Published a few months after my grandmother passed. Enjoy.
Where the Poet Roams
My first published poem, many years ago.
Fall in Love with Poetry
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch is the most passionate, love filled book about the writing of poetry. It changed how I read and wrote poetry. It changed the way I taught!
This book isn’t prescriptive. No hard and fast rules here.
This is written by a person who loves poetry and wants readers to love it as well. I took this philosophy into my teaching of literature. I want my students to find things they enjoy reading – which I hope will encourage them to read more. We don’t spend hours analyzing poetry only to be told we’re wrong (how many of us have those high school memories?!).
Reading poetry should be like taking a warm bath, sinking into the steamy water, enjoying the bubbles against your skin, the scent wafting over you.
As for writing poetry, it seems there are no rights or wrongs. He suggests you give colors sounds, sounds feelings, etc. My writing grew more descriptive, creative, beautiful. I took chances and created new meaning in the relationship between words and ideas. I stretched my poetry muscles and it has paid off. This month, I plan to share some of my poetry with you.
It was the most illuminating, freeing book I’ve read throughout my academic and writing career.
Nothing but the truth.. the whole… well.. wait a minute… Speculative Memoir
Memoir is hard. Reliving the past, reasoning with it, acknowledging truths, and attempting to put events into words is challenging, upsetting even.
Speculative memoir is not a subversion of the truth, but an aid in voicing our deepest pain.
Speculative memoir uses supernatural elements, ghosts, fairies; it uses metaphors, imaginative scenarios – whatever it takes to further the truth.
When I wrote Ghost in her Room (printed below) it felt right, good. It said what I needed it to say. But was it memoir? Uncertain how to label it, I sent it out with explanations. Explanations which were not needed as it was accepted immediately.
THE GHOST IN HER ROOM – Noreen Lace
I stand in the hall at midnight. The oak floor is cold, even through my socked feet. The night light from the bathroom filters the darkness as I glance toward the pale pink haze at the other end of the corridor. I hear the small creaks on the floor, feel something just on the other side of that door. It’s menacing, waiting, daring me to enter. Tonight, though, I decline. I’m not strong enough. I’m tired, and I’m chilled.
It’s been raining for days. The house shivers in anger, the wood popping and cracking in the shadows behind me. It’s shrinking. We all are. I turn and go to bed, shutter the passage to whatever lies outside my room.
I lie there drifting between alpha and theta; rainbows swirl inside my closed eyes before a child calls my name right next to my bed, next to my ear, and then giggles. I spring awake but remain still. There is no child, so I don’t search. If there’s anything in here, it’s a ghost and looking won’t help me see.
Years ago, I heard footsteps on the cheap linoleum of the kitchen. I wrote it off to an old house groaning with age in a succession of weakening boards under the plinth. That stopped when I had the floors redone; ceramic doesn’t cede. That was long before I was alone here in the house.
In the bright light of day, I sense nothing behind that door. It’s quiet, empty, needs to be cleaned. I have my coffee, toast, and go on.
Sometimes I find myself home in the middle of the day. I’ve forgotten something or took a wrong turn and ended up in my own driveway; I go in. There’s a light on in the kitchen. A picture’s fallen from the wall. A forgotten towel slung aside the wooden chair. “Is someone here?” There’s no answer, not even my echo calling back to me.
In the shadowed hall, I stare at the pale pink gate. Pause. I will it to chirr or clack, shimmy slightly in the weight of my presence. The light from the window seeps around the threshold and stretches past strands of dust toward my shoes, but the door doesn’t give.
I don’t know if there is magic in this world. I don’t know if people can see things or if they know things. I used to think I would know if she was in trouble.
Some days I ignore the door completely, disregard the space, discount the whirrs or whines.
I’m sitting at the dining table. Haven’t passed or gone in for some time. My house has one less room. But then, suddenly, the hall creaks, a shadow moves; someone, something is standing there watching me, waiting for me, challenging me to look up.
I turn and it’s gone.
Later, I glance at the door, not quite closed, an inch or so ajar. Inside I click the switch. The light is hazy; a bulb burns out.
I stand, fists to my hips, in the center of the room. “Move one thing,” I tell myself. “Just pick up one thing and fold it or move it or throw it away.” But I back out. There’s no menacing figure now, just overwhelming emptiness.
I consider nailing it shut. Losing it. There’s nothing I need, not the four corners of square footage, not the admonition of what is not there, and not that ghost reminding me of all I don’t have.
