From Fiction to Prose Poetry

My husband said, to my family’s horror, the poet has gone into the cave this week.

I didn’t grade or check my work email. I let the most essential part of myself, the author, fly free.  I love teaching, but so much of myself has to be constrained. It goes with the professional atmosphere, and I try to keep the artistic side of myself bundled up in a parka in my classroom or anywhere near work.  I don’t think it has to be that way anymore because I’m finally in a place where I’m away from the fear of being unable to support my family.

The year, 2015, was the last time I had something creative published by a press or online lit mag. I had a co-authored academic publication about educational technology and equal access published last January.

Most of my publications have been journalism, freelance, short fiction, essay, and one poem connected to my novel, Sons of the Edisto. I don’t talk about writing much in person to people I work with or I’m friends with because I never want to appear egotistical. In fact, there is nothing — besides the faces of my children — of which I’m more proud than my writing.

I reached my goal to be published by the time I turned thirty. I was first published as a journalist when I was twenty-two.  My first creative publication happened when I was twenty-six. They are small publications, but they matter to writers like me because they give you a platform. I’ve never been much for self-publishing beyond what I’ve posted here on my blog.  I was grateful, but also fortunate that my different styles of writing were published.

The most natural form of writing for me is fiction.  I can manipulate conversation, character depth, and plot. I had classes at the University of South Carolina and the University of Kent at Canterbury in the UK. I was grateful to Alfie Dog Fiction in the UK for publishing three of my Adventures of Elliot McSwean stories from Summer 2014-August 2017 for purchase. Before the company downsized, it was one of the few places that would publish middle grades stories.

The essay that was published twice, “We Never Said Hello,” and it’s follow up “The Write Mother” were both published in collections. KY Story out of Kentucky published “The Write Mother” in its collection Motherlode. “We Never Said Hello” was published in Impact and in paniK as “Grass from the Grave.”

The reaction to my essay inspired me to do something with creative nonfiction because I had so much to tell: journalism, mascara-running-down-your-face kind of relationships, autism, losing my home, battling to represent my son’s needs over a teacher program, and being forced to change a grade at a previous school for a child who plagiarized because of influence and the good old boy system.

I tried doing stories based on them. I wrote the first set of poems about Ben and I, but they were too abstract at the time I wrote them. I was grateful to feedback from one magazine that almost published my poem “Bad Economics.” There were issues with random rhyme scheme.

I had to figure out how to do poetry in a way that fit my writing style.  I am not a Shakespeare.  I loved what Carl Sanburg did in his poetry. The way he opens “Mag” makes your heart sink to the bottom of your stomach, because there is nothing elaborate about it.

I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.

Sandburg just told the story of a broken relationship.  He told a story of broken, messed up, and destroyed without pretty floral rhymes.  Until I read his work, I never knew poetry could be that way.

I began changing poems like “Bad Economics,” and stripped them of rhymes.  I reconstructed what was a collection called Fractured Snowflakes to Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror. I started fresh with reconstructed poems and new material.  I was inspired by the title from a poem I  wrote because I faced a lot of judgement when I stood up and spoke loud or made mistakes.  Can there be forgiveness in depression, anxiety, and anger?

I met so many people in the last twenty years of my life, yes going back to twelve, that changed my perspective on people and forming close friendships. You have to be so careful. People will easily judge you, but what I love about writing is it doesn’t judge me. I can judge it, and I am free.

To be an author or poet, it’s not enough to bleed on paper. You have to take what you’ve written and form the pieces. The one exception, for me, after all these years is “We Never Said Hello”/ “Grass from the Grave.” I blasted out that essay in ten minutes. The only thing that changed about it was the fact one publication wanted to change the title. I said, “Okay.”

“We Never Said Hello” is about the choice to have my son and my husband’s family choosing to never speak to him or their brother and his mother’s death. It inspired me to take a storytelling, creative essay style and mold it into prose poetry.

#NationalPoetryMonth

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Shifting Focus

 

I won’t always have a lot of time to write, not like when I was in college the first time.

It’s spring break. Much to my family’s terror, the long buried artist has returned to make the claim on time and writing.

