Monday, November 23, 2009

Borrowed Stories

One of the things I'm working on now is collecting other's stories and working them into poems. Right now I'm collecting baby stories and blending them in with my own stories.

I've been wanting to be more narrative in my poems, but less "confessional" and this seems like maybe an interesting balance between the two. I'm interested in how I could take someone else's story and make it my own poem--or a poem all of us can connect to. I'm also curious about what readers think of this "borrowing" idea. I've changed details in all of the stories, changed names, etc. in an attempt to make the poem more mine, and to not expose the original storyteller (this is a small town, after all). This is of course what fiction writers do in every story, so I don't feel unethical about it. But I am concerned that the poems will feel like they belong to me. Thoughts?

Here's one of the new ones I'm working on:

Heart Lottery

After her first son was born
with a heart defect, she insisted
on having testing done in the second
pregnancy. Her doctor said no,
her doctor said, better chance of winning the lottery than a second defect
her doctor said insurance.
But she insisted: order the test. I'll pay for it.
I'll fly to Seattle. I'll be the foolish one.
And so she did—lying on the crinkly, vinyl bed
in the quiet room, ultrasound machine humming
like nervous thoughts over her head, the tech
bored and humming too, and then—there it was—
the winning-the-lottery-second-defect, this one not even the same defect.
They stared at the little thumping heart
opening and closing the wrong way. They would do surgery
the day after he was born. If you would have had this baby
in Ketchikan
, the heart specialist told her, he would have died.
Which she had known, and hadn't known.
She had simply scratched her thumb against her own fearful heart,
hoping for the one break she needed.


Daniel said...

I'm not sure about your question: Concerned that they'll feel they belong to you.

Are the poems meant as homages to their originators? If so, then somehow designate to distance them from your own experience: "Sara's Story," something like that. So the reader understands it's not yours.

But isn't it understood from the title "Borrowings?"

Or am I reading the question incorrectly?

Emily said...

Thanks for your question Daniel. I think by "borrowing" I simply mean that I'm blending "fictional" stories into a memoir-based poem book, and curious about the intersection of the two.

Ernestine Hayes, who teaches with me, is doing some really interesting experimentation in this area with her prose--she has a memoir with fictional stories woven in. It works beautifully for her.

So I'm interested in writing a "poem memoir" with borrowed fictionalize stories in them. Can I still call it a memoir? Does this even work?