Monday, 25 February 2019

A Voice Not Taken

Last week was our skiing or spring holiday for schools, so all the kids were home most of the time, often with extras. I tried to keep up with my daily prompts, but  I didn't get a chance to blog. And while my writing routine was sadly out of whack, I did manage to write all except one of my poems some time during the day. The one I didn't manage is because I haven't thought of an approach to the prompt and haven't had the time to just free-form write about it until I figure something out. 

I've gotten a few rejections over the past two weeks, but no acceptances. One magazine The Seventh Quarry published two of my poems in their latest edition. Nice to have that drop into my post box, I just need to find some time to peruse the work.

I workshopped some poems in my writing group on Friday and took a poem that I had a very specific question about. The prompt I wrote it for was to use a photograph taken in a war zone and write a poem where we use the voice of one of the people in the scene. I chose a photo from the 1960s in Northern Ireland from this collection, where the family are all dressed up walking past razor wire and a British soldier with his finger on his rifle's trigger. I chose the young girl's point of view. 

The poem I wrote was ok, but needed some tweaking, but that wasn't my main question to the group. I wondered whether it was appropriate to assume to understand that person's feelings, thoughts and motivations from a picture and to write a poem in her voice. I felt uncomfortable trying to imagine how she must have felt, having no connection with the Troubles or Northern Ireland. 

One person on the course suggested it was cultural appropriate to put on these 'voices' without a true understanding of the situation and the people we were depicting. And I kind of get where they were coming from. It didn't feel right to pretend to understand that girl. I had imagined she was scared and worried and just want to grow up in a non-threatening world and while I probably wasn't totally wrong, but at that time there was so much going on under the surface that I could never truly comprehend. Maybe she felt protected by the soldier rather than threatened, maybe she agreed with their presence, maybe he was just like a policeman on the beat to her.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get my writing group to really discuss this subject really due to lack of time. In the end, I think I've decided to put the poem aside. It doesn't feel right, I wouldn't feel comfortable sending to a publisher in Ireland or Northern Ireland where I send a lot of my work. So it'll go into hibernation. Maybe I'll see a way around my issues at a later time. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for imagining to be other characters or to use other voices in my writing and have used imaginary characters or people from my family's past before. But this issue is so layered and sensitive and volatile that I don't think I could write from their point of view, just as I couldn't imagine being a person of colour or to have a disability or major illness and do them justice by pretending to understand what they were going through. 

It's an interesting prompt to try and take on the voice of a character other than yourself for poetry. We do it all the time for fiction, but poetry seems to lean more towards the intensely personal for the author. I would avoid attempting it with this sort of subject matter, but taking a mythical, fictional or historical figure or a totally made up character can help push your awareness of this writing style. Give it a try. 

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