Posts Tagged ‘family’

Family Reflections after the holidays

January 29, 2012  |  Uncategorized  |  Comments Off on Family Reflections after the holidays

Had a big dose of family over the holidays?  Think of it as writing material!

While I didn’t see my relatives this year, I spent time sorting through old photos and letters. One     grandfather was handsome in the tiny black and whites as a WW1 flying ace in France. There is a portrait of him as a Colonel in charge of an airport in Africa during  WW2.  The other grandfather emigrated to the US from the Ukraine at age 12 and worked his way through law school. Two very different personalities and yet each sported a moustache and ended his days pinching the nurses and flirting. Scratch the surface of any family and you find a narrative.

Rainer Maria Rilke asserted that there are two inexhaustible sources for poetry: “dreams and childhood.”

I would suggest a third: the family. We all have them, relatives both near and distant, family myths and legends.  Writing about these characters helps us to understand and feel compassion for their idiosyncrasies.  Faint memories sharpen into focus and a new comprehension evolves.

Writing about my relatives has challenged my assumptions about them, especially when I try to write from their point of view. I notice each has left me with a message about life. My grandmother always noticed suffering in the world and suffered herself with cancer for many years. At her funeral, I heard her voice in my head saying, The suffering ends here. I took it to mean her suffering but also mine.  I heard a woman say once, Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.  This is what my grandmother’s life taught me, but how to show this in a 40 line poem?

My Russian grandfather dropped his bravado and masks and we genuinely met for the first time a day before he died.  I realized all he ever wanted was love but he did everything to push it away.

The process of distilling these experiences into poetry has taken years.  Each fresh draft emphasizes different aspects of a complex relationship.  The poems begin as private and personal. I must find a way to use the particular to express the universal so they become public poems. It requires being an objective witness without letting my emotional bias through.

Poetry Prompt:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya Angelou

What stories weren’t told in your family?  What is your story to tell?

Think of a relative from your childhood. What did he or she smell like?  What was his favorite food?  How did this relative dress? Picture the person walking towards you. How did he/she move? Any distinctive mannerisms? What did his or her voice sound like? A favorite expression?

What gift did this person offer you?  Just jot down images and associations.   Let these steep in you until a refrain or line begins to open it as a poem.

I will be sharing a collection of my family portrait poems on Friday, the 10 of Feb. at Ewingsdale Hall at 7 pm.

I also invite you to join us for a 5 week workshop on writing family portraits commencing Friday the 17th of February from 9:30 -12:30 in New Brighton.