Camilla Chen’s poem, 'Afterward (in memory of my grandmother)' is a poem about loss and remembering. It is also, I think, a poem about the role language plays in the act of remembering.
Remembering quite literally means ‘to put back together’. To re-member is to gather what has become disparate, lost in some way, and rearrange it back into a new kind of whole. This is an exciting idea in terms of writing – the bringing together of disconnected words and ideas from the past and ordering them afresh can be pure poetry. Remembering a special person after they have gone is an important tribute. Writing a poem can be an especially effective way to do this.
Explore different ways of remembering. What is your earliest memory? How old were you when you could first remember? Try recalling specific details like what you had for lunch yesterday, or a week ago. What makes something memorable? Do you remember happy or sad things in more detail?
This can be done individually, in pairs or as a whole class. Write down things you remember using particular prompts like:
Brainstorm whatever comes to mind, writing down images as they come, in fragments, not necessarily as fully formed sentences or thoughts, e.g. I remember the smell of oranges when the fruit plate was passed round, I remember ice cracking in my Coke, I remember seeing my mother cry, I remember thinking my grandmother’s hands were made of paper, I remember hearing an Elvis record sung in Portuguese
Using old magazines, cut out pictures and build up a collage of images to do with a special person.
Write a list of metaphors or descriptions from the collage, e.g. He is a grassy meadow, Her smile wrinkled at the edges, She sparkled like a puddle with the sun on it.
Or write a list of memories sparked by the images on the collage: I remember the way she wiped her hands on her apron when she was baking, I remember when he let me sit in the front with him and turn the steering wheel.
Choose a line that you like, either from your list of ‘I remembers’ or from one of the descriptions written out of your collage. Use this as a starting line for your poem. Your poem could tell a story of an event or series of events through memory, or your poem could paint a portrait of a special remembered person, interlaced with various ‘I remembers’.
Camilla Chen - 'Afterward (in memory of my grandmother)'
Sujata Bhatt - 'The Undertow'
Joe Brainard - 'I Remember'
Louis MacNeice - 'Autobiography, Meeting Point'
Norman MacCaig - 'Aunt Julia'
Eleanor Farjeon - 'It Was Long Ago'
John Burningham - 'Granpa' (this is a children’s picture book, but I think a great inspiration for writing poetry)