Thursday 12 December 2013

The Truth in (my) Poetry

I read part of my Sun Daddy sequence at CafĂ© 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.

Monday 2 December 2013

Repetitive Thinking and Creative Block

Having just read my last two blog posts I realise that I have been repeating myself - what I thought was a new thought or revelation, I had actually already articulated in a blog post a month or so earlier. Should I be worried about this? Or is it just the way the human mind works: visiting and revisiting a problem until it is solved or at least explained?

For writers (and probably other types of creative) artistic block can be a major issue. For me writer's block is something that crops up again and again. I have got more used to it now though. It is like a tiresome old friend that turns up from time to time expecting a meal and a bed for the night and then stays for days until his welcome is well and truly worn out. I don't greet it with the blind panic I used to waste on it when I was a newer writer. I know that if I do the things that keep me inspired and unblocked - morning pages, artists dates, looking at art, reading poetry - then I will get inspired again at some point. It is when I neglect to do these things that my mind becomes all silted up and I can't even begin to think about writing. There are other things that impinge on my creativity too - too much teaching (I suspect that teaching - or at least the preparation - uses the same creative part of the brain as writing), reading too many novels, stress, noisy neighbours and watching too much TV are all things that seems to affect my ability to write.