Today I have my friend and poet visiting with a guest post. I first met Maureen at the NSW writers centre when I was there to talk about self-publishing. It’s exciting to see that Maureen has very recently self-published her first book of poetry, and what a gorgeous one it is. Even if poetry isn’t your favourite thing; if you enjoy well-written prose, you will probably enjoy this – I know I did. Welcome, Maureen!
I first started writing poetry in high school; a creative form of self expression that my teacher’s never had to see. I mainly used my words for the force of good; exercising inner teen demons. For example, in Year 10 I wrote a poem about my Autistic brother. It is simple and technically awful and yet somehow… oh so accurate.
What was that you said again?
Through innocent eyes I watch you, but
Never stare you in the eye.
It hurts, I tell you, it hurts.
You say ‘Hi,’
I sit and stare, because
What do you mean?
I play games by
Myself. Like Halo on xbox
And Zelda on my computer.
I play my gameboy.
I like my xbox, my computer, my gameboy.
I can understand them, but
Not the expression on your face.
I’ll tell you a secret!
I take tablets and I need lots of help.
I don’t like talking to people I don’t know.
But I like my dog.
Why is Mum so tired, why is sis so stressed?
I don’t know the answer so
I do an equation in my head.
I think I am mumbling.
I don’t like talking much.
What was that you said again?
When I wasn’t angsting experience, I exchanged lines of snarky free verse with my friend at the back of the English classroom. That’s how I ended up with a poem titled ‘Ode to Poetry’ (A response to Ode on a Grecian Urn) in the back of a workbook. My favourite part of the poem, aside from the alliteration of, ‘prattling pedagouge’ is the repetition of, ‘leave this picking apart/to the crows.’ How things change. Now I can’t get enough of literary analysis. The joke really backfired on me, Caringbah High.
As I got more comfortable messing around with free verse, I started to like putting word pictures together, and more and more complex ones too. It seemed to me that you could do so much more in free verse; capture something so raw, so human. Capture something ruined by too much laboured prose. I had very little life experience, but what did that matter? I soon discovered that this is what the movies are for!
I have always been a genre fiction lover. I’d rather not read about messy ordinary lives, thanks. Yet I can’t get enough of human mess at the movies. I have never been able to put my finger on just why I love straight drama on film but not in a book. Specifically, British drama. In high school I set the pattern. I love all of the actors who never get the publicity. It’s my own form of personal torture. I have seen almost every single drama film, good, bad and ugly, of the likes of Ralph Fiennes (always quietly burning over something but what?), Bill Nighy (life’s one big joke), Helena Bonham Carter (beautiful, eccentric and a messy powerhouse), Miranda Richardson (tiny and ripped apart by emotions) and Emily Watson (flinty, but somehow still breakable with those damned disconcerting lamp like eyes).
Something in the power of these actors varied performances spoke to me but I could never put it into words. The more poetry I wrote, the harder it was to string words into analytical sentences. It was so much easier, so much truer somehow, to tell stories, to respond to art with art. It was my way of making sense of the frightening, closed off and dangerous adult world that such actors regularly push us into confronting.
I saw Red Dragon. I didn’t write a review. To be honest, I wouldn’t remember the film today at all if it hadn’t been that I’d written a creative response to Watson’s Reba. I go back through my high school notebooks now, and I remember that the poem came about because of Reba, but the poem is not Reba. Reba was a springboard into a world of disability and judgement. A world that I do know and understand far too well. A world that I did know and understand then.
My wide eyes
Furtive, unseeing glances
Tell you what you already know
Even without the guiding stick.
My voice catches
At the sound of yours.
My mouth can’t take
Your awkward pauses.
Do I seem that desperate
When I cling and kiss your
I’ve become so alone.
Locked up with endless thoughts
Of a good day never to come.
All I want is
Someone to hold me
Someone to mean it and say…
“It’s all right to be different.
It’s all right
For blind women
Yeah, I just want you to say
That just because I cannot see
Doesn’t mean that I can’t strive
For all I long to be.
Because oh how it hurts to be branded
With a label not of your choice
To have had the world take away
Both my sight and my voice.
And all because the universe can’t take
All because the universe takes
Free verse was my curious and secret addiction. I kept writing my short stories and my novels, but I couldn’t stop writing poetry. It was a compulsion. Poetry about my family, about my feelings, about characters in films and books, about love stories and murders. My meta about our cultural stories and products became my hidden art.
And then I got to university and started writing my own poetry stories…
My Heart’s Choir Sings tells the story of a man who loses his fellow creative and partner in tragic circumstances. As he looks at objects that were once hers, he remembers their time together, in all of its pathos and pain and love. It took me two years to write and to get to publication stage. Why? Because I like my poetry to be deceptively simple, full of cultural reference and winding like a labyrinthe. I am a perfectionist, in poetry as with everything else. I want the word choices to be just so; I want you, the reader, to see what I see. I want you to feel and experience the emotional mess that I paint with my words, just as the best actors force you to experience their characters inner tumoil.
Just as drama suits the film medium, so too does poetry. Especially free verse poetry. That first person confessional drags you in, doesn’t let you look away from the impending train wreck. The imagery engages the senses and drowns you in dark and light planes. Emotional failure and carthasis become yours.
Deep down I know, dear readers, that for me, this is why poetry.
Maureen writes young adult speculative fiction novels and short stories and is currently studying to become a teacher. She reviews genre fiction and films, interviews authors and discusses writing at her blog, InkAshlings. She also writes free verse poetry about the human connection. Her verse novella, My Heart’s Choir Sings, is currently on sale for 99c on Smashwords and Amazon.
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