Kissing the World Goodbye, has just been tossed into the world today by Unsolicited Press! I’ve told friends and family that of all the books I’ve written so far, I’m most nervous about Kissing the World Goodbye because it is a memoir. Memoir invites the reader into the mind of the author and that’s a level of intimacy that I find a bit uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable can be a good thing. In stepping out of our comfort zone, we grow. I know I did while writing this book.
Given that most of my published work has been in poetry, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between poetry and memoir, often wondering, how are they alike and how are they different? I’ve come to the conclusion that poetry and memoir are close, first cousins for they share the same grandparents: language and truth. They love each other and sometimes even raid each other’s closets to find just the right way to dress for a specific moment. I have a hunch that memoir steals more from poetry than poetry from memoir, but I’m not sure. I do know that in Kissing the World Goodbye you will sometimes discover them in the same room together. Other times, memoir hangs out by herself or just the faintest whiff of poetry lingers on her clothes.
For instance, I was trying to write a poem about my brother but it just wasn’t working. I abandoned the poem, salvaged one phrase—a piping of watery pearls—and ended up writing “Measured Thoughts On Cooking” which is one of the longer essays in the book.
While working on another essay, “My Unhealthy Infatuation with Elke Summer,” I was struggling to describe the grief that barged into our bodies following my father’s death. Grief, of course, feels uncontainable. It can’t be pinned down, and yet, a haibun crept in to help capture some of these feelings. (A haibun is a poetry form that combines a haiku at the end of a prose piece.) I’m grateful to that small but mighty haiku:
propping open door
husband’s brown shoe welcomes her
a lost wing, waiting
I think quite highly of poetry and believe (probably unrealistically so) that poetry can do practically anything. But while writing Kissing the World Goodbye, I learned that I had to give poetry some nights off while I went out with memoir.
I’m not the only one who considers the relationship between memoir and poetry. Poet Tracy K. Smith, who also wrote a stunning memoir, Ordinary Light, details some of her thoughts on this in an article, “What Memoir Can Do that Poetry Can’t” (published back in 2015 in Lit Hub). Among other things, she concludes that prose is nosey. “It wants to know all manner of things a poem would, sensing, never ask: What do you think was the effect of that event? What did you come away from it thinking? What did you do? What was the world doing while this was happening? What did you and everyone else eat?”
Indeed! What did you and everyone else eat?! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when, more than half-way through pulling this book together, I realized how often eating, drinking, and cooking were elbowing their way to the table of this book. After all, food preserves a memory. So after each of the nineteen pieces in Kissing the World Goodbye, you’ll find a recipe that relates to what you’ve just read.
If you live in the Kalamazoo area, I invite you to stop by one of our three independent bookstores—Michigan News Agency, Kazoo Books, and This is a bookstore/Bookbug—and say “Hello” to Kissing the World Goodbye. (It’s also available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)