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Prompt #138 The memoir project

January 10, 2013

the memoir project
We Write Poems:

It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.
~Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

It strikes me, dear poets, that we invent a lot.  When we write, we often go searching into the past.  And then we start to weave a fantasy around it.  A fantasy that could surpass the facts.  Just over Christmas, we had lots of reminiscences, about how it used to be, when we were young.  That sort of thing.  It all sounded so grand, like some… how “[Tom in The Great Gatsby] would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”

I’m also struck by how several novels I’ve read in the past year were memoirs that rewrite the past, weaving fantasy with history.  It is also entirely possible that the narrator has brought the past into the present.  Eg Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea.  Which is really how we live in the present.  How else does one live?  And if it’s written in the third person, then there’s always that sense of mystery isn’t it, trying to get under the skin of the protagonist through the narrator. Eg. Neil Bartlett’s Skin Lane.  The conclusion I’ve come to?  It’s that memory is not just revisited, but reinvented. 

So this will be your prompt for the week. Write a poem about how the past is reinvented through memory, through writing.

I’ve already written a poem to this memoir project if you care to read.  See you in a week with your poems for this prompt!
Come back to leave a link to your poem next Wednesday when you see our second follow-up post called, It’s Post Your Poems Day!  If you have questions about We Write Poems and our prompt-and-poem process, or if you are new here at WWP, please read our about page.

  1. January 10, 2013 7:25 am

    I’m feeling a little more dense than usual this morning, Irene. Is the idea to write a re-invented memoir OR to write about the process?

    • January 10, 2013 3:06 pm

      Was expecting a narrative, a reminiscing kind of story, Barbara. Though the answer is..either!

      In your poem let the speaker remember something–and weave all the fragmented pieces that memory is into a subjective poem, a personal statement of mythology even. It needn’t be old history, could be recent happenings. Ask why it is significant to you or the person it’s happening to. If you look at history, there’s some agreed collective narrative, but no one person remembers the story the same. You end up with different stories. I suppose because memory happens in fragments. So take those fragments and fly with it.

      Or if you prefer, you could write a poem interpretation of that quote by Julian Barnes.

  2. January 15, 2013 12:17 am

    I didn’t get it either, so I’m glad I’m not alone!

    • January 15, 2013 5:52 am

      Feeling pretty dense myself right now– need to sleep. Perhaps it’ll be clearer tomorrow.

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