One of the writing assignments I often give students in my poetry writing workshops is to write a history poem. Not current-events history, but personal history. Among the prompts I give them are: write an autobiography of the ways they’ve worn their hair, write a list of houses they’ve lived in, or draw a map of the neighborhood they lived in when they were 10 or 12. In addition, I give them some sample poems, including “A History of the Pets” by Vermont poet David Huddle. (if you’d like to see Huddle talk about poetry, try this.) I want them to consider the strings that have run through their lives, often connecting to family.
I was thinking of my history lately when my niece Elizabeth sent me half a dozen black-and-white snaps that my newly-retired brother John had developed from negatives he recently found. (You do remember negatives, yes?) In these pictures I was about three years old, living in Maryland. As photographic technologies changed, my family accumulated hundreds of slides to replace the Brownie shots. Often a family gathering included a slideshow orchestrated by my father who selected a random carousel of slides to show us. His method of organizing the slides was to not organize them. So, we might see a slide or two of a 4th-of-July parade, followed by a decorated Christmas tree, and a group shot in front of the church following a wedding. Then back to a parade…from another year. Photographs are certainly a string that connects my history.
One of the strongest strings is my collection of tickets from baseball games I have gone to. The tickets sit in a Fenway Park/Citgo promotion glass that has sat on my bureau for nearly 25 years. I have tickets that go back to 1993, including the tickets to five games that Emma and I saw when we drove back to Maine from California after she graduated from college in 2012. And, in the glass is a ticket to an Orioles-Blue Jays game in Baltimore that my brother Mark and I were traveling to the morning when the first plane hit the North Tower on 9/11. Talk about strings.
Do you have strings that you hold dear?