Thinking of them this way helped me see them as productive—I have had more than 20 blood draws in three years, totaling hundreds of individual diagnostic tests. They were often painful, but if I focused on their potential, that didn’t matter as much.
I usually got the results around the time the bruises faded from the draw site. Since all I’ve learned is what my condition’s not, it’s like those roads to “diagnosis” were erased from the atlas and my arm simultaneously.
KD – You write that sometimes “this pain yields no answers” (“EMG”). Is that why you write poems, to try to get at some of the answers science doesn´t or won´t provide?
AC – Yes and no. I think I write poems for all kinds of reasons, but mostly I write to understand something. That could be what’s happening to my body or why Sara Amato was such a compelling wrestler or who the last queen of Yugoslavia was.
One of my favorite questions is, “Then what does that mean?” I ask myself this over and over when I’m writing until I’ve found whatever I’m looking for.
KD – The DFW metroplex is studded with world-class medical centers as well as museums and other art venues. How do you see those worlds colliding, and how does your art fit within the overlap?
AC – DFW is where I have found myself as an artist and where I finally started getting answers about my chronic illness. As such, those worlds for me are one and the same.
Beyond DFW, science and art are two halves of the same brain—they communicate, they cooperate, and they need each other to survive. Accessibility is a great example of their collaboration—where medical needs meet creativity, engineering meets design.
I hope my art serves as a reminder of science and art’s inevitable coexistence—and repays the cities that have given so much to me.
Alexandra Corinth will perform on December 11th with also poet Mag Gabbert, at Inner Moonlight, The Wild Detectives monthly poetry reading series. More info here.
Katy Dycus Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Katy now lives in Madrid, Spain. When she isn't teaching, hiking, or laughing with friends, she's probably writing for the anthropology journal Mammoth Trumpet. Or looking for the perfect avocado.