I’m loving the synchronicity of my daily forays into poetry this month. Yesterday I checked in at Poetic Asides for the prompt of the day, which happened to be “write a history poem.” It could be the history of anything. I remembered my rough draft attempt, a few years back, to write a poem about my personal history (based on this template ~ the “Where I'm From” poem) and thought it might be fun to try to capture similar roots by writing a poem called “A Selective History of Me.”
What form that might have taken I don’t know, but then I stumbled upon this post at Wild Rose Reader, celebrating list poems. I think I’ve had poetic lists on the brain lately, since I’m re-reading Charlotte’s Web to the sweet girl…and E.B. White does delight in lists. Though his lists come in the midst of prose, they are their own bits of poetry. I decided I would try writing a list poem about my life.
The process has been interesting so far. I set out with no specific thoughts about how to shape the list, what limits to place on it. I began with an image from the day I came home from the hospital, an image of a welcome home banner on the wall of my family’s living room. I’ve actually seen that image in old home movies taken on Dad’s old Super-8 movie camera. Since I was starting at the beginning, my homecoming as a baby, the list began to flow naturally from there and move forward chronologically. The stanzas began to break themselves naturally into seasons of my life: babyhood and preschool, early school years, etc. I hadn’t consciously made the decision to do that, but it seemed to make sense, and I could tell (by my swift crossings-out, when I sensed that events or images felt out of order) that chronology matters to this poem.
So does concreteness. At first I toyed with naming significant people in my life, or at least significant relationships somehow, but it soon became clear that I needed to stick primarily to images (sights, sounds, smells) and artifacts. It’s been interesting to sense how many people and events stand behind those things, and to pick and choose which ones matter most. It’s also been interesting to note how much easier it was to zero in on a few key images from childhood. The farther I go into the past, the more starkly a few key images or events stand out as the ones I remember best or feel formed me most. The closer I get to the current-day, the more cluttered and richly layered things get, and the harder it is to pick and choose. I do find myself returning, like a migrating bird, to certain kinds of images, especially those drawn from nature and from books. And some recurring bits of language are cropping up as I revise, lending the whole exercise a bit more structure.
And then of course I found this quote, from poet Gene Fehler, over at the Poetry Makers series: “As far as ideas for writing poems, my favorite way to begin is to think of these four words: "What I remember most" -- and go from there.”