Elegies for My Past and Future Selves

Tori Hicks, University of Texas at El Paso


“Here I stand at the beginningwith more questions thananswers”–George Ella Lyon, “Provenance” from A Many Storied House This collection of poems and flash memoir tries to be memory in the flesh. Perhaps it’s the other way around – this book is composed of memories striving to be poems, pieces of music, flashes of memoir, and photographs, all for the purpose of exploring who I was, who I am, and who I could become. Whichever way one interprets it, Elegies for My Past and Future Selves is a hybrid collection that looks at the events of my past, my anxieties of the present, and my tentative hope for the future. The collection is experimental, both in the work itself or the means of generating it. Told through memory and confession, Elegies largely explores matters of the heart and mind – mental illness, childhood trauma, the ghosts of who I used to be, what I thought the world would be, and the uncertainty of the future. With my experience as a singer framing the larger non-linear narrative, Elegies shows the transformation of a traumatized child to an artist reclaiming some of their power by using their voice. The narrator writes about Dallas-area locations such as Lake Tawakoni and Trinity Park, deep fears and boogeymen like serial killer Israel Keyes. In contrast, some poems are about love, fulfillment, and joy, which have marked even the darkest times. By employing visual elements – especially collage, charts, and photography – as part of my writing, and using various typographical structures on the page, I have found a new approach to telling the stories that I am compelled to share, some of which have never been told to anyone. I have always been a writer in some form, but something shifted in my practice around October of 2020. Despite entering the MFA program in the fall of 2019 with the intention of focusing on fiction, my Advanced Creative Nonfiction and Advanced Poetry courses pushed me in a different direction, giving me the focus I had been looking for. Through exposure to new voices, structures, and approaches to writing, I became more comfortable talking about myself and others and experimenting with my writing. Many of these practices, writing as a response to my writing “ecosystem,” have become integral to my writing process. A lot less formal than what books on craft tend to suggest a writer should have, my creative process is best described as “organized chaos.” I work within a hellish paradigm wherein it can be easiest to write when inspiration strikes but I still need to write – because I’m a writer. I meditate on ideas all the time – while I’m doing the dishes, when I can’t sleep at night, when I’m driving. I sometimes write obsessively for many hours, but I can also go multiple days without writing more than a few notes. This sporadic practice is hell for the organized Type-A side of me but a natural fit for my scatterbrained, flexible Type-B side. However, I tend to document the most important pieces when I need to with the Google Docs app on my phone, where I often jot things down. I have a section in my running “To-Do” list document for writing ideas and lines that pop into my head. When necessary, I will even make a voice note. Poets Seema Reza and Ada Limon have both discussed the importance of taking time to think and the mental work that occurs when living with stories and poems. Limon says in an interview for her newest book, The Carrying, that “A lot of the time when I’m in a producing mode, it’s because I’ve been receptive to the world for a long time. Suddenly it’s like, ‘Okay. I’ve turned something inside me. It’s time to work” (Cole). In a workshop I attended, Reza expressed similar sentiments, saying that we often have time when we are (what I like to call) idly busy – again, in traffic, doing household chores, chipping away at mindless work – and using those times to prep for the work of writing. Just as important as mentally preparing to write is the active pursuit of inspiration. What triggers something in me to pick up the pen or type into my Google Doc? What is on my mind but hasn’t come out yet because I haven’t found a way to express it? For me, this often includes consuming any written, audio, or visual media I can find: poetry, news articles, old journal entries, fiction, podcasts, cheesy TV shows. I feel that if one looks for gold, they can find it in unexpected places, especially if they shift their mindset about what gold looks like. With the experimental techniques I learned in my poetry classes, such as C.A. Conrad’s “(Soma)tic Poetry Rituals,” and texts from mentors, I have multiple places that I can go when I need to jumpstart my writing. As a passionate user of technology and presentation tools, my personal favorite generative strategy is to open Canva and look through the designs. The original draft of this book was mostly written in Canva due to the robust library of visual elements and fonts at my disposal. I have since moved to InDesign for the remainder of the book’s creation due to the 100 page limit in Canva. I first thought of moving toward a visual method of storytelling when the layered story in Thi Bui’s artwork for her graphic memoir The Best We Could Do emotionally impacted me, but I don’t particularly enjoy drawing. When I discovered how much I could do digitally, though, my work became more visual. Many life experiences culminated in the creation of this book: my grief at the loss of my Pappaw to Covid and my Uncle Bruce in a motorcycle accident three years prior; mourning the child I used to be; the torment of loving another person; nostalgia for people, places, and times that I miss and often struggle to remember; family history; self-discovery; childhood trauma that remains vivid in my mind; and my ongoing struggles with depression, anxiety, and a late diagnosis of ADHD and Bipolar II. A major section of Elegies covers my time as a singer, guitarist, and pianist, especially my undergraduate degree in music, though I’ve been singing my entire life. I joined my first church choir when I was four years old, and through years of participating in both school and church choir, and competing in region and state competitions, I decided to be a professional singer. In high school, I decided to pursue music in a more practical way by directing high school choir, something that would allow me to share my passion with others and continue to sing. However, I suffered from debilitating anxiety that negatively impacted my ability to perform. I was in constant distress during performances — not at the prospect of people watching and listening or even that I wouldn’t sound my best, but being in auditoriums with such open space, tall ceilings, and being trapped in one spot, unable to move no matter how dizzy I became. Despite those issues, I pursued the degree in music and ultimately finished that degree, albeit without the teaching certification I had originally intended to receive. Instead, I minored in Creative Writing and completed enough hours of English credit to qualify for teaching public school English/Language Arts. My dream shifted, as dreams often do, and now I am exploring how to reconcile my many truths.Going through the MFA program at UTEP fulfilled a dream and career goal of mine, and the courses have introduced me to literature that I may not have otherwise read, if for no other reason than not being aware of its existence. If one were to tally up the entries in my bibliography, there is notably less fiction on this list compared to the number of books containing poetry, prose, memoir, and creative nonfiction, and the fictional work on the list often takes place in the form of poetry. Regardless of genre, however, all these works have in common that they have captured my attention and compelled me to begin self-exploration. Over the past few years, I’ve become focused on a particular writing style, the voice and content characterized by sincerity, visual experimentation, and specif...

Subject Area

Creative writing

Recommended Citation

Hicks, Tori, "Elegies for My Past and Future Selves" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI29206598.