Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Looking Back

I've written a handful of poems in recent weeks about my childhood and teenage years: Proustian reminiscences, holiday snapshots, family portraits, that kind of thing. It's a well-worn genre within poetry, and that fact alone makes me worried. Is it the poetic equivalent of a mid-life crisis to suddenly start writing poems about one's youth?

They're not desperately bad, these poems. One has just been accepted at Poetry Review, and I'm fairly confident of placing a number of others in magazines over the next year. They are honest poems, written - thanks to a general lack of it in my family - without sentimentality. They appear to work well in a stand-alone lyric sense, and easily earn their place in my fourth collection.

Yet somehow I'm uneasy about having written them and about wishing to write more, which I definitely do. There seems to be a positive wellspring there, looking back at my past with older eyes, and any gush of new, publishable poetry must surely be welcome after twelve years in the game.

But am I really the sort of poet who writes 'nostalgia'?


Rik said...

Jane - whatever else these poems are, people such as the PR editor are finding quality and worth in them. This is a good thing, I think.

Are you writing 'nostalgic poems'? Not having read them, I can't tell. For me a nostalgic poem carries an undertone of wishful thinking: wish things were simple like they used to be; wish I could revisit my childhood; wish things hadn't changed. But from what you say it doesn't sound like this is your game - how would you describe this new work? Investigative? Interrogative? Comparative? Reconstructionist? Narrative? Revolutionary?

Go write them, I say. Have fun and make them work tgheir butts off for you.

Jane Holland said...

Wise words, Rik. No, I don't think they're wistful poems. Well, maybe a bit. In places. But the genre is wistful and a bit wet, frankly. Which, given my previous history as a poet, is rather like pinning a terry towelling nappy round a knight at arms.

Just because you can write something, that doesn't mean you should. I'd be happier if I could see a way to make these poems ... well, darker, I suppose. More in my own idiom.

This is beginning to sound like that hilarious Launcelot scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: 'I think when I'm in this idiom, I sometimes get a bit, uh, sort of carried away.'

Steven Waling said...

I've just revisited an old poem about my father, which didn't work until I inserted some bits of overheard conversation that gave a kind of almost lit-crit commentary on the poem. But that's me.

It's not compulsory to write "dark poems" all the time, y'know. If they're not dark - if, God forbid, they're actually celebratory - go with it. There's always more darkness to explore when you get back.

Jane Holland said...

True enough, Steven.

However, when I smile, my husband and children look worried and ask what I'm planning. That's the reality of my life. Apparently, there's a sinister quality even to my laughter. So writing happy-skippy poems tends to feel a bit ... icky. And slightly suspect.

I'd like to write more funny poems. But I'm not sure how many people share my sense of humour.

Titus said...

Hi Jane, and I'm glad you're back. Find the dark humour, and take the edge off the saccharin?

Angela said...

I don't like to write nostalgia or anything remotely confessional - but sometimes that's what presents itself. Given your last post, about being honest as the most important thing - wouldn't denying the current impulse be dishonest?

For myself, I have found that following those impulses and trying to go deeper into them can result in good things - however uncomfortable I find it to do that. You may well find that they hold a good deal more than 'nostalgia'.