Yesterday I met up with a lovely colleague, Ida, to chitchat and catch up, and we spent a good amount of time discussing my writing. I am in the middle of two projects right now, and one of them includes poems about my family or based on my family. Ida and I had that age-old question about memoir and life writing: what’s true, what’s what you remember, and do you dare to speak your truth? I don’t think it’s any secret that the relationship I’ve had with my father has been fraught for most of my life, particularly late childhood and the teen years, and there are poems I want to write about certain times in my life with him, but I’m not sure I should/could.
Part of my concern about writing memoir in general (not just in relation to my father) is that I don’t feel like my life is particularly interesting (ergo, who would want to read about it?). Yes, I’ve dealt with trauma and abuse, but where most memoirists could find lots of fodder to write about on those subjects, I find that I have a very intellectualized perspective—which is not surprising, because as I’ve said other times in this blog, I live too much in my head—that resists doing the lyrical work that memoir is good at. I also just don’t remember the feelings I had, beyond fear and anger, and even they have been dulled with time. How can I reflect on memories I don’t really have anymore, except as brief snapshots from my life? How can I delve into the specific details of a life which even to me are fuzzy at this point? Where does that leave me? Writing really banal poems, I guess.
(Hmm: an aside. It just occurs to me that a few times I have written poems that didn’t work as poems, and I took out the line breaks and submitted them as flash memoir and they not only worked, they got published. Hmm. Need to think about that a bit more. I want to write poems, because poetry is where I live, but I wonder if my voice is too prosy for that—at least when it comes to writing about family.)
Back to Ida. I was listening to her talk about her own creative writing, which focuses on Hawaii’s historic relationship with its Japanese settlers, and her own father’s participation in that system. And I thought, she really gets how poetry collections can be about so much more than their individual lyrics—that they can tell a story that has panoramic scope. And maybe it’s because she’s looking at a particular historic period as well as her relationship with family that the project comes across as so interesting to me. Whereas my own life seems so whitebread and humdrum and disjointed that I can’t imagine anyone would find value in reading about it. Hell, I’m pretty sure not even I would want to read about it. (I’m only half-kidding.)
And yet, the desire to write poems about my life remains there, as a way to make sense of these experiences—and maybe not to lose them any further than I have. I should have kept up with my journaling—then at least I’d have material to draw from. But there was such darkness in my life in the terrible depression of my graduate school years that I just quit, because it was too painful to document. And then I had gotten out of the habit, even when times were better. The upshot? I’ve relinquished my past—which is a terrible thing, when you want to write about it, or need to write about it, or think you should. And everyone knows a good journaler makes for a better writer. But anyway.
Ida encouraged me to write a real article (like for a scholarly journal) about my process, and I can’t think of anything more gloomy and dull. (And scary.) And to be fair, I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s been so long since I had to do any writing that uses critical research, I’m not even sure I know how to do it—I think I’ve completely forgotten how to flex those critical muscles. (I barely remember how to write poems, let’s be honest.). She says she would help me, but I hate to be a burden on someone who has her own important writing to do. But we’ll see. Especially now that my job is in transition, it might make sense to try to write something real and get it published. It could maybe help me down the line.
In other news, I’ve sent out a bunch of submissions lately… I hope I get lucky. I would love for you to read some of my new work (including this poem, How the Heart Works, which appeared recently in Third Wednesday.)
Thanks for reading this latest post, my lovies. I hope your own writing is going well!