Tag Archives: Creative Non-Fiction

The Girl I Would Become

This is my family, or part of it. That’s me on the left in my pink and white gingham dress, smiling because I don’t care that the elastic around the sleeve irritates my arms and the neckline strangles me. My socks are brilliant white, the proper wool ones that you steep in a sink of boiling water for hours until a thick film of soap powder floats in clumps on the surface. John has matching socks. He’s my little brother, he is three years old in this picture making me six. John doesn’t look as happy as I do, perhaps because Mum cut the sleeves of his favourite red jumper and made it into a t-shirt; he cried for hours afterwards. John and I are both wearing shiny patent leather shoes, good ones from Clarks. We often went there to get our feet measured. They put your foot into a strange wooden contraption and then the shop person slid a bar down the front of it until it touched your toes, it always tickled.  Right in the middle of us is my Mum, she looks happy. Mum must be thirty-one years old in this picture; I don’t remember her being this young though. Look at how tanned we are. You can almost see the white line at the top of John’s arm were the sun couldn’t quite reach. The little dog to the left of me is Prince or at least I think so, it might be Ben, my Auntie Annie’s dog. We had a dog called Prince but Dad gave him  to the local police man. I’m  not even sure why he gave him away, I think I was sad about it but I don’t remember.

The sky looks grey above our heads but this is an old picture and the summer had been wonderful. I was on my first long holiday from school and Mum took us to King George V Park. We’d been visiting Granny who lived behind the park. We’d have come in from the back gates. I know this because we are far away from the church tower; you can see it above Mum’s head looking like a giant green pencil. It’s the parish church, built in 1845 and the cornerstone of Bonnyrigg; this is where I went to Sunday school. The big old chimney at the far left belonged to a coal mine, it’s gone now. I can still remember the smell of the smoke. They stacked the coal up in huge black pyramids in the yard.

My big sister Marion is missing from this picture, Marion would have been ten. Going by low the angle that the picture is taken from, my sister may have been the photographer.

We all look happy. Except John that is. John is biting his nails. Maybe because Mum is about to feed his chocolate bar to the dog. Maybe because Dad isn’t there. This is likely why Mum isn’t wearing her wedding ring and looks full of life. For me?  I’m smiling because I have two adhesive tattoos on my arm, a tiny glimpse of the person I was to become.

©Eilidh G Clark

Bringing Life to the Poem

As a poet, I feel I have to invest parts of my own identity into my work in order to build a relationship with the poem – I need to feel it tug on my sleeve.  This means that prior to writing about a particular subject I have to take an emotional journey. This might mean simply touching parts of my mind that are easy to reach, however, it often means scouring through dark and lonely emotions that I have tucked away. I find this process is an essential part of my preparation. The emotional link, for me, is the most honest way to bring the subject to life.

The uniqueness of any poem comes from the link between the poet and the poem. The truth is the soul of the poem. The truth is etched into the poems conventions. Without an emotional link, language is flat, motionless, and stale. If I were to write about a tree, any tree, the tree is lifeless unless I can create an emotional link. A link could arise if it was planted as a remembrance for someone I love, or if the tree provided shelter during my first kiss. If a leaf falls from the tree and brushes my face, it may spark a memory of a loving touch. The tree might have a knot that resembles the face of an old school teacher or smell like the time I smoked my first cigarette in the woods. The swish-swish of the branches might bring to mind a road sweeper cleaning up litter, and my anger at people’s disregard for the environment. Without an emotional connection, the tree is just an object, an image, a flat word on a page. Poetry, ‘opens a corridor between the head and heart,’ (Andrew Motion, 2012) a statement I fully agree with.

In my own work, I use truth and personal experience in addition to the poetic conventions as an art form. In discussing the making of poetry, Jamie said that ‘just as much as sound and rhythm, what makes a poem is its relationship with truth’. (Kathleen Jamie, 2012).  I believe that truth allows the poet to work more closely with form, imagery and most certainly tone.

I am greatly influenced by poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Chris Powici, Raymond Carver and Kathleen Jamie an. Duffy’s relationship with truth is evident in ‘Stealing’:

Part of the thrill was knowing

That children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough.  (Carol Ann Duffy).

 

The blunt words and lack of emotion from the speaker actually give the poem an emotional feel. The tone is sombre, almost desperate.

