Writers often take inspiration from real life. A lot of my poetry draws on points, and people from history, as well as members of my own family. Some of those poems can be incredibly personal, not only the ones specifically about myself. I’ve written about my mother shaving her legs, the death of certain family members, friendships breaking down, and assault. I’m very lucky when it comes to those close to me, as they don’t take issue with me mining my life (and in turn their own) for inspiration. However, it still raises the question of how personal is too personal, and at what point (if at any point) does a poet cross the line about what they should or shouldn’t write about?
There’s a piece of writing advice, “write what you know”, which has been taken further in recent years to ‘don’t write outside your own lived experience’. There are (of course) exceptions when it comes to fiction, fantasy being a clear example. Writing what you know becomes redundant in the sense that none of us knows how magic works, or what goes on in a world carried about by a great, cosmic turtle. Fantasy, and pushing the boundaries of the known go hand in hand, but there is a difference between creating a detailed, anatomical description for the new race of gnomes you’ve invented, and writing a novel from the perspective of a person who has lived a life utterly removed from your own. For the sake of this post, I will not be going into my thoughts on the issues regarding writing in the voice of a different race/genre/class, that isn’t the post I set out to write. What I want to talk about is weighing up how to use your own experiences in poetry, and how there is room to stretch a bit beyond those experiences when the poem calls for it.Continue reading →