For so many years, I’ve pushed down my first love, writing, so I could do what it took for my family to make it.

I’m a teacher now, and I’m gradually getting settled into a demanding, but fulfilling career. It took me six years to work my way up and get the degree because experience didn’t seem to count for much as it did in journalism.

I always valued work experience, and I love working.  It also finds its way into my writing, too.

This week, I decided to shift the focus of my first memoir-in-verse, with poems written in the style of prose poetry, from the end of my first marriage when I was expecting to earlier in time. I wanted to cover some of the experiences from when I was a small town journalist.

The economy, beginning  back in 2008, played a major part in my coverage and in my writing.  I never forgot the lines at the unemployment offices. I never forgot the amount of accountants I met who took jobs waiting tables.  I never forgot that the recession didn’t end at some imaginary point in time. It’s ten years later, and the people who suffered with the loss of money, jobs, and housing are still out there.

I thought I would be betraying what I saw people go through, something beyond my story, if I sacrificed that story. With it, there is a broken down love story broken from the start.

I often mention how spoiled I was growing up, and I had a narrow view of the world. Journalism woke me up, and the realities of my first marriage woke me up see things in a new light.

The poem Rapunzel’s Understanding takes place one year before I started working as a journalist.

 

Some Memories and Prose Poetry

I am still here.

It is a miracle. I have not had the time to submit writing for publishing as I did during graduate school and before my daughter was born.  Even in graduate school, I had to squeeze in the writing and editing time.

My writing tends to focus on doing the writing and editing.  I’ve worked on a second project since I stopped work on my eight year project, Sons of the Edisto. About four years ago, I started putting together poems. In the original script, they were called “Fractured Snowflakes.” I had some good feedback on the poems, and almost had one of the poems published.

I had some random rhymes in it, which doesn’t work with modern poetry. In fact, returning to poetry at all is a big deal for me because from the time I was sophomore in college until four years ago, I wrote mostly fiction. I didn’t feel my poetry was that good.

When I went to the South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts for Writing, freshmen program, I established more of a reputation with my poetry than my fiction. I wrote my first prose poem at the time. I don’t remember what it was called. I’d probably call it a piece of crap now just like my first few novels.

I think, as writers, we come to understand our process better as we go through it. It’s okay if it’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m okay with just recording a poem I wrote from my collection or getting it down the first time.

I wrote a poem yesterday, and I won’t say the original title, but it is for a second collection of memoir-in-verse about my first year teaching. I’m planning on changing the title to “Caterer”

Whether writing poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, I think the process is one of constant change. It keeps it refreshing and fun. It’s not that every time you edit, you’re going to “kill your darlings.”  You may return to an original idea.

One essay I wrote was published twice. It was originally called “Grass from the Grave.” When it was published in paniK, the publisher kept that title. When it was published in Impact, the publisher changed its name “We Never Said Hello.” I was fine with that. I actually liked that title better.

In writing my memoir-in-verse, I Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror, it covers the time in my life when I had left journalism and was pregnant with my first child to graduate school. Some Memories, which I’m sharing a recording of, is my introduction poem to the collection that brings everything into view.

I’m working on two versions of it. The first version I started putting together two years ago after I dismantled Fractured Snowflakes, and I began to choose poems for Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror. The second version is taking the poems and making them into visual poems. I want to have both versions.

A Blue Ridge Tale is one of the only poems I kept from my original collection. I have edited it a couple of times. Who knows, I may get rid of it? But I realized for the collection to be successful then they needed to tell a story.

It is cathartic to write them, edit them, break them apart and turn them into visual poems, or read them.

Taking Communion #metoo

a sestina

#metoo

Taking Communion

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

I

White cloths—embroidered with a gold cross—cover two loaves of bread.

Another covers a silver pitcher looking like the folds of a Victorian dress.

The pastor calls the congregation row-by-row to come before the alter and kneel.

When I kneel, the associate minister whispers in my ear,

“This is the body of Christ broken for you.”

Then comes the grape juice; meant to be blood or symbolic wine.

 

II.

On my first night as a college freshman, a boy and a girl bought beer; not wine.

We went to a party in Columbia. One apartment. One drink. Another. No bread

to calm the spinning ceiling of an empty room after going away from a “Hey you.”

