Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Autobiographical poetry and memory

Written autobiography seems to me to be fictitious in its very nature. The act of writing down a life story, containing it within a narrative framework and fleshing out the bones of a persons memories make it at least semi-fictitious – a story that may contain more or less elements of the truth. (Sometimes it seems like modern autobiography is a type of metafiction – especially when reading authors like Alan Bennett whose writing style is like a sustained monologue or one-way conversation with the reader).

Autobiographical poetry differs from traditional autobiography in that it is able to contain just those bare bones of memory, yet those bones can be changed and manipulated in a way unfeasible in traditional autobiography.

Poetry, like visual art allows us to embellish, manipulate our memories and use the truth as a trigger, starting point or a small element within something larger. Poetry allows us to revisit memories and examine and re-examine them, to tell the same story over and over again from different perspectives. It allows us to go back to the past and add the what-if – something that is much harder to achieve in traditional forms of autobiography.
Autobiographical poetry is more akin to real memory in the way that it reveals snippets of a person’s life. Most people don’t organise their memories in a linear way. When I look at my past I don’t see it as a time line stretching back into my childhood. I remember key events, people and places and as I remember each memory triggers other memories, which, in turn trigger more memories – rather like throwing a pebble into a pool of water and watching the ripples radiate outwards.

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