Leslie Heywood is a professor of English and creative writing at Binghamton University (SUNY). She is the author of Pretty Good for a Girl (The Free Press/Simon and Schuster 1998), The Proving Grounds (Red Hen Press 2005), and Natural Selection: Poems (Louisiana Literature 2008), which makes the case that the excesses of globalization and consumerism teach us to make each other disposable, much as we treat the trees, water, sky, and soil as expendable through poems that explore the relationship between our lives, our culture, and the natural environment that sustains us. Her academic work includes the books Built to Win: the Female Athlete as Cultural Icon (University of Minnestoa 2003), Dedication to Hunger: The Anorexic Aesthetic in Modern Culture (University of California 1996), and Bodymakers: A Cultural Anatomy of Women’s Bodybuilding (Rutgers University 1998), among others. She has published essays on Six Feet Under, Fight Club, the evolutionary origins of stigmatization as manifested in the sport of surfing, surfers and environmental ethics, evolution and fashion, sport as immersive practice, third-wave feminism, and multiple aspects of and issues related to women and sports and embodiment. Her work has been widely published in journals and magazines including Prairie Schooner, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Connecticut Review, Paddlefish, The Scholar and the Feminist, the New York Times, Paterson Literary Review, and The Best New American Sports Writing. One of her current interests is learning to utilize the scientific method, which informs her two current creative non-fiction projects, High Wolf Content and Double Dog Dare. She lives in upstate New York with her husband Barry and her daughters Caelan and Keene.
Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors
Publication Date: April 28, 2016
Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors explores bonds of love that persist despite trauma, and the struggle to come to terms with family legacies of grief, loss, and despair.
The murder-suicide of the author’s grandparents serves as a backdrop for an examination of trauma and recovery through several generations, and the affective neurology of emotions that we share with everyone else, even animals. Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors explores how we respond to violence, grief, and loss, and the ways animals are emotionally akin to us in those responses. Driven by the ways those primary emotions get tangled with memory, the ways the body informs the mind, we end up feeling and repeating behaviors linked to original struggles long after they have passed. Fighting against what threatened to cage us, the fight itself becomes the cage, affecting our lives and relationships in the most visceral ways. Yet it is the simplest things that promote recovery and survival: a calming animal touch. Simple presence.
“In Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors, Leslie Heywood gives the reader exquisite lyric narrative poems that tackle loss and pain and love with a brave ferocity. These beautifully-crafted poems are polished containers that hold within them all the violence and rage of her childhood home, especially the rage of the father she loves but does not see for years before his death, and the long family legacy of violence that created his rage, and hers, the rage she knows must stop with her. This book is an elegy for him and the loss that permeates all lives, and a testimony to the simple care that can redeem. Terror still lives within these poems and sorrow for the cruelty and chaos of a world in which humans cannot seem to exist without destroying as much as they create, but the vision of a new world is there. What an amazing, powerful book.”—Maria Mazziotti Gillan, winner of the American Book Award and the Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award
“Leslie Heywood writes like her life is at stake, urgently imagining her way into the past in an attempt to salvage the present. Moving between poles of constraint and freedom, lyric and narrative, the traumatic and the mundane, she crafts poems that grapple with fierce love and difficult forgiveness. ‘How do we outlast grief?’ she asks. This book is one stunning and worthwhile answer.”—Benjamin Myers, Oklahoma Poet Laureate
The Proving Grounds
Publication Date: November 1, 2005
The Proving Grounds unfolds a narrative not of strict chronology, but rather the way each poem functions as a moment that gathers the thematic clusters of the struggle for identity in a consumer culture that has no sense of intrinsic value and that struggle’s manifestation in the world of athletic performance and the way these general trends interact with individual experience. The poems trace the female body as a primal proving ground where the distance between history and experience form a paradox: the idea that the female body is limited and weak is particularly strange for a narrator who grew up in the generation post-Title IX, when girls were assumed to have the same competencies as men, and who has been called upon to physically shield her mother from her father from the time she was seven. Similarly strange but compelling is the paradox of the deep love for and identification with her father that arises from this first proving ground to shape the rest of her life.