Friday, April 19, 2013

Personal Narrative Poems on Poetry Friday

Thank you to Irene for gathering today's offerings at Live Your Poem. It’s been a shocking and grief-filled week with the tragedies of the Boston Marathon bombing and the explosion in West, Texas. It’s been a time to focus on family and all that’s important to me.

A hip injury has derailed my intentions to write a poem a day in April, but this week I started a project -  writing from old family photos. Here’s the latest draft of a poem about my grandfather.

Eugene Ernest Beane

When I Knew You

I never knew you
when your ankle high shoes
were the norm, not tony
like that scarf wound round your neck.
A tuft of wavy hair above shorn temples
crowns your head, a rooster’s comb
declaring lordship of the coop.
I didn’t know that dapper look
existed half way to the Canadian border
in 1920s Maine. 

You sit there, alone on the door stoop,
balancing a cigarette between two fingers.
A wedding ring says you’ve already married
my grandmother. Your face is a mirror image
of my father’s young face but his forehead
will not be creased by the loss
of a brother who lies under a cross
in Belleau, France, leaving that gold star legacy 
in the window behind you.

When I knew you
your eyes twinkled, your cheeks puffed
and the reeds of your harmonica vibrated
with strains of “Home on the Range.”
On Sunday visits, you said, “Well now”
and pulled your harmonica from your pocket.
We sang “Red River Valley” and “Red Wing”
and I clanged the cowbells lining the windowsills
in your kitchen that smelled like applesauce
and popcorn when I knew you
and we knew each other.

                                    ~Joyce Ray 2013

In the next draft I will practice poet and New England College professor Maura MacNeil’s advice on expanding personal narrative poems with invented memory. In a 2008 article for New Hampshire Writer, MacNeil suggested this method as a way to give a poem emotional intensity for the reader as well as the author.


  1. How wonderful is this picture that you've created for us? I love especially that last stanza with little you, your cowbell world. Thank you for sharing, and hope you are healing well!

  2. I love the idea of writing from family photos. The details in this poem, e.g. the kitchen that smells like applesauce and popcorn, really bring this poem to life. And like Irene, I especially love the last stanza.Hope you are on the road to recovery.

    1. Irene and Carol, your comments about the last stanza help me see where revision needs to be. In writing from photos, it's tempting to spend too much time describing the picture when the real focus needs to be on one's response to the subject. Thank you for your feedback!

  3. Hope you're feeling better, Joyce! Great idea, writing from photos - especially ones packed with familial emotions & images. I really like the line "A wedding ring says you’ve already married my grandmother."

  4. I love comparing your details to the photo -- so rich and specific, as are your memories. I'm wondering how it will work to add invented memory to a personal narrative...

  5. This poem is so visually intriguing, it really helps me paint a picture in my head, and the contrast between 'I never knew you' and 'I knew you' works really well.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Somerset Spa Girl. I appreciate knowing what works well and that the words help you see the scene.


Comments welcome.