This week’s prompt comes from guest blogger, Gail Fishman Gerwin—
get ready to call up your kinfolk!
My late aunt Helen Stern Mann, who met challenges with courage, humor, and high dives, began all her letters to us with Dear Kinfolk,. This greeting provided the title for my poetry collection, which deals with kin by blood, kin by marriage, kin by experience. So many of our memories call on these kin: perhaps feuding aunts, spouses (current, former, or fantasy), loving parents and grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren, cousins, and even the animal kinfolk we love(d). This week, in a spirit of honoring our family members, I invite you to think about your kinfolk and to write poems about them. Here’s one of mine from Dear Kinfolk,:
Smothered with Love
Foam or feather, says my daughter
when I forget
where I left my keys,
where my glasses hide,
what happened yesterday.
Foam or feather, she says, lets
me choose the pillow she’ll use
to smother me if I forget who she is.
The pillow engulfs my head,
I struggle, then give in to the white
void, my arms at rest, parentheses
against my sides, my legs slack,
toes point out second position.
I climb over the hedge that separates
the old real from the new real, see
my mother, father, aunts, uncles,
They beckon, they know I didn’t
forget their lives, I recorded them.
Look—they are poems.
(Prologue, Dear Kinfolk, ChayaCairn Press, 2012)
Poetry calls on many of us to remember, to honor people who touch(ed) our lives, events that linger in our hearts, places we cannot erase. In the following poem from her collection “No Longer Mine” from This Sharpening (Tupelo Press, 2006), Ellen Doré Watson, who heads the Poetry Center at Smith College, honors her mother whose indelible mark she can’t relinquish:
How many years will my mother go on passing/the anniversary of her subtraction, the day the first/piece of her slipped off into wet grass or got left/in the parking lot like a scarf lost and the end of winter/and not missed until the next? Why mourn the day/my daughter takes possession of her body — mother,/daughter, no longer mine as if they ever were? Who/flipped the switch from wishing to remember to trying/to forget? It’s all recorded, each scintilla, memory dozing/until some rasp or whiff heralds its return and leads us/back without our knowing. Brain whorls are funny/that way, forever rearranging us — daughter opening/because she says so, mother a watercolor fading to plain/paper, not because of not remembering but because/her mouth no longer makes words; she lives beneath/her eyelids because she can no longer name the world.
In "My Grandmother's Bed," Edward Hirsch takes us on a trip that calls on our senses to share his beloved grandmother’s apartment and his childhood nights within. In "A Dog Has Died," Pablo Neruda’s matter-of-fact voice belies the tragedy of a pet’s loss. He takes us on a voyage that questions one’s own existence and place in the world.
This week, think about your kinfolk and write a poem that calls on your memories. Maybe there’s an old photo in your own archives that will prompt you. A wedding, a drive for a holiday visit, a conversation long overdue, people you cannot identify. Share your kinfolk.
1. Give your kinfolk voice. Write a poem from a kin’s point of view.
2. Write from your childhood point of view or write as an adult looking back.
3. Take readers to your kin’s home: the furniture, the meals, chatter among visitors, dust under the sofa.
4. Adopt a relative you admired or disdained: your friend’s mother, father, sibling.
5. Write a poem that lets readers know how you feel about the subject without spelling out these feelings.
6. Write a poem that places your kinfolk in history; use images that define that period.
1. Tap your memory for your kin’s qualities; note those you want to feature.
2. Use interesting enjambments (See Watson poem).
3. Take a look at your poem sideways. Is there an interesting line pattern?
4. Try a prose poem.
5. Don’t forget imagery.
6. Use stanza breaks to show time lapses.
7. Let your thoughts flow; let stanzas run into each other.
8. Try a poem with short lines, no more than four words each.
9. Try repetition at the end of each stanza.
10. Have fun as you bring kin to life in your words.
Sincerest thanks to Gail for sharing with us this week!
You Can Order a Copy of Gail’s Book by Visiting www.chayacairnpress.com.