Write What You Remember? : Fragments
The true art of memory is the art of attention. Poet, essayist, novelist, lexicographer—Samuel Johnson knew a little something about words and their power to name, capture, liberate, create.
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All art-making is, really, the art of paying attention. A poet, I pay attention to the persisting tones of my interior life, and the auspicious confluence of exterior events, moments, images that then serve as their metaphorical vehicles.
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The Alzheimer’s ladies at Frasier Meadows, where I volunteer-read poetry—by the dead and the living, the traditional and the contemporary—know a little something about paying attention, despite their vanishing memories. They wince, smirk, chuckle right on cue with the poet’s best intentions, their humanity irrevocably in sync with what’s timelessly human. These women are the generation of student who memorized Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Poe.
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Unlike humans, animals have no past and no future constructed in language. And no identity. Where past and future meet, are we nobody?
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“I’m almost a hundred years old!” Isabelle protests every time it’s her turn, in the circle, to answer the memory-evoking question I’ve posed as a way to engage with the poem I’ll read next. A poem about watching Mother brush her waist-length hair elicits Ursula’s memory of a curling iron in the hearth; a poem about a road trip reminds Joan of leg-stretching stops for whiskey in small-town bars. One time, just before our twice-monthly gathering, which Isabelle attends faithfully, I ran into her at the elevator.
“Going up to poetry group, Isabelle?”
“Poetry group? Ohhh, that sounds lovely!”
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My job as a poet is to render my experience so freshly, so newly, that my poem is, in Stephen Dunn’s words, “an act of discovery” for me and for the reader—a discovery as breathtakingly elusive as any first time, that my poem urges multiple readings.
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That longstanding language-teacher advice, “Write what you know,” might more accurately be phrased “Write what you remember”—knowledge a slippery, morphing thing. Who would I be if I wrote what I don’t remember?
Photo credit: Eric Ottem
Marj Hahne is a freelance editor and writing teacher, and a 2015 MFA graduate from the Rainier Writing Workshop, with a concentration in poetry. She has performed and/or taught at over 100 venues around the country, and been featured on public radio and television programs. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, art exhibits, and dance performances. Marj is currently working on Cleave: An Ovumoir: Letters to My Twin, a hybrid memoir about being an identical twin and being their father’s daughter, and the impact of both on identity, her sense of home, place, and belonging, and her relationships with men. Daunted by the thought of writing a full-length memoir, she loves that she can apply a poet’s ways of seeing and saying to the writing and sequencing of prose fragments into a larger, longer narrative. www.MarjHahne.com