Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An aberration

In spaces like these when my desire runs whimpering from the room
I cannot write
I cannot read
I can only listen to the thump of my heart against my breast bone
And all I can remember is the gasp and pause of fear
That dark fear that beset me as a child when my father’s voice ricocheted across a room
Do not touch me I say
Do not touch me for I am made of stone or other flint like stuff that repels contact
Do not touch me for I am made of wounds, wall to wall wounds that extend from the top of my shoulder blades down to my knees, my breastplate armour against sensation.
Do not touch me for I will dissolve in your arms and die.

52 comments:

Rob-bear said...

Powerfully written, but ever so sad. Profoundly sad.

I do hope you can recover your writers voice, very soon.

Isabel Doyle said...

O Elisabeth!

I thought you said you weren't a poet?

I beg to differ.

Elisabeth said...

This was my attempt to recover my writer's voice in some ways Rob-bear, however seemingly sad. Thanks for your kind words.

Elisabeth said...

I agonised almost more about putting this 'poem' up, Isabel, than I agonised about posting the photo of my dead brother in law. To me it seems as raw and raw words can scrape on skin like grazed knees. It does not always go down so well, but I followed my impulse here and let it go into the ether regardless.

Thanks for the encouragement, Isabel. Heaven knows there are times when I need it.

jane.healy said...

This writing is so raw that it makes me want to weep.

diane b said...

That is very sad and emotional. Your words are strong enough to create real fear.

Jim Murdoch said...

Once you call something a poem or a prose-poem you immediately set it up for comparison against all the poems and prose-poems that have ever existed. I’m happy to call myself a writer—and, to date at least, no one has tried to shoot me down for referring to myself as one—but only a few days ago I was labelled an ‘anti-poet’ an appellation, although no offense was intended, I’m not sure I’m altogether comfortable with. Now I feel the need to head off and research anti-poetry. I know what she was getting at when she said, “Your writing is very much part of the 'anti-poetry' tradition as is Larkin’s” because, like him, I prefer poetry that is pruned back to its basics rather than flowery verse that wanders all over the page.

So, is this a poem? I’m not one who believes that something is a poem either because a) someone says it’s a poem or b) it looks like a poem. Poetry tends to fall into two camps, the narrative and the lyrical although to my mind there is plenty of scope for overlap with a … what shall I call it? … a lyrical scene, a slice-of-life poem, a snapshot poem. Take your pick. The photograph at the bottom of the page doesn’t tell a story—there is no action, no other characters and precious little context—but I find it impossible to look at any photo and not extrapolate something from what I see, filling in the blanks with things out of my own experience.

Poems—even narrative poems but especially lyric poems—rely heavily on the willingness of a reader to embrace the gaps in the text and not ignore them; in a poem what is unsaid is every bit as important as what is unsaid. And there is much that is unsaid in this poem. Is the narrator you for example? The temptation with first person narratives is to assume they are autobiographical in nature but that is certainly not the case with my own poems. Whether it is or it isn’t using the first person pronoun invites the reader to inhabit more readily the narrator of the poem especially if the poem is read out loud. In fact it would have been more personal from my perspective had you written:

   In spaces like these when her desire runs whimpering from the room
   Lis cannot write
   She cannot read

Then there would be no doubt.

What is happening in the poem though? The narrator is in a “space” and she notes that it is not a unique space; there are others similar to it. Is it a physical place or an inner space? She might have begun

   At times like this…

but by using the word ‘space’ there is a suggestion of confinement, even if that space is, to use the word that so often applied to Beckett’s work, a “skullscape.” Who is trying to touch her? We don’t know. We know what she remembers, where her fear arises from but not the specifics. The poem uses metaphors—no one is made of stone or wounds—but there is an oxymoronic quality here because she doesn’t say stone or wounds. She says stone and wounds. Also she uses an odd expression when talking about the wounds: “wall-to-wall wounds” and that, of course, evokes carpets which suggests she is a room.

There are other poetic elements here: fear cannot pause nor be contained within a pause, voices do not ricochet, fear has no colour, flint has no repulsive qualities, desire doesn’t whimper nor can it scurry and unless you are terribly, terribly frangible no one’s touch will cause you to dissolve.

For me the key word in this poem here is ‘desire’. Desire for what? For human intimacy? Is she lying in bed beside her husband with a book a notepad on her lap when suddenly a memory takes over? Now I’m reading into the poem but I’m allowed.

So, is this a poem? Yes. Is it a good poem? Good enough but it could be better. Small things jump out at me. Things like ‘top of my shoulder blades’—why not ‘tip’? ‘Breastbone’ is one word. I would change ‘And all I can remember’ to ‘And all I can recall’ to lose a syllable and emphasise the internal rhyme. I also might go for ‘hewn of stone’ rather than made. Stuff like that.

Good title though. And I’m out of space.

Ms. Moon said...

I know. I think a lot of us do.

oceangirl said...

You are a writer like no other.

Mary LA said...

So brave of you to post this, Elisabeth, I find it moving and lyrical despite (or because of) the rawness.

I've been there too so I flinched when I read through it the first time. But the truth about incest or violation always feels bracing, that we are able to say this and survive the saying of it.

And the faded thumbnail photograph tells its own story.

susan t. landry said...

these are the words that would have come out if they could, the words that would have taken shape and filled the room if the child had been capable of anything but silence.

my heart goes out to you, elisabeth.

Zuzana said...

Dear Elizabeth, even though I do not share your experiences nor your fears, I think I can relate to the sadness one can feel when pass experiences and unpleasant memories keep haunting our dreams and waking hours. I hope writing will bring you some relief - it sure does that for me.
Have a great day dear friend,
xoxo

Pearl said...

Oh, how wonderfully terrible, how profoundly sad.

SO powerful.