Before bed, I stand in the hall; that dark presence has grown and I feel it breathing just beyond her door. A not so gentle sweep of chilled air in, warm air out, hanging on to the sound of my footsteps, egging me on. I back down. Turn to my own sallow room.
When I fall into a deep sleep, my father puts his hands on my shoulders. I haven’t seen him in ten years, but he looks good. “You’ve got to let it go,” he implores. It’s the nicest thing he’s ever said to me. But not today.
The ghost in her room was once small and indelible. It grows greater every day. It fills the gloom, spills into the corners, and bends back upon itself, towering over the entryway. If I challenge it, maybe it’ll shrink, fade into nothingness. But, at night, as I hear it mooring toward my room, the creak in the floor, a rap on the wall, the quiet whisper at my door, maybe that’s enough to get me through another day.
Obviously, my mind has been on memoir.
It’s exciting, invigorating, curative even; however, it’s not – as some people believe – revenge.
Just as forgiveness is more about us than those we forgive, memoir is the same. It’s about the author, the writer stating their peace. While some memoirs may read like revenge, they are more about sharing, maybe even confessing.
While Anne Sexton wrote confessional poetry better than anyone else I can name, confessional memoir comes in different flavors.
When I think of confessional memoir, I used to consider Life on the Edge or Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Some people would think of Spare by Prince Harry – but these are celebrity memoirs which carry a very different weight in the market.
Confessional memoirs will offer insight, a new way of looking at life and understanding people. Consider Dirty River by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinna who writes about being a disabled queer woman and survivor of abuse. Not the only example – Lit by Mary Karr, Unspeakable by Meghan Daum will offer more mainstream insights into death, illness, alcoholism, recovery. But we will come away with empathy for the human condition as lived through these authors.
These stories that will hurt your heart instead of shock your eyes.
While I’m working on a few pieces of memoir right now, they may not shock your eyes but some parts may hurt your heart. Certain pieces will speak to some people and not to others. Some readers will wonder, others may doubt. A person or two may become upset – upset with me – but confessional or not – it’s personal, it’s mine. And their upset will be their problem.
Writing memoir is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the shy or the scared – and maybe it’s not even for the “brave” – it’s for those who need to speak, who need to heal, who might be heard, and for those very souls who need to hear it.
Airing out the Demons
Allowing ourselves to recover, the body to heal itself, takes time and work. Sometimes we long for an instant cure, instant pain relief. But the pain is still there after the potion wears off.
If we don’t deal with our emotional suffering, it will work our way into our muscles, tendons, bones and cripple us.
Nothing worth having comes easy. And that includes healing.
In grief, we are told that talking about the person we lost helps with our healing. In abuse, we are also told voicing our experiences helps.
In short, Memoirs are healing.
Airing our difficulties, putting our secrets out there for the world to see may seem daunting.
Reading about challenges others have faced helps us – and writing back to the book, to the experience, to the author, in a private journal never to be seen by anyone but us – can still help us heal.
Your experience may help another; therefore, if you decide to publish it, it does not need to carry your name.
I met a published author who was writing a book about her son’s addiction, how it took years of her life as well as his life. She used a pseudonym for a few reasons. She wanted to protect her son’s identity. As well, her usual genre was not memoir. To publish a series of let’s say detective fiction, and then to publish memoir might confuse or dismay her readers. (Publishers rarely like genre switching anyway).
She felt, rightly so, that many people could identify with and be helped by her personal challenges. She found herself at book signings and conferences with reader after reader coming up to her thanking her for the book. They’d felt completely alone until they read her book, finally understanding others had similar experiences.
Memoir – airing out the demons – helps.
Read. Write. Heal.
Characteristics of a Successful Memoir
- A Relatable Experience – Many of us go through similar experiences and events; however, if you feel yours is not the run of the mill experience, that shouldn’t stop you from writing it. The emotions you describe can be the connection between the author and the audience.
- Drama. Drama. Drama – Keep the experience authentic, but many of us are going to choose a more dramatic event in our lives to share. Use the elements of fiction in your writing to keep the tension building.
- Story Arc – Whether it’s a longer memoir or a single experience, the story must have a beginning, middle, and end. A memoir must have a structure which keeps the audience engaged and an ending that offers some sort of resolution.