Two strangers came. I locked my legs when they tried to pull up my dress.

One with a hat that says, “Cocks,” whispered in my ear

“Have done it with two?” I said, “No.” They wanted me to kneel.

 

III.

Two Busch Light boys fingered me, but I did not kneel.

The new friends from college disappeared smoking weed, drinking beer, and wine.

I pushed a hand away, and I said, “No.” The other licked and bit my ear.

I screamed inside. Do I want this? No.  I wanted Mom, Dad, or a taste of bread.

The fan, spun, and if I moved, I would throw up. “Stop. That’s my dress.”

One went away whispering Hush, and the other kept touching. I said, “Not you.”

 

IV

“Nothing happened,” I said. “That’s not what he said about you,” said the boy I road from Newberry with. I never let him have sex with me, nor did I kneel.

“You’re not invited back,” he said. Ride to Newberry, long, in my rumpled dress.

Why did I leave Newberry College with strangers? Dip bread in juice or wine

I remember from long ago, and His body, the broken from bread.

I remember crying hearing it again whispered in my ear.

 

V

Years later, I try to forget glances, or “Did you hear about her?” from ear to ear.

The blame, almost raped, or a slut anyways lay not with them, but always, “you.”

News states Betsy says, “Colleges will recognize rights of accusers.” I break bread,

and spread vegan cream cheese. Drop the knife. Think: Was she ever told to kneel?

Try to forget that night and days when no one spoke to me. I drank more wine

Until I gave it up. My daughter’s curls twirl, dreaming of princesses, in her dress.

 

VI.

Never have I taken my daughter to communion to kneel in a white dress

For her to hold my hand, go to the alter, and a pastor to whisper in her ear,

This is the blood of Christ spilt for you,” before she would drink symbolic wine.

or the whisper, “This is the body of Christ broken for you,”

because church or man, she decides on her own to stand or to kneel,

and if the hunger in her stomach is enough to accept a bit of bread.

 

VII.

 

I still hear Betsy saying, “There will be better rights for you.”

The you, the men, who order or force a woman to kneel

A girl—a baby—like my daughter to be a piece of their bread.

Parting with Anger

I’ve written about anger before …

In poems for my memoir ….

Anger’s Beginning

Anger itself is not violent, but when left to fester, it can become a hurricane sweeping through the Caribbean to Florida up through my home state, South Carolina. Those storms are never forgotten.

The reason I write about my experience with anger, just like my memoir, is to tell a story and maybe at least one person will realize he or she is not alone.

I’m not naturally an angry person. On my best days, I like to reach out to people. Sometimes I sit back and listen.

When I was younger, I was more naive and opened up to people more easily.

From where come my anger’s origins?

There are many experiences for which I have felt anger, but at its heart …

…. was the feeling of complete professional failure when my husband and I lost our     first home, and I gave up time …

with my son.

Excerpt from Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror

(Title Poem in Memoir)

“I never saw Jesus in the mirror. No blue-eyed saint from a Venetian religious piece on display in an art museum. People in my hometown, Peach Corner, said, ‘Isn’t your mom amazing?’ They would say. ‘She was my favorite teacher.’ I shook my head and said, ‘Sure.’  I thought about the times she’d come home after school and laid down. The only time I looked for her in the mirror was to see if I’d gained weight, or evidence of a weary face revealing the me who didn’t want to read anymore after reading to and with students all day. Hayes asked me to read to him ten times or more.

Bad daughter? Admitted.

Bad mom?  Admitted.

I never saw a preacher glance at her Bible from a pulpit and lower her voice for her final summation in the mirror. I never saw my dad in the mirror, but I walked behind him on the day when he first served the church.  He walked on the sanctuary’s blue carpet—the color of old hospital walls.  He pulled a vacuum out of the sanctuary closet, and began to clean the sanctuary floors.  That was 1997, and the day I discovered my second favorite hiding spot in the church when the youth group played the game, Lights Out.  (My favorite hiding place was the top of the commode in the boys’ bathroom sitting cross-legged.)  Dad joined the choir, and he was almost always the first person to shake the new pastor’s hand.

