Dustin Brookshire: From rape to poetry

I felt embarrassed, even though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and shouldn’t be embarrassed. Embarrassment won out and kept me from talking about the rape. What I discovered was I could write about the rape in my poems — after all, one of the big rules in poetry is never to assume the speaker in the poem is the writer. Working with the rape in the context of poetry helped me get to where I could talk about it to others. 

Sibling Rivalry Press, at my request, agreed to donate $1 from each chapbook purchased through its website to the Dekalb Rape Crisis Center (DRCC).

All too often people see rape as a female  problem when it is actually a human problem. The DRCC understands this whole-heartedly, and it is evident by the services offered. The center offers supports groups for LGBTQ survivors, teens, women, and individual counseling sessions. I wanted to do something good through poetry, and raising funds via my chapbook seemed like a good way to do it.  

Do you mind sharing more about being raped? What happened? Did you press charges?

It took a few years for me to realize it is okay for me to set the conversation boundaries when discussing the rape. This is what is comfortable for me to share: It happened in 2006. I was 23. It happened in my apartment. The rapist was an ex-boyfriend, and I didn’t press charges.

I didn’t talk about it for almost six months — instead I transferred part of my pain into poems. I wish I had spoken to someone sooner.    

How did you find support and the Crisis Center?

Telling my best friend was my first step in finding support. I had so much anger built up inside. I had anxiety issues. I couldn’t watch movies that had rape scenes, and I have a few poems in the chapbook that deal with movies and television. I had nightmares. I realized that I couldn’t heal with poetry alone and that I needed to see someone who was professionally trained to help. I started seeing a psychologist. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I reached out to the DRCC’s executive director, Phyllis Miller, to confirm that the DRCC would accept donations from the purchase of my chapbook. I met with Phyllis, and she gave me a tour of the facility. The DRCC provides services to all people — no matter if they are straight or identify as LGBTQ or male or female. They are doing great work. Their Clothesline Project especially moved me.  (http://www.dekalbrapecrisiscenter.org/clotheslineproject.html)  

Why poetry?

Anne Sexton and “Her Kind.”

“Her Kind” is the first poem I remember falling in love with. I read it as part of an assignment in my senior AP Lit course, and I kept reading it over and over. It spoke to me with lines like “I have gone out, a possessed witch, / haunting the black air, braver at night;” and “A woman like that is misunderstood. / I have been her kind.” 

And, my love affair with poetry became a marriage with Sexton’s poem “With Mercy for the Greedy.” It’s a wonderful poem with a soap opera back story that, for me, gives a bottom line message that poetry is Anne’s religion. And, that’s what poetry is for me and more. It’s a way to find forgiveness. It’s a way to a shine light on a secret hiding in the dark. It’s a way to rejoice.  

What is your process for writing? Who are some of your major influences?

It starts with a line or a title. I map out the poem a few times in my mind before I ever touch my Mac. Then, when I think I have it how I want it to flow, I hit the keys. Once I’m done, I dive right back in and revise. I sometimes reach out to my friend Chris D  — he’s been my sounding board for many years — to see if something sounds off to him. Usually there is at least one more round of revising after consulting him.  Typically, but not always, I do most revisions within an hour or two of when I first type the poem. I have a hard time with the “let it sit and come back to it” rule that a lot of writers use.

Beth Gylys, Dr. G as I call her, changed how I experience poetry. I took a creative writing class that she taught at Georgia State. Dr. G has a talent that a lot of creative writing teachers don’t have — she doesn’t try to change your voice. She helps you learn to control your voice when writing. I was a little bit of a loose cannon before her. Dr. G is also a talented poet; her book “Bodies that Hum” is a must for any bookcase. Denise Duhamel rocks my world. Whenever someone tells me they don’t like poetry I convince them to read “Sometimes The First Boys Don’t Count,” and they usually change their minds or at least admit they like Denise.  
When and how did you come out to your parents?

I was 19 and came out to my mother over the phone in the middle of an argument. When I was younger I wasn’t good at playing my Rook card at the right moment. I’m not sure how or when my mother told my dad, and I doubt I’ll ever ask. We’ve had some hard times since that call, but we’ve come a long way.

I wouldn’t trade my parents for anything. Well, except maybe for a VIP meet and great with Dolly Parton. I kid!  

If you could have one super power, what would it be?

Telekinesis. I’ll blame this on a combination of Stephen King’s “Carrie” and being bullied on the school bus as a kid. 


Top photo: Raped by an ex-boyfriend, Dustin Brookshire found he could address his feelings first through his poetry. (by Jeffrey Lofgreen)