Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Truth in (my) Poetry

I read part of my Sun Daddy sequence at Café Writers on Monday night and was surprised when someone in the ladies toilets said to me that they hoped I would have a better Christmas this year. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised - this kind of thing happens a lot when I read from my prose poem sequence. I just hadn't expected it with the Sun Daddy poems - they seem more extreme to me, plus they feature a kind of mythical family.

When I read my prose poems people often come up to me afterwards wanting to talk to me about my (or their) childhood. They want to know whether my family were in the Plymouth Brethren,or to sympathise with me about the horrible father in the poems, or else they want to share their own experiences of growing up in a religious family.  I love talking to people about this kind of stuff, but occasionally someone will say that they feel cheated by the fact that the family in the poems is fictional (even though I usually say this when I am reading them). This always surprises me a little because unless a poet clearly says that a poem is based on a real incident I usually assume that a poem is to a greater or lesser extent a work of fiction. Those same people would not approach a novelist with the same kind of questions. Neither my prose poems or my Sun Daddy and circus sequences are real. I do not come from a religious family - in fact my father is an atheist - but of course a writer can't help drawing on their own experiences to a certain extent. There are concrete details in my poems that are directly stolen from my own childhood, and one or two of the prose poems stemmed from things half remembered, which I used as a kind of springboard for the poems, expanding and changing events to suit the needs of the poems. It is these concrete details that make the poems seem believable. The Sun Daddy poems were inspired by someone I knew, but again I have changed and evolved the character to suit my own needs.

If I wanted to write an accurate version of my life story I would write a memoir or an autobiography. There is a liberation in the writing process that allows one to go beyond what is real. I can explore the darker aspects of human nature. The girl in the prose poems although very young is not very likeable or very nice - there is a naivety  to her too though - she is a product of her upbringing, she repeats things that she has heard adults say without necessarily understanding them, and she has a child's ability to feel outraged by the world. The girls in the circus poems too are an exploration of the dark side of childhood, in these poems I am exploring the way that children can be cruel to one another, and also exploring the tension between cruelty and love.

1 comment:

Rosemarie Blackthorn said...

Gosh, I suppose I hadn't thought of it that way before. Poets are perceived more likely to write about their own experiences, but as you say, it's fiction.