My MA class this week was led by the wonderful Hannah Lowe. Hannah is a poet and her recent book ‘Chick’ was published by Bloodaxe.
She helped us to explore confessional poetry and particularly, the elements that make our work seem real. She brought up an interesting point about poetry and truth; we naturally assume poetry is truthful, but she helped us see that it can be embellished or just plain made up like prose.
The first homework assignment was a poem based on a confessional poem we’d brought it to discuss. I’d brought in ‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath. We then had to swap our poems with the person on our left, and I got handed…. Daddy by Sylvia Plath! The second assignment was to write the beginning of a fake memoir based on the same poem and make it sound real. So, here’s the memoir –
I swore I’d never become like my father, but after 50 years of running, he now stares back at me from every mirror. Don’t be fooled by my sad tale: I’m a dangerous man.
It’s Askern Yorkshire, 1945, where the smog fills your throat and blocks out the sun. I’m born to a God fearing woman and a coal blackened father who beats his wife and terrorises his children. The war has ended everywhere but in my home. I escape first to my grandparents’ house; then at 16, to sea. A tattooist covers my arms in mermaids and sailboats and I breathe again.
My father dies in 1976 when I’m 31. His lungs and heart have congealed from pit dust, smoke and drink until he falls down dead like a tree in a forest: first birdsong, then finally- silence.
It’s 1977. I marry a young woman with blue eyes and I can’t believe that she’s mine. We have a son, David, then my daughter, Susan.
It’s May, 1984 when my daughter is born and I elbow the nurse out of the way to catch her. I hold her as she screams, with pink shining cheeks and her mother’s eyes. How I could have created something so perfect?
It’s August and I’m arguing with my wife on the landing. She wants to go back to college. She’s holding our new-born daughter with one arm and a laundry basket in the other when I push her down the stairs.
And that is when my father; dank with dirt and black heart finally rotted; opens one eye.