Friday, June 12, 2009

Poems About Children (A Shane Neilson Post)

(NB: Biblioasis is publishing Shane Neilson's first trade book of poetry in the fall of 09, and he has agreed to help out around Thirsty with the occasional post on anything related to poetry (which means almost anything). I've been stockpiling these of late, as all of the travelling has kept me away from the blog, but I'll start getting these posts, as well as other reviews and other original Thirsty material, quite soon.)

Poems about children should obey a certain ethic: there should be nothing embarrassing about them, nothing potentially damaging; the child should be able to grow into an adult and not have misgivings at being so portrayed. A prominent Canadian poet, after hearing me read an otherwise innocuous poem about my daughter, mentioned that her children forbade her from writing about them. I asked the poet if there was any transgression involved, if any confidences were betrayed, and she said no, just that her daughters were “very private people” and in order to preserve her relationship with them, she obeyed.

This anecdote gets to the fundamental ruthlessness of poetry: it has to get at a thing, it has to turn it over and over, it has to possess a knowledge –not necessarily factual- that is revelatory in character, or at least speaks to the revelatory capacity in the reader. Something must be discovered. Often it is a feeling, most commonly of a regarding and unprepossessing love, but sometimes of regret, sometimes of loss. And these are honourable things, and I told the poet so, I told her that love poetry is hardly a means of commodification of her parenting and that if the poet was to take into account matters other than poetry, as a refusal, then where would the poetry turn? I told the poet that I write about my children as they are loved, as they are a part of my life, and excluding them from that life would be excluding them from the best part of me, as Milton Acorn once said in the asylum in a letter to Joe Rosenblatt, it would be unnatural and granting them a power they should not possess, that they do not deserve. I present their best selves, questing, learning; and children are best reared, as Seamus Heaney has said, when commented on frankly and in earnest. They exist in my life, and in my imaginative life; I would be betraying myself if I were to exclude them. I told the senior poet that her children were both taking themselves too seriously and not seriously enough, and that she herself was too fearful, and if I had not been interrupted by my wife, who commented that my son wanted his father, I may have got myself into trouble by disobeying the other ethic of writing about one’s children: one has to be sensitive to emotional tissues. I had to let this woman’s poetry be the captive of her progeny. I picked up my son, checking my own motivations, considering him my son, not opportunistically as proto-poem material. Indeed he will play amongst the lines, I will not refuse him those lines, in some way he deserves them, they are talismanic and will attest of his hold on me. But never did I think, and I feel this absolves me, Now I have the material, the experience, for poetry, as I let the life happen, without also squelching the poems that come as a consequence of my love, not as a looting of it.

No comments: