The Birthing Pangs of a Poem

Image from
Image from

I’ve got an issue with privacy. I’ve never liked open plan offices, I don’t like people coming into my study at home, I don’t like showing my work in progress. Psychologists may see a link there with the fact that my mother read my diaries and opened my letters when I was a teenager. I just call it personal space: I’m happy for those around me to have theirs, and hope they will allow me mine. So it’s unusual for me to show you a first draft, but I thought it would be interesting (for a later version of me too, perhaps) to see how my poetic mind works. This is still too explicit, personal and verbose. It leaves nothing to the imagination. It was written after a rather frantic weekend alone with the children. I will come back with an edited, perhaps even a final version and would welcome any suggestions for improvement.

It’s been a day of shouting

Coffee-ad family picture frayed and curled,

burnt up in blood-hot temper.

Sullen moods, sulk and whine, heave and lift

of bone-breaker words:

careless second of uttering,

then a lifetime of regret.

It’s been another day of failing…

my children, my ideal, myself

and all the compensatory cakes I bake

turn to sand in our mouths.

I’m left chasing words on empty beaches,

finding other people’s discarded treasures

more plentiful than shells.

I pick up a conch and pour my anguish in its ear.

I pour all my inadequacy into a jar,

screw on the jam-stained lid so tight

then fling it back into a sea just lukewarm.

So my poems are merely turgid,

my thoughts piddling, my family average.

We muddle on and on,

imperfect and random

victims of illusions

drunk on lost words.

I’m linking this to dVerse Poets Pub, a friendly community of poets who support and help each other.

46 thoughts on “The Birthing Pangs of a Poem”

  1. I pick up a conch and pour my anguish in its ear…love the images – and really – i love average-ness as well cause that’s how life is mostly – and we fall – and we get up again – we make ourselves a bit more vulnerable when we share our imperfections but all the more real as well…so…thank you..

  2. Marina Sofia – I love the way you capture the frustration life can bring, even among those you love. It’s the most natural thing in the world and you’ve captured it! Can’t wait to see the polished version.

  3. Very well penned. You described the thoughts on certain days well…lots of failings running through one’s mind, inadequacies and turgid words. But then again, hopefully, some days we will have the opposite feelings, and our poems will be ‘gems’ in our own eyes.

  4. I guess that as long as we have ideals we notice the failures and find them frustrating. You described your feeling of inadequacy in a most powerful way, certainly one I can relate to.

    1. Thank you, Gabriella. I know it’s fashionable to say: ‘you have to forgive yourself’ and ‘you can’t be perfect’, but what would our writing be made out of, if not the disappointments and frustrations?

  5. Hi. It works for me to set down my thoughts as they appear – especially when charged with some particular idea or emotion – and it works here for you, except -perhaps for the three lines “So my poems…” to “on and on”, which seem, perhaps, unnecessarily general to me (?). On revisiting, I find myself that the key is not to take away what is good but perhaps tidy and add a little? Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Colin, that is very helpful. I did indeed almost try to scribble things down in shorthand before the feelings died away. Intended as pure description, but I guess interpretation slipped in unnoticed…

  6. Great start here Marina, it’s wonderful to be privileged an early peek at the process. I’m a many-drafts sort of poet because I’m ever unsure just what I’m trying to say in my heart of hearts. (Takes a while to get there.) Your capture of the hot family drama positively drips with anger and grieves deeply for it. I get the drift from licking one’s family wounds to writing the poem as the moral equivalent. The last four lines make an incredible parallel between the two. Sadly, poems have never been the proper amends for me for the hurts I’ve caused my loved one — but then making real amends is never easy, either … The title was a little vague, “coffee ad” was confusing (I’m guessing you’re referring to missing persons ads printed on milk cartons and the like). Still, the miracle emerging here is that poems, like families, is the dark and light that we can’t ever get away from because they’re in equal measure the heart. Look forward to seeing round two or eight or however far you go.

    1. Definitely picked up the honesty of your frustrations. I think we all feel like falling short of our expectations is failure but we keep getting up. I could sense that toward the end of just pushing on despite being where you may not want to be.

    2. Thank you for your wise and witty comments. In Europe the Eduscho coffee ads always portray those impossibly perfect families, always smiling and doing fun things together. And the reality is sometimes so far off that, it is really cringe-worthy!

    3. Sorry, I meant to reply to you, but replied to Vernon below instead, so not sure if you can read this. I agree, poems are not amends, nor is being a writer an excuse for bad parenting. (Feed my guilt, won’t you?!)
      In Europe most coffee TV ads (especially from the German company Eduscho) feature those picture-perfect families, who always do fun things and have such a great, smiley-happy time together. Sooo misleading, yet we all fall into the trap of believing that’s how it should be!
      Well, I do at times, anyway, call me naive…

      1. Thanks MarinaSofia (sometime I’d like to hear how you came across your screen name, mine comes from the medieval tale of the Voyage of St. Brendan) – I wonder if maybe there’s an opening stanza that stays with that perfect-family image, creating greater contrast to what follows. (For me, as a child, I thought all of those happy-perky TV sitcoms like “Mayberry RFD” meant that my rocky and average childhood was criminally wrong.) And for what your reply began with, all I meant was that writing poems is just as imperfect as our attempts to parent — we’re certainly paupered perhaps by upbringing or selfishness or the times, but loving art — like loving our children — dooms us to understanding that we humans can never quite measure up to the demands of so perfect a task. Anyway, been there, done that!

  7. You might not like it much, Marina, but hundreds of thousands of parents across the world know exactly how you feel because they’ve all had days like this – and they’re all fed the coffee-ad lie of perfect, blissful, stress-and-drama-free family life.
    Maybe this is too much of a awarts-and-all expose, but one thing you shouldn’t lose is the tone and the honesty.

    1. Ah, the turgid and flabby feeling is so well expressed in your poem!
      I suppose we all use writing as therapy to a certain extent, but I’ve always been reluctant to admit it. (I wonder why… that probably leads to a whole new can of worms…)

  8. Sometimes poetry is best raw, and perhaps your gut told you that–so here it is, and it’s lovely.

    I was recently mulling over privacy myself. I am quite comfortable revealing who I am, but I rarely reveal to co-workers what I do. Time alone is precious. (Gee, and now I think of the activities I hide: hiking, yoga, staring at the sky, singing at the top of my lungs…shameful things!)

    1. That’s why I use a pseudonym – I couldn’t bear to have the business people I work for and with read my poetry. As for the activities you hide – they sound wonderful to me!

  9. Family affairs are full of dramas and tears ~ I like the use of conch & jar & hurling back to the sea ~ I too am concerned about privacy and would rather write of generic themes ~ I think its brave of you to share this with us ~

  10. … I applaud honesty and I applaud your bravery to put this up… I’m such a perfectionist, I wouldn’t have the balls… I know the effects of parents’ stupidity can last a lifetime… she should have never read your diary. anyways, I’m really not one to give critique, so I’ll just suggest you continue working on this until YOU feel it’s at its best… thank you for revealing that… I’m sure a lot of people can relate.

    1. Thank you, Anthony. From a fellow perfectionist to another, I can tell you it’s not easy to share something unfinished. But I just feel it’s time to progress in my poetry, which means taking risks, trying out new things, even ones I’m uncomfortable with.

  11. hey good job letting the lid off your jar a bit…life is a work in progress…and no one has that perfect life, for sure…i def like the use of the jar and flinging it back into the ocean….imperfect is far better in my opinion because we can work the emotion right out of a piece if we craft it too much…makes me think of the prayer shawls…they used to leave one corner ragged and unfinished you know, because it allowed god a place to get in….

  12. Speaking as someone who spent nearly two decades home with the kids, I can identify with what you wrote and how you feel about sharing space etc, so a big slap on the back for doing this. Now, time to rearrange and get the pen out. Keep the rage and frustration, but I think you can do this with a less is more approach. But as this is written in your voice you should go with the gut. Let us know what happens with it.

    1. Thank you – yes, the pen will be out but I’ll try to keep a nicely contained rage/frustration/disappointment in. Glad to hear people can relate to it, though!

  13. This is good as it is. Your words resonate with me so well … “it’s been another day of failing….” At night, I am often haunted by thoughts that I failed the ones I love.

Do share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.