Pearl

Rubye Jack said...

Oh gosh Elizabeth. I feel these words inside of me so intensely. How poignant and how profound. You are indeed a poet.

rraine said...

this is so powerful. it was courageous of you to put it out here. but then, we know you do not lack for courage.

Windsmoke. said...

Wow!, Did this come from distant bad memories?, because its very raw and smells of fear and loathing, it also sounds like you're trying to rid yourself of a demon :-).

Phoenix said...

This gave me chills. Beautiful, haunting, raw, and so incredibly, incredibly brave.

I hope your muse touches you ever so lightly.

Kirk said...

Are you calling it an "aberration" because you normally don't post poetry? Any more aberrations where that came from? It's very good.

Anthony Duce said...

This is so well done. So much said and expressed in a few words. Thank s for showing us your other side... Hope to see more.

juliet said...

So powerful. I can feel your fear and hear the thump of your heart.

Elisabeth said...

It's hard to respond to such a declaration of distress in the face of these words here, Diane but I'm grateful that they meant so much to you.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I am fearful that this writing is too raw, as in unpolished, Jane, but something made me take the plunge and so raw it is. Thanks, Jane.

Dave King said...

This is powerful stuff. Strikes me you did not need to recover your writer's voice, it was there waiting for you all the time. Very moving, utterly compelling.

Akeith Walters said...

This is so powerful.

Elisabeth said...

I didn't call this piece a poem, Jim, but I suppose on the screen it sort of looks like one. It probably doesn't fall into that camp you call anti-poetry, maybe a bit too flowery.

I'm wary myself of writing about emotions without images but it came on my in a rush. I posted it in a rush and so it's certainly not a studied, polished poem. Raw seems to be the polite word that others, including me, use to describe these words.

This is fine from my perspective, as are your thoughts here on how I might improve the piece. I'm with you about using 'tip' instead of 'top' but I'm not big on the word 'hewn' to me it's too out-dated, maybe or pretentious. It's just not a word I'd use.

As for the idea that the central theme is one of desire, I'd say yes and no. Thwarted desire more like it, or repressed desire, but I'm wary of analyzing it beyond that.

Thanks for the encouragement, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the understanding, Ms Moon and Fazlisa. I'm grateful for your acknowledgement.

Elisabeth said...

I hesitated more than a little before posting this, Mary, as you do, but then in the end I thought what the heck. Poetry is not my forte but there was something in the experience of writing this that demanded I post it.

And the outcome lies with the beholder.

Thanks, Mary La.

Elisabeth said...

If only children could speak more loudly about these things, Susan. And be heard.

Thank you.

Elisabeth said...

Memories are such strange things, Zuzana. They shift and sway. In part it's why I play around with them in my writing to try to get new perspectives on old issues. Thanks, Zuzana.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the endorsement, Pearl. It's kind of you.

Elisabeth said...

Well, it's good of you to encourage the would-be poet in me, Rubye Jack, but I'm not there yet, and maybe never. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I might appear to be courageous at times rraine, but I can tell you now, here was one situation in which I felt a decided lack of courage. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

A lot of writing for me, Windsmoke is not so much about getting rid of my demons, but more about understanding and dealing with emotional states of mind that can at times seem overwhelming. These words here in this post might well have emerged out of one such intense state of mind.

Thanks Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not sure about my muse, Tracy but I could perhaps benefit from a light touch. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

You're right, Kirk, I called it an aberration because it is just that, an aberration, in that I do not normally post such pieces of 'poetry' or whatever else you might call it.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not sure whether there's much more of this sort of writing in me, Anthony, but thanks for the encouragement.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not sure whether there's much more of this sort of writing in me, Anthony, but thanks for the encouragement.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for resonating to my words here, Juliet.

Elisabeth said...

Wonderful words coming from such a fine poet as you, Dave. Thank you.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad it held some resonance for you too, Akeith. Thanks.

Christine said...

'Do not touch me'.
I can feel your screaming fear and anger.
That you can put those sensations into words counts for much.

erin said...

but while it feels otherwise, a touch is exactly what you need, a worthy touch directly upon your wound. this is healing.

xo
erin

Rose said...

Very powerful writing - what makes a poem a poem is the emotion the writer invokes in the reader not the rhyme or form. And this was a brilliant poem! Do hope you write more poems :D

Kleinste Motte said...

I understand the terror but how sad to think of the final word. No hope?

Syd said...

Very sad stuff. I don't know that kind of terror.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Elisabeth, the pain and poetry blended into one.

I'm torn between admiring the rawness of your words and the reason behind them....

Elisabeth said...

Sorry to be so slow in getting back to you on this comment, Christine. I worry about posting this 'raw' writing at times. It's the shame factor.

As the writer and memoirist, Rachel Cusk writes: 'Unclothed truth can be vulnerable, ungainly shocking. Overdressed it becomes a lie.'

And elsewhere, she says, 'There is always shame in the creation of an expressive work, whether it's a book or a clay pot... when you create, you aspire to do justice to yourself, to remake yourself, and there is always the fear that you will expose the very thing that you hoped to transform'. To me these are powerful words, indeed.

Thanks, Christine.

Elisabeth said...

You're right, erin. There is the touch that heals as opposed to the touch that wounds. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Rose. I suppose poems are as you say all about emotional expressiveness, over and above form. Though I suppose form also contributes to that expressiveness.

Thanks, Rose.

Elisabeth said...

It's hard to write about hopelessness, Kleinstemotte, and therefore I'm glad the writing resonated for you.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

And well you would understand, Syd. I suppose it's akin to the terror of a small child with an alcoholic parent, or a spouse whose partner has lost control.

Thanks, Syd.

Elisabeth said...

I expect these words evoke mixed feelings, Kath. Thanks for acknowledging them.