Choir ladies held my hand, and said, “Your father does so much for our church.” With white-gray bobs, the same women said, “You have a beautiful voice. Why don’t you sing in the choir with your father?”  They saw my dad as a hometown saint, and at one time, I had a scholarship to some small college for singing. One day, I stopped singing in public, and I shrugged my shoulders. I sing to my son, I thought.

I admit Dad became a certified family saint when he helped with my family’s rent because Ben’s paycheck still hadn’t arrived.   Mom and Dad took us in when we were evicted.  When I looked in the mirror, I saw a mother with a small log at the bottom of her stomach left over from baby weight, who feared judgment from old choir ladies and mom’s former students. Why? Because I would always be seen as a helpless; maybe hapless child who could not buy a house for her family. I admit I never saw Jesus in the mirror.

My Daughter and Postpartum

Since my daughter’s birth, my anger grew from postpartum depression because the anger itself was under the surface.

It is–and was–never my daughter’s fault.

The anger came from a storm deep within. Any person or thing that took more time than necessary from my children felt my furry. There are a lot of experiences I’m good at describing, but the absolute and total depression I felt when leaving my children during my internship and to drive 45 minutes away to my first teaching job was almost inconsolable. When my son told me a few months ago after I was already experiencing a difficult first year in my job, “Why are you coming home so late? I want you home”;

I thought my heart would burst. 

When a former, indirect adviser — from a different department in my college — told me I had to attend a mandatory meeting for teacher candidates over my son’s IEP meeting with about six teachers and a principal to determine whether or not to move Hayes to a different school because of his behavior, I exploded. I mean, plain out exploded in email at this person. 

How can youI thought, in an age where you’re competing with the University of Phoenix and other online universities to recruit working students and parents tell me I must choose this meeting over my son?

Rage, like a light rain, quickly fades. I regretted wording my email the way I did.

I also regret requesting that six teachers and a principal reschedule the IEP and decision because of the demand that I attend this meeting.

Yes, I was angry, but not all of the time.  Near the end of my first school year, I realized I needed to go back to therapy.

You know, it’s okay.

I take medicine.

It’s okay. 

I began working out and writing again. I took time for my kids without feeling guilty for not completing any job. 

I forgave others.

Then I forgave myself.

Not only did I start working out the whole body like I used to, I began eating better and keeping a fitness journal. In this fitness and health journal, I began writing Bible verses down. I had not done this since I was a teenager.  If I am going to be a good teacher, I have to take care of the tools. The first tool is me. 

Now

I have a wonderful education and background. I have two wonderful children and an absolutely, amazing husband, who has been through the thick and thin with me. I have a new job in a wonderful district to which I’m moving my children.

And…

I was told today.

“There is no reason your son should be on a modified education plan because he is high functioning and clearly smart.”

I cried for joy. I cried because someone wasn’t just going to throw my baby into a cage. Someone understood his specific needs, and they’re placing him in the exact class to help him manage his behavior and reactions.

When I tell you God held my hand today, I felt it.

When I tell you it is not easy to talk about my faith, believe me.

When I tell you someone saw my son as a person, and not his disability or demanded I take time from him; I will break down in tears.

When I tell you no, I never saw Jesus in the mirror, but I saw a hope for my son’s future where he wouldn’t just be a number or …

a date I had to change.

A special thanks to everyone, including my husband, parents, mentor teachers, and friends who took this journey with me. 

Longer Than Six Weeks: A Mom’s Journey

Life is not always avocados and protein shakes.

Or, as I tell mom, life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns.

An important experience I write about in Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror is the mother’s body .  From Hollywood, we—as women—sometimes see new moms who’ve gone to the gym. They lose weight in six weeks.

There is so much baggage that we—as a culture—fail to discuss, or are afraid to discuss, when it comes to being a mother. These struggles don’t end six weeks after giving birth. This baggage includes the expectation to be yourself again … whatever that means. Slim down …

Okay.

There is also the fear of: How will I work at the rate I did before? Will I be what I was before?

I was inspired by this woman’s recent video where she talks about her body and the peer pressure moms have faced. She had twins, and one of the ideas she discusses is: The motherhood body challenge doesn’t stop six weeks or even six months after your child is born. 

