Eliana Gray: Dust & Thread

Eliana Gray: Dust & Thread

A Dunedin Literary Treasure debuts her second book and talks about why we need poetry.

The story of Dust & Thread starts last year when I did my first illustrated chapbook, A Certain Knowledge. I’d already been writing poetry since I was old enough to write creatively, but when I was about 17 some really difficult things in my life were happening and my mental illness was presenting itself. It was a very tumultuous stage.

I convinced myself that I could no longer write poetry or do any writing around my emotions because I didn't trust myself enough and was sure my writing would distort the situation and that would become my history. So I stopped writing completely.

I didn't start again until I was 21, when I started writing poems coming from a really dark place. I was doing this nutrition degree that I hated with all my heart. Then I saw there was a poetry workshop paper available. So I decided to just go for it. It was with Emma Neal who is fucking amazing. You’d think that surely you can’t teach poetry, but Emma bloody well can!

The practice of getting back into writing regularly was really beneficial. The poetry class gave me confidence and let me know that I wasn’t wrong to have a voice. Through that I started doing readings and submitting work to journals. After that course, however, I felt a little bit lost and vulnerable. I’d only just started expunging this paranoia I’d had since I was 17. After the course, I kind of allowed myself to slip back into that fear. It wasn’t until last year when I sent a poem to Millie Lovelock and she was like “this is amazing, can we make a book?!” that I came back out of it and decided to publish my first chapbook, A Certain Knowledge. This was illustrated by the amazing Erin Broughton and it was a huge confidence boost. I sold over a hundred copies (all self-published).

This showed that I COULD just do it by myself – that was something I always found frustrating about submitting and doing things by the books to have a ‘poetry career’. I am too infatuated with instant gratification for that.

It was so satisfying and bewildering to make money from my art! I’d never felt like my work was worth paying for and my friends really helped me see that it is. This reinvigorated me into pursuing poetry as a career path, and so this year I published my second book Dust & Thread, with illustrations by Devon Smith.

It’s important for me to have different people illustrate my poems because, well, how wonderful! To have two separate pieces of art that relate to each other! There’re so many different ways you can read into it, so many ideas mirrored in the illustration process.

Dust & Thread comes from a much more healed place than my last book, which was very raw and almost frightening, in terms of how vulnerable the poems were. The presence of my pain embedded into my poems can make them hard to read. Dust & Thread was written partly when travelling overseas and it’s less like a bleeding wound. It’s called Dust & Thread because I'm more able to sit back and see where the dust has collected in my life, to see what the threads are and where they lead back to. This helped me gain more objectivity over my emotional responses.

I’ve always been a performer since I was a kid. But my first poetry reading was shocking. I have never been so scared of public speaking in my life before. The curve of it getting less scary was very steep, but at the Dust & Thread launch, I felt like I didn't have to prepare for it at all. That gave me such a huge feeling of self-validation and confidence. At first I was like, is this a bad thing? Does it mean that I don’t care?

But it made me realise in the past I was just preparing a self-confidence, and now the poems are in me; I don’t need to prepare, they're my life. So now I love reading.

Another reason why I connect with reading them out loud is because public trauma processing is like a kind of therapy. It’s important to have as many representations as we can of what it’s like to be a survivor of PTSD. There are scant representations and little role models to base my conceptualisation of myself off. So it’s always been hard to conceptualise a universe in which I could even be in recovery.

So I think it is important to have poetry that talks about trauma, and art that is an accurate representation of people’s experiences. It is how we learn and heal. Every time you tell your story, someone feels less alone.



Eliana tracks her healing through her music and poetry. She is the singer of the alt-pop band Jaggers x Lines who recently dropped their spicy new track Problem Drinking, and a music video for their song Come to Rest, which you can find on YouTube.

Copies of Dust & Thread can be obtained for $15 from the author by contacting her at: gray.ec@gmail.com

To find her music, search Jaggers x Lines on: FB, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Bandcamp, or SoundCloud.

You have no excuse. Treat yourself. 

This article first appeared in Issue 10, 2018.
Posted 5:37pm Saturday 5th May 2018 by Jessica Thompson Carr.