The Power of The Personal
First off, all writing is personal. Do not let folks tell you that they do not read poetry “because it’s too personal.” That is silly. All writing comes from the same place. The writing comes from an idea, a phrase, a picture—something that made the writer say “I need to write this.” Anything that comes from a writer is personal. Poetry, fiction, non-fiction and every single hybrid genre in between...personal.
I strongly believe that poetry and memoir rely on one another. When combining such close proximity of a true story, and the expected cadence and dense imagery of poetry, the reader experience is heightened. This is what I found when compiling Dear Current Occupant. This also became very evident to me the more I started working closely as a mentor for other writers.
People quite often ask me: How would you say your writing is different from other writers? My answer is simple: I write to offer the reader an experience they can’t have had before. Reader experience is everything, in my opinion. To read something and walk away changed, made new, that’s my goal. To read something you thought you knew, a city for example, but then after reading you see your city in a new light, that’s a great example of that reader experience.
When working on combining the personal and the poetry into one cohesive manuscript, the writer should be asking themselves a series of questions:
Question one: What is the absolute core of my manuscript? Write this at the top of every page during revisions.
Question two: How do I want my reader to experience my book? Do I want these back and forth quick jolts? Do I want them to be able to predict what will be on the next page? Consider these questions when looking at ordering your poems. Think tonal/emotional shifts.
Question three: How much do you want to give away? One thing I love about combining poetry with other forms, is that you get to decide how much you want to hand your readers and how much you want them to sort on their own. This creates questions in the readers mind, but in a way where they read ahead because they are picking up pieces to this puzzle that they may not ever actually finish. Think of sailing on a river. You are moving and as you move your eyes see mountains, you smell the water and grass, you then smell smoke in the air. All of these things are collaborators. You pick them up along the way. You experience them. During this “river ride” you can easily throw in some of that personal memoir so that the experience becomes layered.
Question four: Are there enough emotional beats to make the reader connect? If not, where can you amp these up?
Look over a poem from your manuscript that you consider flat or just plain unpolished. Ask yourself these four questions, and then attempt a revision. Compare both the original and the revised, and see if you were able to add layers of emotion, zero in on the core of the piece, and create some reader push and pull.