- Character Arc – One of the most important elements: We’re not just sharing an experience, we have learned from or taken something away from this event. Part of the memoir must show that the author has grown in some way from the experience.
In my last short memoir, Days of Remembrance, published by Memory House Magazine, the narrator attends a funeral. A relatable experience – everyone does, at some point, deals with death. It doesn’t start with the death, but the arrival to the service which isn’t quite the inciting incident, but it happens right after the arrival. The tension within the family serves as the drama as well as the rising action; the memoir features remembrances within the memory, a climax, and a resolution. The character has a realization and, in the end, has grown from the experience. These are the basic elements of story – fiction or memoir.
Someone recently allude to the reason they haven’t been writing is they felt their work wasn’t important.
But – is that why we do this? Out of some idea of importance to the world or to ourselves?
Are we not just driven to create because we are creators? Or does it lose meaning when we think our creations are not important?
As a young person, I wrote. I wrote with no thought of audience or publisher or awards. It was a drive within me, for as long as I can remember, to just write. Get it all out. Put it down on paper.
The idea of importance to the world didn’t come until later – college, in fact, when one professor said – but what is the deeper meaning?
And a student answered – maybe it was just for fun?
And she, slitting her eyes, growled, “We don’t do that.”
My writer friend always got stuck on audience. She’d start on a piece, but then she’d become stalled, staring at it for hours and rereading it and attempting to answer the question – Who is the Audience?
All these expectations stifle the creative spirit. Maybe these questions need to be answered, but I believe the answer must come after the creation.
Perhaps that is the true spirit of creation. Create first, ask questions later.
The spirit of commercialism to which we are all pulled, drawn, or lead is in opposition with the authentic need to create. For the product, we must ask the questions and then create something tailor made.
I don’t want to make products. I suck at sales. I just want to write. The writing is important to who I am as a human. Writing makes me a better human. Isn’t that important?
Edgar Allan Poe in his time…
Have you ever wondered what it was like – the 1830’s/1840’s – when Poe was alive and walking around the streets of Boston or Richmond?
I’ve imagined the dark nights with gas street lights to guide the people at night. I’ve thought about his mother rushing him home after her show at the theater in the billowing cold of a frosty October, as she burned with fever, desperately fighting for breath.
Or Edgar, as an adult, leaving the pub on a similar cold winter night.
in the 1830’s, there were 12 million people in all of the United States. Now, there are 10 million in LA County alone!
In the 1840’s, the latest medical invention was a mechanical leech – let that sink in for a moment.
Boston grew phenomenally – from 1830 to 1840, the population grew from 60,000 to over 90,000. Today, Boston has nearly 700,000 people.
Poe lived in a town (Richmond) with 16,000 people. It was a growing metropolis with plans for paved streets (paved with wood, by the way). Richmond now boasts over 200,000 living souls.
These thoughts inspired the first lines of Eddy:
He stumbles from the pub, slips and falls on the iced over bricks of Boston’s November streets. Save for the muddled voices beyond the closed door, the street is quiet as his body thuds to the ground. His breath billows in front of him as he gasps and grumbles and struggles to his knees, then to his feet to regain his drunken balance…
I wanted to tell an imaginary tale of Edgar Poe the night he nearly took his own life… what saved him? what changed him? But the details needed to support the time, to place the reader in the 1800’s with a sick mother, a dying wife, a bottle of poison. When I read this at the Poe Museum in Virginia a few years ago, the employees complimented the personal grasp on Edgar’s life.
It serves still as a source of pride. And I come back to it – I want to write more about Poe, his life, not the dry biographies, but a more personal investment in a man who is still very much admired for his literary accomplishments in the face of his personal challenges.
I handle grief by writing. I handle stress by writing. I handle many things by laying a line on paper and allowing the dark moments to flow out. Image and rhyme and memory and magic blooms and appears sometimes in chaos, other times in patterns however rarely symmetrical.
People all handle grief differently and all the ways are valid. Many people don’t understand those who don’t bawl and post and praise. Other people don’t understand the public display.
After my brother passed last year, my mother followed him in a matter of days. It took me a bit, but I wrote. While I’m working on a longer piece about my mother, I’m proud to say Memory House Magazine out of Chicago accepted the piece about my brother.
“Days of Remembrance” is a mystical memoir of my brother’s passing, more specifically the days following his death. The print version will be out soon. They’ve invited us to read their digital version at https://chicagomemoryhouse.wordpress.com/
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