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Resonating with Trish Dougherty – li Voices

li voices interview trish dougherty forty pounds
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Welcome back to little infinite’s Author Interview Series, li Voices! We’re kicking off the relaunch of li Voices with poet, author, mother, and graduate student, Trish Dougherty.

In her poetry collection, Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds: (*To Be Read by the Refrigerator Light), Trish Dougherty is vulnerable yet humorous. This collection will have you self-reflecting on the relatability, laughing at the realness, and being moved by the vulnerability.
In this interview, Dougherty lets us in on her creative process, which writers have inspired her the most, and her motivation behind Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds.
We cover it all; from eating disorders to why she’s hesitant about reading poetry. Ahead, one of the most dynamic editions of li Voices so far.

*Content warning [TW: eating disorder, food]

little infinite: When did you know poetry would be the writing outlet for you? Introduce the li audience to your journey in poetry and how you got to where you are currently.

Trish Dougherty: As an only child, I had a large interior life. I read a lot of books and made stories for my toys, I was one of those children constantly gifted with journals and matching pens. I can’t remember the first time I had a poem published but I do remember when my grandmother started making cross stitch samplers out of my poems. That’s when you know your words hold value for others. She did a haiku that I wrote in high school and it’s still hanging in my kitchen. 

little infinite: Your book Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds: (*To Be Read by the Refrigerator Light) launched in April 2021, congratulations! What can we expect from Forty Pounds? If you could describe this collection in three words, what would those words be?

Trish Dougherty: I would use a contraction because the message is “you’re not alone.” The first poem I wrote in the series was about turning the bathroom scale 90° and getting back on it, I brought that poem to my writer’s group and the whole table, people who I never imagined struggled with their weights and their body images, all said that they do that too. I was hooked, I had to write all my fears and shames down to see if they also resonated. 

I want it to be a friend for everyone who reads it; some things just feel so lonely. Cheating on a diet can be so dark—it’s like you murdered someone. It matters because we care and sometimes your family doesn’t realize how deeply you care and how serious it feels, I think that’s the part that gets lonely. 

“I want it to be a friend for everyone who reads it; some things just feel so lonely.”

– Trish Dougherty, Author of Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds

little infinite: What is your creative process like? Dish on the most unique part of your writing routine.

Trish Dougherty: When my oldest son was a senior in college, I stole his bedroom to make a home office/studio/craft room. I repainted and got new furniture in the fall of 2019. Then COVID-19 came and he had to move back home, so my home office got relegated to the living room, which is fine for my 9–5 job but impossible for anything else because it lacks both quiet and privacy.

I ended up spending a lot of time in my garden, setting up in one of those plastic Adirondack chairs. It has been really rainy this summer, so I looked at our garden shed, which used to be the chicken coop. I gave it a pretty good scrub and threw away enough junk to fit a little rocking chair in there. Someone had tried to sell this chipped and ancient chair for $5 in a yard sale and there were no takers; when they put it at the side of the road that Monday, I asked my husband to stop and get it. So that’s my new writing shed, at least until frost.

Poems usually come to me first line first, and then I walk the dog and think about it, and then I write out the first draft all at once in a rush. Then I show it to my writer’s group and see how to revise it. Without an outsider perspective, I don’t know how I would ever edit things—they all look perfect to me when I write them.

little infinite: What artists have influenced you most throughout your writing journey? How did they inspire you?

Trish Dougherty: When I was young, I had a big, black, leather-with-gold-edges edition of the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. I would quietly read his poems to myself. The bells bells bells bells… I also had a nice Robert Frost book, and I grew up in New Jersey, so I had Bruce Springsteen; “Greetings from Asbury Park” is just a rollicking-good rhyme time. I think Poe influenced me for meter, Frost for quiet gentleness, and Bruce with story. In college, we had a class where everyone could share their favorite poem, and I wanted to do Thunder Road. The rules my friends gave me were: I had to recite it from memory (easy) and I could not sing it (impossible.) (Also, nobody could figure out what to do with the saxophone solo.) 

