Ten Years Learning How To Be A Poet – Part Five: How To Write About Real Life In Poetry

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.

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Some Nights – A Poem by Carol J Forrester

when the weight of the sea settles on her shoulders,
she wears a shawl of waves and swims in starless fabric
wishing for sequins. 
There is always a watcher, 
a little, bobbing boat cresting each swell of her filled lungs
its crew casting nets, for sequins. 
Even the sea foam does not glitter
but leaves its watermarks on sun cracked knuckles
passing hand over hand to reel in… nothing. 
Caught in their empty net she wishes
for sequins. 

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Weekend Discount On #Poetry Collection!

This Saturday and Sunday I am selling signed limited edition (there were a couple of typos on the blurb, and the world century instead of millennium in one poem) copies of my collection ‘It’s All In The Blood’ for £5.00. (UK Postage included.)

There are 35 copies available at the reduced price. The discount ends Sunday at midnight.

If you would like to buy a copy then please let me know in the comments below, or email caroljforrester@hotmail.com

For anyone wishing to purchase outside the UK there is a slight increase to cover postage:

USA: $9.92
Australian Dollar: $13.46
Euro: €9.06

Spring Washing – A Poem By Carol J Forrester

Today is the first day we have risked the washing line.
The sheets go out first,
pale faced in the morning brightness,
skirts scattering about wind born legs.
The sweaters are more resilient to such weather,
they slouch from their pegs
warming slowly 
arms raised like they are reaching
to pin themselves in place.
Caught by their knees, dresses fold over
hang like school children from trees
laughter in their fluttering. 
The garden becomes a gathering,
loud in their wet chatter.
Today is the first day we have risked a washing line,
hope goes out first. 

Franz Marc, Flatternde Wäsche im Wind (1906)

When You Can Taste The Salt – A Poem By Carol J Forrester

Now you have evaporated,
I can see markers clear as crystal,
so damn sparkly in retrospect.
Forgetting,
if you had added salt to the veg
was as small as any mistake
chalked up to forgetfulness.
By the time you taste it
you’re too late.