We’re human, we know pain – physical, mental and emotional. How we deal with such pain and what we do with it is a very personal thing.
I write for the wonder of creating, hopefully crafting something beautiful, connecting with people and moving them. As part of The Magnetic Diaries ACE-funded tour 2016, I ran a series of From Pain to Poetry/From Anguish to Art workshops, not just using writing as therapy but also looking at how personal experiences (even if painful) can be shaped into a polished piece of poetry/prose.
My own three main approaches to writing from real life, as found in my four latest books, include:
This first person narrative in poems takes some real life experiences but sets them in an entirely fictional existing narrative framework – a contemporary poetry version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Using a fictional framework and adopted character gave me distance from those elements based on my own experiences. It gave me more editing and crafting objectivity. By choosing an existing narrative structure, I also knew that I had a plot/story that had already stood the test of time. I choose to write in the first person rather than the third person because of the diary form. Also, the character I was writing through wasn’t me, it was an exaggerated persona based on some similarities but many differences. Using the first person brought me closer to Emma and made it easier for me to get into her skin.
For this pamphlet-length poetry sequence, I created a new narrative from scratch. The pains that my fictional character Ada feels I have felt, but in different circumstances. I choose the third person partly because in this case I didn’t need to use the first person to get close to my character’s thoughts and emotions. I also chose the third person because I didn’t want there to be any risk of poetry readers feeling that I was claiming fictional experiences as my own. (I felt this risk was greater with a new narrative structure, because it is not as clearly laid down as fictional as it is when using an existing fictional narrative like Madame Bovary.) In relation to pain, the important aspect for me in this sequence was setting Ada’s contemporary suffering in light of a different kind of anguish – her grandmother’s (and many others’) suffering in the war.
This short novella features a troubled young woman whose personal trauma has distorted her view of the world, and how she tries to deal with it as well as almost simultaneously escape from the reality of it. Like Lampshades & Glass Rivers this is set in the third person but a third person that is very close to the first person – mixing direct insight into the pain and also distancing as a means of coping with it.
From the back cover: “Claire relives her past but her memories are fragmented, shattered like the remains of a toy kaleidoscope.
A troubled childhood, the loss of her baby, and the end of her marriage are seen through a distorting lens, twisted and unclear.
What really happened? And can Claire find a way through the mirror maze of memories to discover the truth?
Kaleidoscope is a compelling and disturbing tale of a disintegrating life.”
In my poetry collection plenty-fish, there are a few poems that tackle painful situations head-on. For the most part though, this collection doesn’t dwell on painful experiences/emotions – fictional or from real-life. Instead, many of these poems look for the silver in life’s grey. Many are also written from a more mindful place – focusing on the moment and external objects as a balance against too much thought or always turning inwards.
The Fourth Way!
I am not myself a confessional poet, life-writer or autobiographer, though this remains a valid fourth option for many. For me, all words are abstracts, so at some degree removed from reality, making it impossible to recreate real-life experience exactly. I also believe that a certain amount of fictional freedom for greater truths can be a useful distancing tool. This not just in terms of protecting the writer and those who might be portrayed in our writing from re-living pain, but also in the actual crafting of personal experience to something for others’ reading.
All four of these approaches to writing about personal experience are possible with the exercises offered in my Pain to Poetry/Anguish to Art workshops.
Anyone interesting in learning more about my future From Pain to Poetry/Art to Anguish workshops can be email me on lifeislikeacherrytreeATyahooDOTcom.
An anthology of other poets’ work created for Mental Health Awareness Week 2015 can be found here.
My blog on the Power of Pain or Pain as Purpose (outside of writing) can be found here!