The rain remains, and the second day poetry prompt is write a family portrait. This prompt comes with suggestions on how to compose the poem: use a picture, or write a stanza per family member. A few thoughts on this: what do we mean when we use the word family? Does that traditional image of mum, dad, siblings pop into the head? And what about extended family? What if you were separated from your family either by choice or circumstance; perhaps through no fault of your own? And what of the ethics – and potential impact – of writing about your family? Can you fictionalise? Should you?
Writing is all about choices; sometimes we can create composite characters who are based on different aspects of different people. You can create a person who has: your sister’s aversion to Marmite, your dad’s love/hate relationship seeing Dale play, your mate Tony’s habit of tapping the rim of his pint glass before he downs it in one. You can put words into this character’s mouth, perhaps incorporate an overheard conversation in the supermarket (“Oo, he never?”, “Yeah, ‘e did.”, “What’s he like?!”). However, I do think you tread a hair’s width fine line as a writer, but sometimes you’ve just got to go for it; follow the story or poetic fragments. Once finished, perhaps prepare to defend your art afterwards, or, perhaps not: let go, allow the reader’s imagination decipher it.
As the borough of Rochdale is a muse for my writing, the following poem has been created as a composite family. As previously mentioned, a good deal of my own writing practice comes from being a bit of a magpie – drawing on resources from different areas, trying to communicate with other sources, attempting to be part of and apart from the writing. The poem below uses themes and ideas from stories that I’ve read during research on how Rochdale is imagined in literary texts. They are not direct quotations, however, I feel that as this blog is a reflection on process as well as research and practice that it’s important to highlight this. I’ve also incorporated some ideas from newspapers.
Finally, I chose to use a “traditional family” set-up, a bit of a stereotype really, but it’s an imaginative extension on the stories and the papers. I’d be interested in thoughts if anyone reading has tried to write a poem using this prompt and thoughts on ethics and literary influences!
“He’s a man on the edge
of midlife crisis.”
That’s what they said
when he saw his mum
in the hospice.
“Meditate, read a good book,
have a look at that
leak from the garden hose.
You’re a Man
you’re supposed to DIY.”
But he’s just a bloke
Likes the footy,
car boot sales,
a ramble in nature,
that rush from countryside.
She’s a good Catholic girl from Langley way.
Her dad once said, that when she was born
she came out holding a mirror.
You see, she’s queen of the Selfie.
Twizzle the screen of that phone,
smile, pout, laugh, strike a pose
everyone knows there’s no harm
in it, she never intended
to stop being young, gravity unkind.
Born old, our kid, dimples as deep as the dales.
Our kid, brave lad, ready to do his duty.
Before the army he worked in sales,
cars, that kind of thing. Liked his tea
strong, two sugars, splash of milk.
Well loved by his missus and pals.
He came back from tour, not killed
but damaged, bad goods, took pills.
When his missus left, he was kicking
off well bad. Smashing in windows,
coppers went to his house, it was stinking
with weed. Blows with his neighbours
got him ASBOed, got the boot, now gone.
They said “it was like living in a warzone”.
Laura, Laura, council worker,
came to our house, we never saw her.
Always busy, there’s always something.
She spends half her time doing nothing.
Laura, Laura, missing Sunday dinner,
working later and getting thinner.
Always busy, there’s always something.
An excuse: time is someone else’s problem.
She keeps falling
out of love
out of bed
onto the floor
pull the chord.
We can’t get her
into a proper home.
Poem influenced by:
Gaskell, E. (1855) Lizzie Leigh and Other Tales. London: Chapman and Hall.
Hilton, A.G. (1936) The Promise of Life. A Romance of Middleton. Manchester: Sherratt & Hughes.
Hoyle, T. (1975, 2014) Rule of Night. London: Querus Editions Ltd.
Rochdale Observer, Rochdale Online, and The Sunday Times.