Reflections/poem biography for Cutting to the Bone

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“often clattering in cutlery harmonics;
cutlass-bent stabbing ice from the freezer.”

Given its title, it is perhaps not surprising that this should be a poem in two parts. This was not always the case though. Originally, it was one long poem, that later split into two non-identical bodies of words.

I wouldn’t classify this as an autobiographical poem, though I have used some real details from my childhood. The poems itself explores a fictional family and what may be handed down or inherited not through genes but through upbringing.

Form-wise, I was responding to a creative writing masters’ exercise set by Jean Sprackland, in which we looked at long and short line lengths. Instead of choosing one or the other, I chose to explore what jagged or hacked-up effect might be created by jumping between the two.

The first part of the poem is precise description borrowed from childhood and used to imply the effect of words on the central narrator: neatening, cutting, hurting. ‘Age’s metal rainbows’ is a fragment from my memory of how some metals may change colour (oxidise) after long exposure to air, or something acidic or chemical in the air.

The second part of the poem is where imagination takes over. In my intended version, the body being cut open is the narrator contemplating what might be found if she were dissected to reveal the hard words lodged like knives in her heart. But it was also in my awareness that some might take this to be an imagined vengeance – the narrator cutting open the person behind the hard words and then stabbing them with these words.

Either way, families may be loving, generous and confidence-building or hard, under-mining and cruel, with or without realising that their words may have this effect. In reality, perhaps many of us are capable of both (and in talking to ourselves as well as others), without always being aware of the point at which damage may be caused.

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Discussion Points

1) Is pure truth every possible in writing?

2) What are the benefits and dangers of mix real memories and fiction in a poem or story?

3) What is gained, or lost, through this being a sequence rather than one long poem or two entirely separate poems?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take five words or phrases that you really hate (or evoke strong emotions in you). Turn them into a poem/story about beauty/warmth/love (evoking the opposite emotion).

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.