Sunday, 3 June 2012

Off to be tested

I received the last round of edits from my agent, mercifully words and phrases that needed cutting, and a few misguided commas. As two of my MA student friends had also picked up a variety of odd phrasing, extra punctuation and repeated words, I spent a few hours polishing and tidying, and sent it back. Although the agent is on holiday for a week, then she is going to run an eye over it and send it out to see if anyone likes it. My job is to sit quietly, get on with my writing, and wait. The one thing I haven't really mastered. So, I'm spending the time working through a collection of poems for the Mslexia poetry pamphlet competition

I have a problem a lot of poets face...if you write about experiences you have had, even remotely, people assume every word is true. So, even though you applied a lot of poetic license, rolled two experiences into one, added a similar experience a friend told you about and imagined how you would feel now, it is seen as absolute, complete autobiography. So, when I write a poem it's about my processed and blended memories and feelings. It's dramatised for effect, with insights added from life, and from reading. Now I am writing a series of poems about me and my sisters, both of whom are dead. I started by ordering my older sister's birth and death certificates, heartbreaking. Now, I wasn't even there, and my parents were incredibly young and the events must have been heartbreaking. But there it was, in black and white, a terrible drama of a baby born too soon, ironically the year doctors discovered surfactant, and started the research which led to premature babies of Joanne's age being saved routinely just a few years later. Imagining her life is based partly on what I know from having spent 3 weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit with my eldest child. 

My other sister died from taking an overdose. This is far trickier for me, as all my family were equally bereaved, equally devastated, and will have their own unique perspective. We never actually 'remember' anything, we reconstruct it from actual sensory information recorded at the time, what we know about the event, and then it's coloured by all the times we've reconstructed it before. Memories get distorted, rewritten, explained. Add to that poetic license, the other deaths I have attended, a good dash of imagination, and I have written about Sarah's death in a way that might appeal to an audience. It's going to be very different from the memories of my remaining loved ones. I'm worried that they might be hurt, or upset, or perhaps angry that I have used my sister's tragedy for my own ends. 

Myra Schneider said, at a workshop I attended, to put those thoughts aside, that the work, the art, has to be created, and the personal relationships are separate. She had a very unhappy relationship with her parents, which can't have been improved by her writing about it, but she shrugged. As long as the aim wasn't to hurt, but to find some truth in the poem...

So I'm risking it. Putting twenty poems together with the help of workshops produced by Mslexia, to create a narrative that explores me and my two sisters, and where I fit in. It also touches on what it is to be a daughter-in-law and a mother. It's been a fascinating journey, and I hope my family will understand. It may help that my mother is a poet too...   

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