Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Morning Poetry Prompt with January O'Neil




If you read The Alchemist's Kitchen, you know that I am a huge fan of January O'Neil's poetry. She has the ability to render complex emotions in a deceivingly accessible poem --- and make you recognize yourself in the process.

In her most recent book, Misery Islands, O'Neil imagines a future where her children will write the tell all book of their childhood -- a sort of Mommy Dearest for the 21st century. Of course, O'Neil is a very different kind of mother --- a loving, if sometimes distracted, single mom. In the poem, her children turn to raisins while the speaker watches baseball or they complain that she "would rather write than speak."

When January O'Neil came to Highline College where I teach, I studied Misery Islands with my creative writing students. For many of them, it was their first time writing poems. Since only a few of them are parents, we decided to switch the title to "What My Mother Will Write About Me in Her Tell-All Future Book." These were some of the strongest pieces of they wrote all quarter. The mix of humor and pathos appealed to them --- and of course "telling" on their mother seemed to be great fun.

I also offer the option of writing about a father or grandmother or big sister --- clearly not everyone will have a mother to write about. I  use this exercise every quarter and the results are always amazing. Students are excited that they've written something about someone they care about --- and O'Neil's poem as a model keeps them from getting too syrupy.

I've also po-jacked this poem and tweaked it a little: "My Mother Returns from the Dead to Appear on Oprah." But that will wait for another posting. For now,  enjoy this poem and try a "tell-all" poem of your own. 

What My Kids Will Write about Me in Their Future Tell-All Book

They will say that no was my favorite word,
more than stop, or eat, or love.

That some mornings, I’d rather stay in bed,
laptop on lap, instead of making breakfast,
that I’d rather write than speak.

They will say they have seen me naked.
Front side, back side—none of which
were my good side.

To read the rest of this poem go to the Cavaan Kerry website. This includes an interview with January O'Neil by Nin Andrews.

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