Truth for me is found in reality, my own reality, and in experience, emotions, and a connection with the natural world. Finding the truth in the everyday, and exploring language, form the basis of my work. Therefore, the need that I have to invest parts of my own identity in poetry means building a relationship with the poem – I need to feel it tug on my sleeve.

 

©Eilidh G Clark

Bibliography

Duffy, Carol Ann, ‘Stealing’, in Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times, ed. by Jo Shapcott and Mathew Sweeny (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2004)

 

Jamie, Kathleen, ‘Holding Fast – Truth and Change in Poetry’, in Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry ed. by W.N. Herbert and Mathew Hollis (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2012)

 

Motion, Andrew, ‘Yes and No’, in Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, ed. by W.N. Herbert and Mathew Hollis (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2012)

Free Day

I sat on the doorstep. My head was filled with a itchy buzz that drowned out the noise from the road fifty yards away. The afternoon was damp and humid and a smell of rotten leaves hung thick. The air licked my skin and my scalp prickled as I sucked life into my lungs, attempting to clear the fog that stifled  brain. I had been grinding my teeth ever since I received the phone call at 11am that morning and now my jaw ached. Outside, the doorstep was my reprieve, a place to escape. The mourning. It was the crying; the fear, it was the look of desperation etched on faces; pale, ashen and distorted. Outside I was alone, raw and separated from the solid hugging arms of collective grief and crumpled bodies. Fat blobs of rain began to fall, and I looked up to charcoal clouds scribbled over the sky.

“This,” I thought, “is how the sky ought to look today’.

From behind the rooftops of an adjacent tenement block of flats, a single black helium balloon appeared. I watched it stagger over the sky, bashing into thick air then sucked into jets of cold.For a moment it hesitated.

“Where are you Mum?”  I shook my head and watched as the balloon skittered off into the distance. The world above was black and white.

How was I meant to feel today? How are you supposed react when you get a call at 11am on a Sunday morning telling you that your Mum is dead?

Death.

Grief.

I had often tried to imagine how I would feel when this day arrived, especially more so in the last year as I noticed how fragile my mother looked and how tiny she had become. One thing was certain; I had always known my heart would break.  What I did not expect was confusion, fear, emptiness and a feeling of no longer being safe. I got up and went back into a house that was no longer home.

Loss. I had experienced it before.

***

It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was off school. I wasn’t even sure why my Mum had let me have a free day but it was bound to be great. I got to pick my own clothes because Mum had gone out to see Granny in hospital. Before she left, Mum told me to be good and remember to brush my teeth. When I went downstairs to see who was looking after me, loads of aunties and uncles had come to visit. I felt really excited because that usually meant a party. The room was filled with pipe smoke and old lady smell.

“I got a free day off school,” I said, and tried to squeeze in between Uncle Jimmy and Auntie Agnes.

Everyone was looking at me and pulling weird faces. Auntie Phamie was crying. Auntie Isa had a crumpled up face and was looking at the floor. Uncle John coughed and left the room. I was afraid I had done something wrong.

“Your Granny died this morning,” Auntie Isa said, looking up.

I laughed because I didn’t believe her. My Granny was in hospital. Auntie Phamie started wailing so I turned around and stood in the corner.

“Poor Eleanor, not getting there on time,” Uncle Roberts voice came from near the kitchen.

I knew my Mum was called Eleanor, and I wondered if she had missed the bus this morning.

“And Chic, poor man, going home to an empty house,” one of the Aunties said. I wondered who Chic was and if he’d been burgled like the folk on Jackanory yesterday. I nervously picked wood-chip off the wall, and it fell in between my feet and on to the green carpet. I was hungry because no one had made me anything to eat. This didn’t seem like a party to me at all. I was scared to turn around, partly because I could still hear Auntie Phamie sniffing and grunting, and also because there was now a pile of wood-chip on the floor at my feet. I stood and looked at the mess for ages and thought about my Grannie. Why did they say she was dead? I thought this was a nasty lie to tell.

After what felt like hours, I heard the front door open and turned around.  Mum walked in with Auntie Nan and Papa and everyone got up and started cuddling, just like at Christmas, except no one was singing. Papa was crying, and I felt like I should be crying as well but didn’t know why. My Mum took ages to come over and see me and when she did she crouched down so her face was close to mine. I wondered if my Mum would like what I had picked to wear.

“Your Granny died this morning,” she said.

I frowned and turned my back on my Mum, then felt warm pee dribble down my leg and into my sock.

©Eilidh G Clark