Nancy Lee looks at what it means to be a woman in her poetry collection What Hurts Going Down
A longer version of this interview originally aired on April 4, 2020.
Nancy Lee is a British-born Canadian short story writer and novelist. Her first book, Dead Girls, won the 2003 VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women's issues. She is also the author of the novel The Age, about a troubled teenage girl who gets involved with an activist group planning a bomb attack.
Now, Lee has turned to poetry. Her first collection is called What Hurts Going Down and it's an exploration of girlhood in the 'before and after' of the #MeToo era.
Lee spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing What Hurts Going Down.
To be a woman
"I wanted to capture the entire experience of being a woman. As a girl, we're forced to navigate dynamics that we're really not equipped to navigate.
As a girl, we're forced to navigate dynamics that we're really not equipped to navigate.
"I'm sure every grown woman has memories of being a girl or a teenager and having encounters with men that you never imagined you would have at the age you're at.
"The weight of those encounters carries through adult life. It's very difficult to let go of that messaging that society and media gives us."
"I wanted to write a book that spoke the language of survival, in which survivors could see themselves reflected and affirmed. I feel that's a lifelong journey. When we have experiences of abuse and assault, they don't just go away. They don't just fade in a few years.
When we have experiences of abuse and assault, they don't just go away. They don't just fade in a few years.
"When I started writing these poems, I wrote them for myself. I wrote them as a way to understand the experiences that I had been through — and to perhaps create a sense of letting go of that self-blame that a lot of us carry. That question of, 'What did I do to make that happen?'"
"I wanted to examine, throughout the book, this strange dichotomy we have in society where there's so little understanding of the experience of survivors in terms of assault and abuse.
"We're a society that seems obsessed with stories of assault and abuse in an entertainment context. Young women are often the anonymous, nameless victims of crimes and the stories in film, TV and popular books tend to focus on the psychology of the perpetrator for some reason.
We're a society that seems obsessed with stories of assault and abuse in an entertainment context.
"The lives of the victims or the survivors are rarely the focus of entertainment. So that's what I was curious about. Why do we have that dichotomy — and what does it say to survivors, and people who are enduring harassment, abuse and assault, about their place in society?"
Nancy Lee's comments have been edited for length and clarity.