Wholesome cake is essential to sanity and – in my opinion – so is poetry, poetry in which the conscious and subconscious work together to uncover truth.
As a child, I wrote for my grandmother, because I adored her and the things I watched her doing: washing up with her thick arms, winding a scarf turban style around her head, bundling me up in a towel when I trembled from the ocean, leaving the door ajar to the cupboard where she kept her silver and jeweled dancing shoes. But I didn’t know my grandfather. Only through story. And even then not really at all.
There are sketchy details, shadowy tales, aliases, allusions and lies. And the constant third party in my grandparents’ marriage was the war.
These past couple of years, I am slowly slowly inching into poetry for them, about their complicated relationship and what the war did to it. Which is maybe what the war did to most everyone.
One of these poems was published recently by Cordite, the University of Melbourne’s online poetry journal.
Some background. My grandfather was in the tank corps during World War Two. He was imprisoned, mistaken, absorbed, abandoned, an abandoner and ended his life remarried to my Grandmother, who had remained steadfast throughout.
The poem is a compressed detailing of my great grandfather’s death in a road accident, my grandfather’s wandering through the fells of Cumbria, his harsher upbringing by his mother’s family and then a leap ahead to after the war, when the book in which he had drawn one sketch of my Grandmother’s aching beauty had disappeared.
Everything in the poem is true. Everything is in chronological order, apart from the one day old child at the end who would have been my grandfather’s older brother.
My grandfather’s childhood pattern for running wild continued throughout his life which makes the strands of story so slippery and chimaeric, so hard to knit together. This is why it is essential for me to only write the truth. I’m tired of writing made-up poems, particularly for my Grandfather.
Is there someone in your family you need to write for? Can you write into your ancestry to reveal connections, to follow common lines, to remake rifts, to discover yourself in how you understand and imagine your heritage?
Here’s a challenge. This week, prepare a notebook and pen by your bed. Set the intention before you drop off to sleep that you will dream of what is of greatest importance to you right now, and that you will wake with words. Let your subconscious work for you! Then set your alarm clock ten minutes earlier than usual and, while your eyes are still blinking open, grab the pad and pen and freewrite for the full ten minutes. If your hand stops moving, just force it on, even if it is gibberish, even if you lapse into doodling. The words will rise again and you will find yourself writing with a deep level of truth and freedom.
I would love to know if you try this and how you get on, so please leave a comment below if you too are leaning into words.
With all love, always, xx
Photo 1 credit to Kate Van der Drift; Photo 2 credit to Anne Basquin with Sol inside. : )
Thank you Kent McCarter and Bonnie Cassidy for inviting me to submit to this incredible issue.