I Remember

Memory is the theme of Human Chain, a collection of poetry published by one of the world’s greatest poets, Seamus Heaney, in 2011. “What is the relationship between writing poetry and memory?” he was asked by a Toronto Star reporter.

“Memory has always been fundamental for me,” Heaney replied. “Remembering what I had forgotten is the way most of the poems get started. At the best times, something wakens, there’s an almost physical quickening. There’s no knowing where a remembered image will take you” (italics mine).

I have developed a memory-retrieval strategy for my writing classes that has had some astounding results. Most recently, when a man read the 200 words that he had written in response to the cue “I remember…” you could tell that he was amazed to have retrieved this memory from his childhood. When I asked him how long it had been since he had thought of that event, he opened his arms wide and said. “Sixty years! I have no idea where that came from!” It was a warm memory about his mother and her concern over his proper use of English when he was a boy.

It’s not the first time this “wakening” has happened when I have given the “I remember” suggestion. The memories are there. They just need to be called into consciousness.

Try beginning your daily writing hour with I remember. Or write it three or four times until an image comes to mind. I remember, I remember, I remember… the day Mom peeled an orange at the kitchen table after lunch, the sudden scent that announced the treat, and how she passed moist section by moist section from her fingers to ours, to each of us until it was gone, the tart taste filling our senses, and how one orange in this way was enough for all three of us – Mom and her two kids over sixty years ago.

Orange in sections

Orange in sections


My friends, the above is extracted from The Gift of Memoir, from a chapter called Four Strategies to Retrieve Memories. I will return to my series on Ways to Begin a Memoir with my next post, which includes an interview with Judy Fong Bates, author of The Year of Finding Memory (Random House, 2010).

15 comments on “I Remember

  1. What a beautiful, valuable post, Diane. How kind of you to share this excerpt of your book with us.


  2. I used to do morning writing sessions on the theme of I remember. I wrote some memoir stories which my family loved. Then we moved house and I lost track of the stories. I still hope (faintly) that I will remember where I put them. The stories have been lost for 20 years now.


  3. Those stories will turn up, those stories WILL turn up! Crossing fingers.


  4. Interesting too how memories don’t stay frozen in the moment. Looking back though years of life experiences can reveal the nuances of a simple memory. Something once amusing now is poignant, the underlying meaning of a remembered conversation can suddenly become apparent and make your heart ache… Or some memory that once upon a time (think of the teenage years) made you squirm with embarrassment now makes you snort with laughter. Lots of those for me.


    • Thanks for posting those insights, Renata. Memories can have added layers of nuance and meaning with our growing understanding of what a lifetime means as we get older. One of the very big pluses of being old. Or older. Much to ponder in your comment.


  5. Hi Di, A most evocative visual. I could see, smell, taste the orange your Mom was peeling for you and your sister. The blast came when the picture came, for me,
    said everything. Look forward to more. Lynda B


  6. Hi Diane, that certainly is a wonderful trigger to bring memories in from the deep unconscious. In my case whenever I sat down with the intention to write, memories started to surface, some completely took me by surprise. It shows whatever happened in our entire lives is stored away somewhere to be retrieved when needed. More surprises to come???


  7. Helen, big thank you for this comment, and for sharing your experience with memories surfacing when you sit down with that intention. Here’s to more good surprises for you.


  8. I have been in my home town for a few days with a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen in 40 years. We’ll be playing “I remember” as we drive back to our homes today.


  9. Diane, you’ve reignited my enthusiasm for giving the “I remember” cue a try. My only reservation is that I need to make time for recording the ones I already do remember. 🙂 But there is a season of my childhood I’ve blocked out—I’m hoping to revisit it again with pen in hand.
    Blessings ~ Wendy


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