Memoir in Poetry

This month I get to  exuberantly promote my favourite writing teacher, mentor and divine friend, Sue Reynolds. Without her, I’d be nothing. Okay, that might be taking a bit far… but I am very pumped to be able to share her with my local community at the upcoming WCSC’s December luncheon meeting, where she will not only be our guest speaker but she’s also facilitating a free mini workshop on the craft of memoir for everyone who registers for the luncheon.

Everyone has a story to tell, and one of Sue’s great gifts is her midwifery skill for those who need some help birthing that baby. I’ve taken many day-long and week-long programs with her to that end and I never cease to be amazed at all the ways words  can be configured to tell one’s story.

I’d like to share a poem that came from one workshop a couple of years ago. It is my autobiography. Perhaps I could use it for a long bio, instead of all that point form stuff

This Life                              

I am from

cocktail parties, red velvet dresses,

Mom’s sparkly shoes and matching purses,

Dad’s business trips,

trying too hard,

and

you’ll end up crying if you don’t stop

I am from

matching bikinis – sister, mother and

the one left behind

because I’m too small

I’m from

climbing trees

and deep woods dreaming,

The Avengers and Little Joe,

wet pants, doctor’s visits,

razor-blade pain and empty hospital beds.

I am from

open fields and thirteen cats,

crawl spaces claimed

in an ancient farmhouse,

Mom gone to be with her dogs,

moved to the kennel,

alone in the house.

I am from

gray hospital walls,

orderlies with nasty hands

and green-eyed Michael,

his arm crushed in a wringer

I am from

horses who kick

broken bones and twisted hip,

blooming bruises no one can see

and the glare of lights in surgery

I am from

a trip anywhere at all,

somewhere to go, something to see

pushing back chairs,

turn up the hifi –

Aretha Franklin and Mick Jagger

when nobody’s home.

I am from

a new adventure

out there, far away,

talking too much, trying too hard,

take me anywhere, let’s go

pulling the friend,

come on, it’s fun

I am from

a midnight drive,

fourteen and cruise to town….

where’s that boy?

let’s go, why stay?

a bus, a train, a car, a bike,

I’ll walk, let’s go!

I am from

kisses too soon,

heavy hands, hot nights

empty mornings

I am from

drained wine glasses

rain slicked streets

and the wrong way home

I am from

leaving before it’s over and

staying when it is,

laughing before tears come

and running when they do.

I am from

dreams as plenty as stars

each one dazzling

before it dies,

long trips far away

and longer trips home

I am from

hope beyond reason,

jumping too soon,

landing too hard

I am from

a cabin in the mountains,

west coast beaches,

the dark backs of whales

and eagles overhead

I am from

a gallery in Paris or Rome,

comrades singing in piazzas,

a full-lipped lover in The Hague

and Leonard Cohen in Berlin

I am from

dances on the lawn,

a balcony in Rome,

a studio, a hall,

lonestara place where lovers meet

I am from

stolen fruit and stolen kisses,

stolen husbands

both yours and mine.

I am from

new dance too late,

three a.m. speakeasies,

artists and poets

and lovers like water.

I am from

plates of food

served with finesse,

dawns at an Underwood

poetry and stories

in real black print

I am from

dreaming of a teacher

and being found by a Master,

resisting until it was futile

I am from

a commune in redneck land,

an ashram in the far-east,

homeless in the big wide world:

Buddha in the marketplace.

I am from

hands that heal

marble pathways

a bamboo grove

the cacophony of  cockatiels

I am from

leg bells and eagle feathers

drums, and swirling colour

deep dark sweat lodges,

secrets and release,

headaches and puking,

scrubbed clean.

I am from

forty-eight hours of labour

a lifeless son

who cried at last.

I am from

that child at five

remembering his birth –

those still moments,

that busy room

I am from

a house full of strangers

demanding blood,

ten showers each morning,

a husband who helped himself

I am from

trust without borders

skin in shreds

and a sacrificial womb

I am from

the shock of morning,

remembering to breathe

and learning word by word

to tell the truth


There are so many ways in. I found this exercise gave me a whirlwind tour of my life, and from any place within this piece I could launch a memoir. I have chosen a place right in the middle… I’ve written about a hundred pages already, but I’m going to take Sue’s memoir writing course in January. (That way, it might not take three more years to get it written!)

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