Memoir Poetry: The Sound and Rhythm of Our Memories
by Beth Ann Cagle
Growing up from the mid ‘60s into the early ‘80s on a small but productive family farm, I looked forward to visits from extended-family members on Saturdays, but not just for the extra pairs of hands to shuck corn, harvest potatoes, and break and shell beans. I craved those old family stories shared by my great aunt Sarah under shade trees as we peeled away husks, silk, and corn worms. Story telling marked the height of our weekend entertainment in spite of our being able to pick up a half dozen TV channels. Of course, all my dad’s siblings, also having grown up in the oral tradition, told enthralling stories as well.
By the fourth grade, I gathered my own audience of fellow students under shade trees in the school yard to share these family tales as well as some of my own, interspersed with jokes from Reader’s Digest. It was also in the fourth grade in which I became exposed to writing poetry for class—though my first poem was “written” around pre-school age—and soon I had a real hankering for writing poetry for any occasion.
Naturally, oral tradition played a big part in the type of poetry that drew me, namely narrative poetry. And the category of narrative poetry I wrote I refer to as memoir poetry—stories about the experiences of my aunts, uncles, parents, and myself as well as any other true stories I could get my hands on.
Of course, once in college, I had to unlearn almost everything I had intuitively picked up from the rhythms and sound repetitions of Hawthorn’s Song of Hiawatha,” Longfellow’s Evangeline, and the King James Version’sPsalms and Song of Solomon. Free verse did not come naturally to me at first, but I eventually even expanded into the areas of lyric and language poetry. However, I’ve never completely gotten away from writing those narrative memoirs, some of which can be more commonly referred to as confessional poetry.
At the SCWW Conference, I will invite workshop participants to take a look back at different periods of their lives—exploring specific events from childhood through adulthood using guided imagery prompts—while keeping in mind the effects of rhythm and sound, including colloquialisms, as they can appear in both formal verse and free verse today. Join me for some reminiscing and explore the sounds and rhythms of your own memories.
Beth Ann Cagle, co-editor of Kakalak: Journal of Carolina Poetry and Art and senior-editor of moonShine review prose journal, grew up in a small, North Carolina farming community called Alexis. Now residing in Charlotte, NC, this poet, photographer, and previous newspaper reporter also serves as a college educator, having taught creative writing and literature at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in Concord and Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington. Her poetry chapbook, The Fearless Tattoo, won the 2003 Shadow Poetry Award. Beth writes about many topics, but growing up Southern is one of her favorite inspirations. She is currently working on a full-length collection of family narrative poems, which has been solicited for publication. She has been feature photographer for literature journals and has published poetry and photography in Slipstream, Tulane Review, Blue Collar Review, New York Quarterly, The Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Journal, GSU Review, Palo Alto Review, Maelstrom and many other journals in the US, UK, and Australia. Beth holds a Master of Arts degree in the English–Writing Track and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. – See more at: http://myscww.org/conference/faculty/#sthash.Bmch4KZS.dpuf