Reflections/poem biography for Let’s Remember

heart of the cityflippedquadrupledterracessmall

“cradled in my mother’s strange young arms.
Her voice
is hushed sea in a shell, a whispered name’s
sounds spliced”

I have a long-standing fascination with memory, explored in different ways and for different purposes in a number of the poems in plenty-fish.

If every cell in our body has renewed many times since birth, are the chains of thoughts and memory the only things that remain to tie together ‘me’ then to ‘me’ now as one person? Do we have one continuous identity or a constantly changing and fluid identity tied loosely, not by specific events (at which others may also have been present), not by a particular viewpoint (as our viewpoint of event X may be very different to our viewpoint on event Y) but by our connected memories of ALL these events and viewpoints?

But my fascination with memory includes not just what we remember, why and to what ends, but where we remember it from. How many memories are of actual events, and how many created by later looking at photos from a past event or their being retold again and again in family anecdotes until we remember them ourselves, even though we were to young to remember or not actually there at all?

Two influences came into play while I was writing ‘Let’s Remember’. The first was working with a psychologist to discover what past events might have a bearing on my depressions and whether these might be treated using NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques to un-anchor and thereby change my reactions to triggering stimuli and circumstances.

The second influence was the style of poet Jorie Graham’s PLACE. Mixing long and short lines fitted with my central conceit of events pegged out on a washing line and the unsorted nature of memories, where underpants may find themselves hung next to long dresses. Rhyme seemed to mirror the way we try to pin these separate events together, to make sense and find some kind of coherency, even if only in a superficial way.

In my ‘real’ life, there are two potential traumas that I remember. The first is my diabetes diagnosis, age six. The second is moving house age 11-12. This move turned out not to be a swift process but a drawn-out one in which I first had to watch my former best friend make a new best friend. Then I had to try to make new friends mid-year at a school where I stuck out like a sore thumb – in my own head at least.
What interested me for this poem though, as in the psychological work, was not the events that I remember myself (however subjectively and inaccurately!) but the possibility that my subconscious might have memories of childhood events that my conscious mind couldn’t recall. One of the incidents that I know from family anecdotes is cutting my hand when I was about three, after deciding to play with the glass bottles in my grandma’s pantry.

My end conclusion from this whole experience is that the past can very much echo, linger and live on in the present. But, at the same time, while memories are fascinating, it’s not always useful to place too much significance or weight on them.

As for identity, and what makes ‘me’ then also ‘me’ now – my mind remains open. More importantly, perhaps it is in that very gap between ‘me’ then and ‘me’ now that the potential to change lies, and with that the possibilities for becoming a happier, more fulfilled person.

Electric Questions - lit version smaller

Discussion Point

How does alternating long and short lines affect the reading experience (rhythm, speed, emphasis, sense of unevenness, disjointed meaning…)?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a vivid childhood memory. ‘Hang’ it alongside something that features a lot in your life/personality now. This might be a love/fear/habit… Are the two (past and present) connected? If not, imagine they are. Explore how and why they’re linked. If you’re working in poetry, try mixing long and short lines to emphasise a contrast of create a broken-up effect or jolting slow-fast-slow effect.

 
plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.