Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with Truth. Thich Nhat Hanh
Poets turn to many sources for inspiration: nature, current events, social issues, spirituality, literature, history, relationship—to name but a few. Each subject can employ a variety of tools to best express its core meaning, though some work better than others, depending on the topic.
Trope (metaphor and simile), paradox, irony, are but a few of the devices writers keep handy to assist in the creative process. Nature engenders metaphors and gives flesh to the intangible side of experience, thus expressing more esoteric thoughts. Poets often choose to highlight social incongruity by employing irony or paradox. Today, however, I want to turn to memory as a seed of creativity in writing poetry.
Julia Cameron, well-known author of The Artist’s Way, encourages artists of all genres to mine their life stories for memories that, not only help to uncover the truth of who we are, but also to enrich the imagination. In her follow-up book to The Artist’s Way, titled The Vein of Gold, Cameron puts the reader to work yet again. She begins this intense journey by almost commanding one to write an autobiography.
“It is my belief that the stories we choose to tell and cherish about ourselves are the true stories, the road map to the real, lantern-hearted self. Until we do the work of excavating, claiming, and owning our own life stories, we run the very real risk of seeing ourselves, describing ourselves, and proscribing ourselves as others see fit.” (The Vein of Gold, pg. 48)
Cameron suggests that truth lies in details and that those memories that come to us in Technicolor, with rich sensory facets are the ones that are important to us and that, perhaps, hold a message about ourselves that we need to hear. She also encourages those who participate in the process of writing their stories to allow those memories to lead them where they will. If it feels (and reads) like someone channel-flipping with a remote control, her advice is to allow it to be and enjoy the ride.
Let’s take a look at a well-known poem by William Wordsworth that fits the category of a memory poem. In it, the poet recalls details of an experience he had when taking a walk with his sister, Dorothy. In the telling of his story, Wordsworth reveals something about himself: he is a solitary, even when part of a group.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
I wandered Lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their head in spritely dance.
The waves besides them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such jocund company;
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought;
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth, 1804
An interesting footnote that underlines how each person perceives reality in a different manner–Dorothy Wordsworth also recorded her memories of that walk with her brother and of the daffodils, but in her prose account, emphasis is on the fact that she was with William, not at all solitary.
For a more contemporary example, yet still, to many of you, ancient history, may I offer one of my own poems, written a while back and previously posted, of an experience from my early childhood that is steeped in sense-memory.
The Summer of 1948
I perch in my pepper tree.
Pungent scents, fingered
leaves embrace me.
A lady bug, dressed in red
with black polka dots
climbs my arm, tickles.
Ocean sand, white as the rind
of a watermelon, clings to my
Only hours ago I ran through it,
reaching out, stretching to catch
The smell of hot concrete
dampened by rain showers
lingers along with DDT
sprayed from a can with a
plunger like a bicycle pump.
I slip down the gnarly trunk,
enter the house by the
screen door near the
Bendix with the ringer where
Mama found a black widow
She’s melting a blue cube
of laundry starch
in hot water.
“Did you know I’m four
and a half today?”
I ask. She nods, smiles.
The black fan whirrs
in the background.
“Go on over to Stewie’s,” she says.
“It’s almost time for
Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”
Cross-legged on the floor
I watch the 12” screen,
Copyright, Victoria C. Slotto, 2006
No doubt this memory is actually a collage of memories, taking me back to age four or five when life first began to imprint details in my brain. Perhaps it’s not the most stellar poetry, but note how that first remembered moment of awareness is steeped in sensory images.
For today’s prompt, I’d like to invite you to dip way back into your childhood, take hold of your own recollections that are clothed in detail, and let them take you where they will. You may want to begin by setting aside some time for reflection, jotting down whatever vivid memories come to mind. Do you need some prompts to jump-start the process? Here are a few. Think of:
• Your favorite pet, toy, pastime
• A best friend or sibling
• Early memories of grammar school
• Family traditions
• Write your poem and post it on your blog or website;
• Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this pos;t
• Copy and paste the URL of your poem as indicated, along with your name;
• Join other poets and read their poems, sharing your comments;
• Enjoy your sojourn in the past…some of us have further to travel than others, but I promise you will learn something new and wonderful about yourself…and your fellow poets!
For dVerse Poets’ Pub, this is Victoria Slotto, happy to be tending the bar today.