Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with Paul Lomax, author of Amygdala Blue.
FQ: You have an anthology that many authors don't venture in, by melding two genres in one text which you have done pretty impressively, I must say. How long did it take you to write the book?
LOMAX: Early in 2005, I wanted to author a hybrid book comprised of ‘arresting’ creative nonfiction and poetry, focusing on three powerful psychosocial themes: Religion, Racism, and Relationships. Amygdala Blue has been a personal and literary journey in the making for approximately seventeen (17) years. The indelible motivation and inspiration for the book culminated from my auspicious graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Master of Liberal Arts Program, where I focused on African American Literature and Psychology.
FQ: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
LOMAX: One of the challenges in writing Amygdala Blue rested with the assignment of specific creative nonfiction and poems to their respective category of Religion, Racism, or Relationships. For example, based on the underlying of the language, “The Unborn Salt” may have been selected for listing under the category of Racism. Another rather striking challenge for me as a writer, especially during my early years, was feeling uncomfortable about ‘opening the social spicket’ with the use of the N-word and shocking gun violence. But I soon came to understand the significance of the pairing of arresting psychosocial truth with the right literary environment (storyline)...
FQ: I noticed that some of the short story entries such as “My Imaginary Friend” and “My Mother's Song” are written in the first-person narrative and seem so real. Are they stories that you relate to?
LOMAX: First and foremost, all of the narrative stories in Amygdala Blue are creatively adapted from actual events. With the exception of the creative inclusion of The Holy Ghost, “My Imaginary Friend” is an authentic autobiographical snapshot capturing my religious upbringing in a strict Pentecostal home located in Washington DC. Providing a vivid environment from the innocent perspective of a seven-year-old boy in a single parent household to the readers, remained my literary intention. His young voice, and curiously observant spirit was necessary in the development of the Religion section of the book. In 1964, “My Mother’s Song” was the spiritual mission statement of her daily prayer and song, I wholeheartedly remember as powerful and quite real...
FQ: Is there a poem or short story that stands out as one you enjoyed most in Amygdala Blue? What are the reasons for this?
LOMAX: Yes, “Durn my Hide” is a personal expression of antebellum, post-reconstructionist musings, channeled from an authentic voice and time. Unquestionably experimental, undeniably raw, but true to cultural place and time. Because this poem evokes so much emotion, and unique qualities – including prominent rhythms, imagery, and compactness – the prose poem form and structure works best in showcasing its characterized intensity. In this poem, there exists an underlying complexity that challenged me for years to countless number of revisions. Through it all, though, I never thought about moving away from the stylized language. In fact, it was Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s seminal craft which inspired me to excavate deeper, dispel the urge to conform to postmodern vernacular; remembering to stay in touch with the odor, sight, and sound of the minute, hour, day poetically ‘captured’...Moreover, of an interesting note, I hail from several generations of African American farmers from Saluda, Virginia. A land enriched with the blood and sweat, and sacrifice of an African American history written far from history books presented to our postmodern culture. However, I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet any of my mother’s siblings or parents, but I was provided enough information from my mother about their incredible hardships and social struggles. Interestingly though, as I grew into manhood, attained higher education degrees, I could never shake my earthen archetypal memories; I continued to be haunted by the Southern African American voice fettered to land tilled from dawn to dusk, every day of every year. In its purest form, “Durn my Hide” is a revolutionary poem! As André Breton (1896-1966), co-founder of the Surrealist movement said, “The advantage of revolution was not that it gives mankind happiness...[but] it should purify and illuminate man’s tragic condition.”
FQ: Your main subjects in the text are relationships, racism, and religion. Is there a particular reason for this?
LOMAX: Absolutely! Throughout much of my academic and clinical research journeys, I’ve struggled with understanding – ‘overstanding’ – the Nature & Nurture of what we believe are our individual realities. Ultimately, I settled with the notion the basis for these categories rests with our language. Religion, Racism, and Relationships are universal constructs of personal realities easily identified by every reader within our postmodern social media world. At some point in our individual stage of human development, as we live and breathe, we will encounter curious aspects of religion, racism, and certainly joys and vagaries with relationships...As humans, we must understand and communicate our thoughts and experiences. In The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Steven Pinker wrote:
...our language has a model of sex in it, and conceptions of intimacy and power and fairness. Divinity, degradation, and danger are also ingrained in our mother tongue, together with a conception of well-being and philosophy of free-will...They add up to a distinctively human model of reality, which differs in major ways from the objective understanding of reality eked out by our best science and logic. A close look at our speech - our conversations, our jokes, our curses, our legal disputes, the names we give our babies - can therefore give us insight into who we are. (p. vii)
FQ: The last story, “Serenity," is symbolic in its entirety. What was the inspiration behind it?
LOMAX: The symbolism in “Serenity” is wholeheartedly personal, and I sincerely hope with each and every reader, the same holds true for them, that is, individually appreciated, holistically determined… Individual experience and sincere introspection remain the key to self-knowledge and/or Maslow’s Self-Actualization...
FQ: How did you manage to balance both genres to fit in the plot development and the themes discussed in the book?
LOMAX: ‘Balance’ is such a wondrously, goal-oriented word, and is applied more fully to the previous question regarding “serenity”, as the author of Amygdala Blue, than to this query. In truth, during the entire creative writing process, I never consciously thought about attaining a balance between creative nonfiction and poetry in this book. The absolute goal for me was to make certain: 1) I stayed connected to my creative muse and that my spirit was sound when I write; and 2) that the sound, rhythm, and creative ‘taste’ of the individual piece matched or aligned with the literal definition of its respective categories – Religion, Racism, and Relationships.
FQ: What do you hope will resonate with readers upon reading this book?
LOMAX: In the midst of a crisis moment, I hope readers come away from reading Amygdala Blue with a resounding notion regarding the grounding and healing power of nature. For in nature, can we make sense of the world enveloping everyone, and thus understand who we are. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”
FQ: Do you intend to continue writing books having these two genres like you daringly composed in Amygdala Blue or would you perhaps want to pursue a different field?
LOMAX: Vive la différence! If I had my druthers, certainly I wouldn’t hesitate to board such a wondrous ship canvassed around the postmodern notion embodying the African American ‘Presence of Absence’ phenomenon, readying my mast to explore once again another unusual ‘hybrid’ literary voyage...Ultimately, though, this decision rests not just with my overall creative motivation and book reviews, but, of greater import, what my readers have to say about Amygdala Blue, as a whole...
FQ: What elements in your personality and talents led you to write this book?
LOMAX: Without exception, I chose to live a humble and simple lifestyle. For me, simplicity is the greatest panacea for that which ails the self. Not surprisingly, my writings tend to mirror the many journeys I’ve experienced over the years, the various people I’ve encountered – professionally as a clinical research scientist enthralling personal relationships. Having a well-structured Limbic system – the hippocampus and amygdala and anterior thalamic nuclei and a limbic cortex that support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior and long-term memory – is a blessing to any nonfiction writer! A solid memory and objectivity are delicious ingredients for the creative nonfiction and poetry process. They have provided a wonderful foundation upon which my bold writings imbibe, relish...