We invited writers, artists, and musicians to share a favorite creative prompt or craft lesson, or to tell us about a book, poem, song, or film that affected them. We asked them to offer opinions and experiences on creativity, artistic processes, and the role of arts in culture. We're offering their responses here as occasional features on creativity that we're calling Still Life.
This edition of Still Life features a writing exercise from Leatha Kendrick, a poet and poetry mentor to those who have been lucky enough to study with her during her long and steady tenure as a writing coach. She has also published fiction and nonfiction.
Leatha is the author of four books of poetry, including Almanac of the Invisible, (Larkspur Press, 2014). Her essays, poems and fiction appear widely in journals and anthologies, including The Baltimore Review, The Southern Women’s Review, Appalachian Heritage; and What Comes Down to Us – Twenty-Five Contemporary Kentucky Poets. She leads workshops at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky, where she is part of their Author Academy faculty. Recipient of two Al Smith Fellowships in poetry, she received the Sallie Bingham Award from the Kentucky Foundation for Women in 2013.
What We Remember/What We Forget: A Writing Assignment
“Your routine, your neighborhood, your take on home, history, climate, and the cosmos is unique, like your voice, and inseparable from your voice. As a writer you need to be alert to your own vision and to create for us, even make strange to us, the world you think most familiar.” –Janet Burroway, Imaginative Writing
When we write, we make a little world for our reader to enter. Word by word we give the reader (and ourselves) a place, a time, a moment of experience. Virginia Woolf called them “moments of being;” to Wordsworth they were “spots of time:” remembered moments that are nothing less than the foundation of a sense of yourself in the world.
Most of these vividly remembered moments are ordinary – at least to the one who remembers them. But to a reader, they are doorways into that always mysterious world of another person’s life. Trust the memories that come to be written about, no matter how inconsequential they feel to you. “The memories we keep are tremendously important precisely because they are the ones we have retained,” says Jane Taylor McDonnell.
“How we remember, what we forget, what preoccupies us about our past, which memories we avoid, which ones we obsessively retell—all of this can be the stuff of memoir writing. In other words, memory itself, in all its deceptiveness (even including what we don’t remember), can be a subject for memoir.” –Jane Taylor McDonnell, Living to Tell the Tale
Write about a moment of departure. It may not have been a physical departure; it only needs to have been a moment when you realized that your life had irrevocably changed. (Here’s an example from my life: the first Saturday morning after my first child was born, and my husband went off on our usual Saturday round of errands without me.)
If necessary, force yourself to remember or research details of that time/place to create a vivid moment for your reader. But also feel free to write about what you don’t remember and to speculate on why you don’t. In other words, let memory itself become part of your subject.
~Leatha Kendrick, December, 2016