It’s a common misconception that writers create characters or situations that have a direct parallel to their lives or the people they know. It’s not always that straightforward, and many times happens on a deep, unconscious level. For Black History Month, I’ve invited a few writers to explore how history — whether personal or family or country or world — affects their fiction.
Today’s Guest Essay is by Linda Addison
I looked up the word ‘history’ because sometimes we take words for granted. We assume we understand their meaning, when often what we understand is how they are used around us but not necessarily their definition.
1. An account of what has or might have happened in the form of a narrative, play, story, or tale.
I would add ‘poem’ to the list of forms history can take since my storytelling often takes the form of a poem. I have three collections of poetry and stories in print. Looking back it is clear that the first collection, Animated Objects, is intensely flavored by personal history.
The story, ‘The Box’, although not directly autobiographical, pulls from images of photographs that my mother collected over the years of our family life. Each photo held great value to my mother. Here was our history, our lives, happy and sad.
When my parents divorced, those pictures invoked different moods for all of us. There were some pictures that suddenly were haunted with the premonition of sadness that was hidden until they divorced.
There are two poems in the same collection, ‘Joyous Spirit’ and ‘Sassy Love’; emotional documentation of what effect two strong aunts had on my life. Two very different people, but undeniably authentic in their lives, deeply influencing a shy, skinny niece who loved the very air they breathed.
Years later I found my own joyous sassiness and know without a doubt it was a gift from their lives breathed into me.
2. Something important enough to be recorded.
The first poem in my second collection, Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes is called ‘Fire/Fight’. I wrote that sitting in a tiny room in a house we rented that we called the Paris room because it was just big enough for a little café table and two small chairs. It looked out on the street and was a perfect place to sit with a lap top computer and write.
I often wrote in this room, listing to the world. One night a fire truck rushed down the street, sirens ringing, red lights flashing, filling that small room with light and sound. I didn’t think, I let myself feel: being a firefighter, somewhere someone’s home, loved ones, pets, gifts, furniture was burning, being reduced to ash. The fire truck rushing, always rushing. We humans in our cities rushing, always rushing through life.
The last stanza of the poem:
the scent of burning dreams
dying under the rush of water.
The poem came quickly and was polished with very little rewriting. It was first published in 1999 by Edgar: Digested Verse an impressive chapbook size poetry magazine. I reprinted it as the first poem in my book in 2001.
I was scheduled to have my first book signing at a Barnes and Nobles in Manhattan the week of September 11, 2001.
That week Manhattan became a city of ash, of burning dreams and it was a long time before I could read that poem out loud.
3. The systematic documented account of the past.
January 1, 2007 I sat down in my office to begin my third collection. 100 poems. A crazy idea. Although I had been writing a poem a day in my journal for months, they weren’t publishable poems. Most of them were bits and pieces of observations, feelings, reactions. How was I going to gather 100 poems and have the book come out in 2007?
Life teaches if we listen. I had been working on being in the Now, the moment, to find my authentic place in this body, city, country, planet, universe.
I decided to trust this great lesson and simply be present to the possibility.
I sat in my writing office at night (after the day job), every night from January 1, 2007. I said a prayer to open my spirit to whatever the world would like to whisper.
March 14, 2007 I finished the 100th poem. Of course there was rewriting, taking out poems, writing other poems to put in their place. The fitting of the poems together in a tapestry that became the book, Being Full of Light, Insubstantial.
This book has poems that are personal, that sing outside time and space, light and dark. The world has much to say.
To be in the Now and systematically document the past. Everything becomes the past, everything becomes history and I cannot be separated from its influence. Each word written, dances from the now into the past.
As the world whispers to me, as stories and poetry fall from my hands, history personal and impersonal take form, teaching me many lessons. I try to be a grateful student.
Linda’s Poetry Has Appeared In:
Dead Cat Traveling Circus of Wonders and Miracle Medicine Show (Bedlam Press)
Asimov’s SF magazine
Linda’s Haiku Have Appeared In: