From Poetry to Fiction: The Imagined Self by Sarah Kennedy


Poetry was my first genre.  The pleasures of metaphor, compression of expression, and the controlled line appealed to me in ways that prose did not, and when I first began writing—and then publishing—I never thought I would write anything but poetry.  Of course, critical essays and book reviews were part of my work, but those always felt as though they came from a different quadrant of my brain.  Poetry was my genre.

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My first poems were also very personal, and my early books, taken together, are almost a memoir in verse.  Those poems felt urgent, needing to be written before I could do anything else creative.  Maybe it was therapy; maybe it was self-discovery; maybe I was using my own life as a way of understanding what cultural imperatives do to an individual personality.  Maybe all of the above.  I don’t know, but what I do know is that I was also feeling my way through my own narrative, in tight, often quite short, pieces.

Writing about the self has its limits, though.  By the time I was writing my most recent book of poems, The Gold Thread, I was writing about historical people and situations, using characters and situations from my scholarly work in Early Modern British literature.  The shift happened during a trip to Wales one summer.  I had a grant to investigate the recipe manuscripts left by seventeenth and eighteenth-century women in the National Library at Aberystwyth, and my intention was to get as much information, for my teaching, about domestic life from that period as possible.  And I learned an enormous amount—but what came of my time in Wales was not an academic book but a series of poems about those women, some largely imagined and some based almost entirely on details that they’d recorded.  That experience changed my poems. Continue reading