I can hardly believe I’ve finished my third master’s degree residency. I’m halfway through! If all goes well, I will have my master of fine arts in creative writing degree next December – and a completed memoir.
This past semester I have focused instead, though, on poetry, and one of the things that surprised me is how much writing poems has affected how I think about and approach the writing of my memoir.
Writing poetry – at least for me – requires a deepening of time and space. A pause, a respite, a lengthening of presence, so that the words that arrive come from a deep place, a place of unseen possibility and unknown potential. They allow for an unlocking of dark places, places that have been embedded in emotion and experience.
So when I began to write poetry in response to exercises over the past semester, verses emerged that evoked ideas and experiences I had not been able to access while writing my memoir. Places and people came forth after decades of burial. And I began to consider the possibility of incorporating my poetry into my memoir, exploring a hybrid work, an experimental form.
One of the guest authors at our residency was the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Tretheway. She read some of the poetry from her forthcoming book (to be published in fall 2012), and also conducted a 90-minute question-and-answer session about her three books of poetry and her nonfiction exploration of the Mississippi Gulf Coast (where she was born) after Hurricane Katrina. That book, Beyond Katrina, incorporates her poetry into a nonfiction narrative about how Katrina affected her family. I’ve been toying with the idea of blending my own poetry into my memoir, which is my master’s thesis (read this blog to learn more about my master’s degree journey). One of the gifts of doing this program is the realization that a memoir can be an experimental work. It might incorporate poetry or artwork or photography. I want to explore all of those options, (keeping in mind the practical fact that it likely would make it harder to sell to a publisher).
I’m going back to writing my memoir in the coming semester, and hope to have a completed draft by June. Then I’ll spend my final semester polishing it and getting it ready to go out to agents. (Also this semester I have to write a 25-page critical paper. It will examine mother-daughter relationships in memoirs about childhood trauma. I’m looking at three memoirs in particular: Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, Emily Rapp’s Poster Child, and Road Song, by Natalie Kusz.)
If you write both poetry and nonfiction (or even fiction) I would love to hear how one has affected the other in your experience. Does your prose become more lyrical and poetic?