Sunday, March 25, 2007

Speaker's Corner

First of all, thank you to everyone for your comments and helpful suggestions, both on and off my blog site. I really appreciate the feedback, and simply knowing that my site is creating a small buzz. I look forward to watching the energy grow, connecting with writers. I would like to take advantage of this space to build some discussion, so I thought to create topics around the writing and publishing process - the blood, sweat and bruises involved in our craft (not to mention the finger dents and ink stains we are all familiar with).

A few questions to spark a writing oriented discussion:

Seminar Question #1

Our writing is often influenced directly or indirectly by the people and events around us. We write as an outlet for understanding our world and the relationships in our world. The question for today is:Is it more important to safeguard the person depicted in a piece of writing - poetry or fiction - by not relaying these events, or to honour the writing as an art that needs to be shared? How would you approach this dilemma if there was a topic/person you wished to write about, but knew that the people involved may be hurt by it being published?I have such a poem that I am still hesitant to show to the person who is depicted, my birthmother, but also felt a strong need to honour and share with others:

My Life Up North

She had told the girls, my half-sisters,to stay inside with Pop.
That's what she called her boyfriend's dad.
She wanted some time alone with me,
our black hair reflecting the sun on a Prince George day.
Mid-July, no wind, and the heat making my throat dry.
So I only listened.
We held hands, walking along the main road,
and when we stopped to kiss - daughter and almost mother -
three teenage boys riding by in a jeep snapped their necks.

We sat across from each other in a nearby McDonald's,
not her favourite, but waht she could afford.
Her unkempt hair pulled into a low ponytail
reaching down her back.
Her missing teeth,
the lines around her eyes speaking for themselves.
The fact she was only 40.

Those who didn't know her would think she was hard as nails,
but I knew how softly she spoke,
and none of it kept her from smiling,
alth0ugh at times she laughed at the devil.

She told me about her father.
The day she came home sixteen and pregnant,
trying not to care.
He soon bundled her into his lap,
while she apologized for me.

How he may have been disappointed, but never angry.
How he must have held us both,
thinking of her end and my beginning,
and cried with her.

She told me about my birthfather,
how he played the guitar,
wrote poetry,
and threatened to punch her in the stomach when she was eight months along.
In a panic, she cried, "I think I felt it move!"
And he drew back his fist and went out for a beer.
She had been drowning ever since
her older cousin
first made her aware of herself before she was ready.
The tender mounds on her little girl chest,
the place between her legs
where only misery and pleasure came from.
The place that made her forget everything above her heart.

Now, four children later,and a man in her house who I've seen
pull her hair when she teased him,
wrapping it like cable inside his fist.
The way I've seen impatient passengers on buses
pull the cord,wanting to end their ride and move in a different direction.
He wouldn't let go until she put her words into reverse.
Often she props herself up in the corner of her kitchen counters,
a place she feels protected or invisible,
the same place I felt most at easein my own home, for years.

I watch as she rolls her paper cigarettes from a box of tobacco,
lights the end, and sucks vacantly on the fumes,
trying to fill some small place.

published in A Mother's String by Ekstasis Editions

This is really a tribute poem to her, albeit gritty because that is real, but also tender and compassionate. This poem was a way for me to know her more intimately and understand her journey, as well as to explore my own role in the events of her life and how these events shaped us both.

Posted by Andrea McKenzie at 12:53 PM

Stephen said...
Andrea, that is a very powerful poem to me, especially as someone who knows you.In answer to your question, I think that artistic integrity and freedom of expression are important, but I think that protecting people is important as well. I would ask, is the dignity of the person being basically respected as much as possible within the frame of reference of the artwork?I do think its important to compromise as little as possible, particularly if the artisitc expression is very personal and cathartic.
December 19, 2006 10:16 PM

amazingrace said...
Ah - this is always difficult. In the case of your poem (which is both uncompromisingly honest and heartbreakingly gentle) the identity of the subject of the poem is known only to a very very few - your birth mother, but not your adoptive mother, and the "mother" normally associated with you. Therefore, the chance of her being recognized, and therefore hurt, is relatively small. A different matter, I think, if it were otherwise. Those who share the intimacy of our lives, who let down their guard, and reveal themselves to us in all their flawed magnificence, deserve, I think, to have that vulnerability protected. I don't believe the art of poetry excuses us from the obligations of common decency, respect for others, protection of the vulnerable. We may write about them, yes, uncompromisingly, truthfully (as we believe that truth to be - their version may be otherwise), openly, poetically, all those things; whether we publish those poems is a more difficult decision, and one for which we deserve to be held accountable. Grace
March 26, 2007 7:16 PM

Seminar Question #2 - The Rant

In poetry, I'm all for ranting. Especially if it is done in a unique, provocative way that carries a solid message and gets you wound up in that upward twister of words and rhythm. But my question is this - when is a rant a poem, and when is it, well, a flurry of incoherent ranting. Last night at Planet Earth Poetry, there were a couple of rants -- one was very well done with a question about society and consumership and all of our social issues and monitoring the population -- the poet had pizzazz. The other, well, I thought at one point he was going to start ricocheting off the stage like a squash ball, and I couldn't hold onto anything concrete he was saying. At the sad risk of cliche, he was a ranter with no rhyme and no reason. He conducted an insane symphony of rambling story line, atrocious, ear-splitting singing (a few covered their ears), profanity, shock-value, yelling, hair pulling, bad grammar (to top it off) and, well, what was the poem about?

I realize not all of you were subjected to this, and for those who were I am aware that there is a range of opinions. However, I'm sure many of you know what I'm talking about, and I'd just like to have your thoughts on what is the difference between a poetic rant and uncontrollable ranting?

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