John Keats, famous English romantic poet of the 18th century, once wrote, “Nothing ever becomes real ‘til it is experienced.” Donald M. Murray, author of “All Writing is Autobiography” and professor emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire, writes in his article that “We become what we write” (71) or, as I’d like to put it, what we write becomes our experience which then becomes us.
When I reflect upon my own life and my own writing, I can see the link between my life experience and what words I put down on the page. Murray further explains what he means by autobiography in that he has his “own peculiar way of looking at the world and [his] own way of using language to communicate what [he] see[s]” (67). In this I see a statement that mirrors what I like to think of as a writer’s presence within the work. Every piece of poetry I produce has imprints of me and those imprints are reflective of my past or become part of my present through the experience of writing.
In the seventh edition of the Pomona Valley Review, I had my poem, “Childhood,” published. This was a wonderful experience for me because it was not only my first published work, but it was one of the first times that, as a poet, I stepped outside of my comfort zone of using poetic forms into writing in a free-verse format. When I reflect upon the poem, I realize that a work I once thought as fiction has many notes of autobiography within its words:
When I was a child
my life was like those big rubber balls that are for sale at a Target or a Wal-Mart –
the kind that are kept behind giant rubber strings that are anywhere between a dollar and five bucks.
They usually have some sort of bright, colorful swirly pattern on them,
similar to a giant marble, only bouncy.
That was my world, and you held it in your hand.
We sometimes tossed it back and forth when I was very young;
you sometimes rolled it to me too.
One day, you picked it up and you threw it as far as you could and turned your back on me.
It took me years to find that ball again.
When I did finally find the ball,
I didn’t want to play with it;
I had given up on childish things by then.
In “All Writing is Autobiography,” Murray states, “The poem that was for a few seconds imaginary has become autobiographical by being written,” (70). While I have walked through a Target and Wal-Mart and viewed the giant rubber balls, I cannot say that I’ve ever owned or played with one, not even as a child. This poem is a mixture of things I’ve observed, things I feel and, in a simile (“my life was like”), combines the two experiences into one piece. The fiction of the situation of the child is more than just fiction to me, especially now that the poem has been published. My autobiography will always now include this piece as my first published work and this will always be a poem I am proud of.
Little hints of me and my experience and scattered throughout “Childhood” and can be traced back to my past. One of my friends, upon reading this poem, asked me why I said “you held it in your hand” instead of “hands” when I was talking about a large ball. In my freshman year of high school, I joined and played on the girl’s water polo team. In water polo, one hand is used to swim while the other hand is used to catch, carry, and throw the ball to other players. This became a habit over the years and to this day I still pick up, catch, carry, and throw balls with one hand, no matter what the size.
I didn’t change this in my poem, despite my friend pointing out that it could be interpreted as odd, because it didn’t seem odd to who I am and the experiences I have had. While the story of the ball game within the poem is not one I’ve experienced in my childhood, my past is still the subject of the simile of the poem. As the simile alludes, my childhood was not a happy one.
But when I grew into adulthood I had no desire to try and reclaim or relive my childhood to try and make it happier. Rather, I grew up and moved on and joined the ranks of society. I put my own experience and my own life philosophy into the subtext of my poem. When Murray writes about his own “peculiar” way of seeing the world that is reflected in his writing, I can relate. Every paper I pen has spots of my identity within the ink.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.