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.
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).