In my memoir, Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror, one poem written about an experience in 2011 states:

“I had hoped to lose all of the baby weight by then, so I could rub something in your face. Like a body snapping back in place after giving birth is really going to improve anything other than the fact I feel good Reasons Why, February 2011).

It took me one year to get back to my original size after my son’s birth. I’ve been one pants size from my prebaby weight with my second child for one year now. My daughter is two-and-a-half years old, and I breastfed her for two years and two months. It takes longer to lose weight when breastfeeding.

No matter how many times I felt like I’d failed, I had to remind myself I was doing the best thing for her.  

Sometimes, when you work and try to do what you did before your child was born, you feel anger. 

Anger for:

  • Not being with your baby long enough
  • Feeling like others are impeding on your time with your child
  • Unable to complete tasks you did easily before 
  • Trying to balance being a mom, wife, and your job

I went back to work as a graduate assistant four weeks after giving birth. In those four weeks, my newborn daughter had been in the hospital over Christmas with pneumonia We were scared we would lose her. I was mad at myself because I had to leave her toosoon. 

Sometimes anger in motherhood seeps in little by little, and we don’t realize it.

That is how it was for me.  I remember climbing the stairs to run errands when I returned to my graduate assistantship. These stairs are no joke. I went up three flights. I expected to go up like bad ass; like the reporter I once was with a notebook and pen in hand.  I nearly collapsed.

I wasn’t even supposed to work out for six weeks. I had to leave that day because I felt so sick.  I believe anger started that day. I had been diagnosed with depression when I was 14, but had controlled it well without medication for several years. Anger and anxiety began as a little snowball and then grew bigger. 

In my poem, Love with Vinegar, I wrote:

“In moments such as that, I saw a monster ripping away my job, degree, dreams, and ability to help Ben provide for our children. I saw the slip of paper being torn in my face. I saw two barefoot children on the street, so I sucked it up and dealt one more semester …

And, one week after the fall semester of graduate school had ended, I told Ben, ‘I felt as though I was fighting off wolves.’ Ben said, ‘You thought you were in an ocean with nowhere to swim and sharks surrounded you, except you were swimming with dolphins; not sharks. People want to help you.’ I laughed. ‘Only that one supervisor. She’s a shark. She smelled blood.’ ‘But,’ Ben said, ‘People forget even dolphins bite.'” (from Love with Vinegar, May 2016). 

How do we, as moms, deal with these issues?

I finally got help with counseling, and I kept writing. I just kept writing. I keep a fitness and health journal, a financial journal, and my regular journal where I write a lot of my poems. I began a fitness commitment, and just started my third week.  I plan to continue with it in the school year. I also wrote about my new nutritional plans.

This may not work for everyone.

I have had victories and defeats in my personal and professional life, but I think writing, eating, and fitness are helping me return to the more positive version of myself.

I read in Ecclesiastes 12: 2-4 about remembering God before dark times come, “…and the clouds return after the rain, in the days when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bent…” I wrote this in my fitness journal, because I had forgotten the walk before I journeyed into the challenging times.

 

What is “Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror”?

I took seven-and-a-half-years to write my novel, Sons of the Edisto.

Like a friendship begun in childhood, I have scribbled different narratives and poems about my journey from journalism into motherhood and teaching. It might sound mundane at first, but …

Some had to do with my relationship with my husband.

Some poems were about my daughter and breastfeeding.

Other poems covered the struggle of facing an economy indifferent to those who struggle with medical and their jobs.

A few covered the journey from losing our home to becoming a student and teacher.

Some dealt with the struggle faced with anger, alcohol, and food to move on to a place of peace.

Many poems deal with raising a son with autism, ADHD, and a developmental delay. I debated about what to call the manuscript for it, so I decided to name it Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror.

Last summer, I began organizing the poems into chapters beginning with the poem I read in last week’s blog. I chose to do them chronologically, and I am working to make them flow together. I found it harder to write a straight up narrative.  The more I write narrative poetry the more the story comes out.

I will continue working on it even as a I work as a teacher, mother, and wife.  I know there are different poems that go beyond me and show with what others have faced.