photo by Seth Grant

Lauren Hempen | Poet

A Poet’s Peace

A ZEST Feature for The Peel Literature and Arts Review

“Just write”: A familiar mantra to writers of all ages and levels of experience, but one that nevertheless rings true with Lauren Hempen.

“You create your own inspiration. A lot of times, in creative fields, we all want to be these really inspired creatures that pump art out only when we’re inspired. Really, the writing is in discipline. Even when you don’t feel like it, even when you feel like you’re not going to create something ‘good.’”

Rather than sitting around waiting for the moment to strike, Lauren chooses to be her own “lightning rod of inspiration.” Such discipline and dedication to the craft can only come from having a true passion. Lauren proves just how passionate she is as she relishes in the fact that she often leaves parties to excitedly work away on English homework. As a young fourth grader in small-town in Southern Illinois, Lauren wrote her first piece in the form of a short-story about two best friends, one of whom gets cancer.

“It was five pages -- something big that I had written on my own. I was so proud of it, and I actually had to do research to write the piece, and I learned a lot about cancer that I didn’t know before.”

After moving to North Carolina in her sophomore year of high school, Lauren began taking creative writing classes. She resented the workload, but found herself hooked on the triumphant feeling of completing it all. The excitement of doing something so exhausting, yet fulfilling, led to a moment of self-discovery: she was meant to be a writer. Since then, her love for writing has been an integral part of her identity. “I write because it feels necessary. I love when I can share something with somebody, but I’m rarely writing to show people. I’m writing because I have to.”

Writing is a regular part of Lauren’s day-to-day life, and writing poetry has become nearly second nature. Whether it is in bed at the end of a long day or during a particularly boring lecture, it isn’t uncommon for Lauren to scribble out a poem or two in one sitting. However, her editing process is not quite as casual. After writing the poem, Lauren will give it time to settle while she is still “drunk on poetic emotion.” After “sobering up,” she will often go “line by line, sometimes syllable by syllable” to figure out the sound and rhythm of the poem. Admittedly, she tries not to spend too much time editing because she believes it can ruin a poem’s simplicity. When a friend asked her if it was hard to resist the urge to go back and edit her “bad poems,” Lauren’s answer seems to sum up her entire outlook on poetry: “I don’t think any poem is bad if it can capture what you’re feeling at the time.” For Lauren, poems seem to be more like emotional snapshots rather than a grand landscape painting.

Though she enjoys writing poetry the most, Lauren is no stranger to prose. After a recent service trip to the Dominican Republic, she wrote up a travel essay detailing her experience and what she was able to learn from it. Often, the subject matter will determine whether or not she writes prose or poetry. A car accident in her early teens left a deep impact, and Lauren chose to put it down in writing. She felt what she had to say had a distinct chronological narrative and required a larger perspective that would be limited in a poem, so she turned the event into a short story.

Though she often writes from her own personal experience, Lauren understands that she can’t strictly write about herself. The story about the car accident is a fine example in the fact that it is told from the perspective of a high school boy rather than a middle school girl. A poem based on the same event takes further creative license. Though there were no casualties in the true story, the poem leaves much more of an impact by emoting and working through the grief of losing someone in a drunk-driving accident.

Lauren’s writing often dwells on romance and heartache. Lauren often taps into painful memories and experiences to produce emotionally honest work. In doing so, she’s able to take her pain and reshape it into something beautiful. In doing so, she’s better equipped to confront those emotions when they return, and hopes to be able to help others who can’t write on their own.

“What I love about being a writer is that the pain doesn’t just sit there, I get to do something with it. I can pull myself out of that pain and make something that I’m proud of.”

Lauren doesn’t write for recognition. She’s not currently published anywhere, and isn’t particularly upset by that.

“I think of writing as the legacy I’ll leave in the world. My kids or grandkids will be able to read the words that I’ve written. Whether or not I become famous or get published in huge journals doesn’t really matter to me. Having my little sister read what I’ve written or someone finding a journal I might leave behind somewhere are the moments I think about while I’m writing.”

Lauren recalls a time when a coworker asked if she was afraid of no one ever reading her work. With a confident grin peeking from behind her bangs, Lauren relays her answer, accompanied by a slight shrug.

“No, I’m not afraid. I don’t write for other people. My purpose is to write what I see and what I feel, and to hope that somebody takes something from it. Maybe they will, but that doesn’t determine how much I love writing at all.”

By Chris McGinnis