Now that I’m older, I fear reading too much of some poets (Billy Collins) because I don’t want to turn into a cheap knock-off, but I love Martin Espada and I’m quite sure my voice will never be mistaken for his. Let us pause and imagine Martin Espada getting overwhelmed in a grocery store… 

little infinite: Your poetry collection, Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds: (*To Be Read by the Refrigerator Light), speaks to the complex overlap between self-love, acceptance, societal pressures, and one’s relationship with food. Thank you for speaking on these important topics. This collection is vulnerable, relatable, and more relevant than ever. What inspired you to publish this book?

Trish Dougherty: I wrote the book to help myself. My writing is always me processing something; but for the poems to reach their full potential, they had to touch strangers too. My writer’s group gave me feedback on every single poem and put together a table read. I felt like they had invested so much that I needed to pursue publishing for them, too. 

It’s going to be weird going back to work in person though, bumping into people at the photocopier and knowing that they read about me crying in the corner of my bathroom; I feel like they’re going to be offering me fewer donuts, but maybe that’s for the best. I can’t imagine publishing this book when I was thirty or forty, but luckily, I’m fifty now. 

forty poems by Trish Dougherty

little infinite: We imagine writing Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds: (*To Be Read by the Refrigerator Light), was a reflective exercise in your own path. What was the most surprising aspect of creating this poetry collection? Did writing this book awaken new parts of your own self-love journey?

Trish Dougherty: I lost about thirty pounds while writing it and that really fed into the satisfaction loop. I was so confident that I applied to graduate school the month after my table read and got into the Bread Loaf School of English.  

My husband and I both worked at Bread Loaf in the nineties and I wanted to go back then, but somehow it slipped my mind for twenty years while I bought a house and had kids. I saw a friend who still worked at Bread Loaf on a sidewalk just after my table reading and told her I was going to apply and she just said, “we’ve been waiting for you.”  

Quarantine has been a really big bummer though; I gained everything back in the last year. I feel like a sham, but when I really think about it, I realize past me was smart enough to say there is no end to this journey. I just had a year and a half of no photo events and lots of stress. What can you do?  

“I feel like a sham, but when I really think about it, I realize past me was smart enough to say there is no end to this journey.”

– Trish Dougherty, Author of Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds

little infinite: If you could tell yourself one thing before writing Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds, what would it be?

Trish Dougherty: Don’t be afraid to say the things—once you get them out, other people will come forward and say they have felt that way too, and that makes it worthwhile. 

little infinite: What is next on your creative bucket list? Where do you hope to see your poetry and influence going in the community?

Trish Dougherty: I started Forty Poems for Forty Griefs but there’s too much grief in the world now to keep going on that. It had a silly poem about my husband accidentally washing his pocketknife and slashing his favorite t-shirt, and something about the first dent that you don’t get fixed in your new car. Maybe if I retitle it Forty Poems for Forty Inconveniences? I do like the forty for forty schtick, even if it means you have to write sixty to get forty good ones. 

little infinite: Poetry for Life™ is little infinite’s mantra. We’re all about making it easier to carry poetry through different phases of your life. Poetry for Life™ can hold sentiment in various aspects depending on the person, which is why we love it. What does “Poetry for Life” mean to you?

Trish Dougherty: I like your mantra! Sometimes I don’t know how I feel about a thing until I write about it. Poetry is what lets me understand life. Not just my life, but the whole world and my little sphere within that. There are people that I have shared experiences with and they literally can’t talk about those experiences—we have to drop the subject—but I can plow right through because I have written about the event and processed it and edited it to twist it this way and that way and examined it to make peace with it.  

My writer’s group brings a fresh stream of poetry into my life and it’s lovely because we all grow and become stronger together poem by poem. I also started getting poem-a-day emails and my challenge every day is to figure out who I should forward that poem to; I love that it pushes me to reach out to friends and that it gives us a shared language.

Trish-Dougherty-Portrait
Trish Dougherty by Photographer: Elisabeth Waller Photography

To enjoy Dougherty’s insightful poetry collection, get your copy of Forty Poems* for Forty Pounds: (*To Be Read by the Refrigerator Light), here.

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