Recently I had to write a series of autobiographical poems as part of a project. Yuck. No thanks. I want to write twisted fairytales and Dharmic poems about the nature of existence.
I sit down to begin the project and feel my body tense, my breath shorten. My mind dims under the spotlight, ideas hide themselves in dark corners and my energy slumps. I feel caged, I feel confined, I feel like I’m being told what to do and I don’t want to do it.
I’ve learned that when given a project that doesn’t get my juices flowing I need to find a way in by writing around the topic.
There is always a way in that sets me off, that fires that glow in my body when an idea begins to breathe life. I may have to rummage around to find it, but a word, an image, a feeling will eventually emerge that becomes the ember that later ignites into a story or poem.
In the case of the autobiographical poem sequence I was tasked with, I did some freewriting on the broad theme of ‘childhood’ and through it I started to taste flavours, rekindle feelings and spark images from my past.
Then I go outside - into the woods, or to the beach, and then I wait. Not an impatient waiting, but a waiting born from faith that something will arise if I create the space.
And as I sat beneath a chestnut tree weighing a conker in my hand something did emerge. It was a strong image related to a story my mum told me once - about how she dressed my father – a stern Iranian with a don’t-mess-with-me attitude, newly arrived in the UK – as Paddington bear, complete with duffel coat and jam jar, and took him to a Halloween party.
And a single line – ‘She’d never make a teddy of you’ – was enough to give the otherwise comedic incident a flavour of foreboding, and acted as the seed from which a series of autobiographical poems emerged.