Tuesday Tryouts: Genealogy Poem

20 Sep

9:23 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello everyone! I am back from a week at my uncle’s, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, spent knee-deep in family papers, one of which was my great-grandmother’s autopsy. Talk about feeling a little weird. At the same time, I was thinking, How can I make this a poem…

As I held and read letters written in the 1700/1800s and learned of life on the family plantation; as I discovered that all my ancestral lines have an eyebrow-raising amount of intermingling with light overtones of incest here and there; as I read the line written by my grandmother to her grandmother, in 1919, which says: “I hope your arm will be alright soon. Are your corsets still contrary?”; as I found that my great-grandfather, who was supposedly murdered for his paycheck, showed up in a census several years after the fact, I realised that we all have a wealth of poems in our family histories.

I would like you to try a genealogical poem. You can approach the exercise in a number of ways. One possibility is a list poem where you take one family line and list each ancestor with a comment for each. Or, write about one ancestor about whom you know a fair amount — make up what you don’t know. After all, you are not writing a biographical poem. Or, maybe you are. If you know anything about how ancestors came to be where they are, you might write about the journey. If you have an ancestor involved in an interesting bit of history, write a story poem. If you know a lot about an ancestor and the time in which they lived, you can try a last will and testament written by them. I read three fascinating wills this weekend.

As far as point of view, you can certainly use third person, but it might be interesting to write from a first person point of view, to become the ancestor and speak with the ancestor’s voice. This is also a possibility for the rare second person point of view. “You” should not appear in a poem unless you are writing to someone specific, addressing them. You might write to one of your ancestors about something you wish you could have spoken about with them.

As always, do post your poems and leave a link in the comments, or the poem, if you wish. I love reading what you write and miss it when I am gone for a week, or more. Also, if there is a past prompt you have been meaning to write to, remember that there is no such thing as late here.

Happy writing.


Posted by on 20/09/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


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30 responses to “Tuesday Tryouts: Genealogy Poem

  1. anl4

    20/09/2011 at 10:37 am

    Thank you for the prompt. I was interesting…

    • margo roby

      20/09/2011 at 10:42 am

      You are welcome, Annell. And thank you for your comment over at Writers Speak, on handling each others poems with loving care.


  2. R.Ross

    20/09/2011 at 11:34 am

    How fabulous and how fortunate to have family papers dating back that far… I so envy you. I have some notebooks in which my mother scribbled lists of things to do in tiny writing. Symbolic of her life really.

  3. R.Ross

    20/09/2011 at 11:52 am

    Where does one post the poem?

    • margo roby

      20/09/2011 at 12:45 pm

      I couldn’t believe it, Ros. We found them this weekend, in a trunk belonging to my grandmother.Three generations of all the business dealings and some personal things for the plantation. I was reading lives.

      For posting poems, people who have blogs post them there and leave a copy of the link in the comments here. You should be able to publish them at WOWH and copy and paste the URL to leave in the comments. And, I have had people post poems straight to the comments section, if they have no access to blog space. If you check back on my last Tuesday Tryout [look at sidebar right for TT Meaningful Things] and look at the comments section, I think you will find both blog links and a poem in the comments. Experiment and we’ll see what works best for you.

      I’m glad to be back in touch. Haven’t gotten myself over the hurdle enough to return to WOWH.


      • R.Ross

        21/09/2011 at 3:43 am

        Nice to hear/see you Margo. We all miss you.

  4. julespaige

    20/09/2011 at 2:52 pm

    Goodman Alexander

    So maybe these streets here in America are not paved with gold
    I should know I walk them every day, well except Sunday
    I call to my neighbors as I push my wheel barrow
    “Knives to sharpen, umbrellas repaired”

    So yes there is a depression – not if you work hard
    I rise at dawn and am home for supper in every season
    When the weather is good I tend to my garden
    This supplements the home-made pasta Mama makes

    I have a strong son who has moved away from home
    Perhaps after his mother died he doesn’t like my new wife?
    She also sews – good not to have to buy what we can make
    And we still have three daughters to feed – that is until they marry

    Life is good here in a New York City borough
    But when I retire I will live in the house I built with my son
    In the country – not quite the old country but it will have to do
    When going home, there is only one road – the one you want

    When you leave those small backward towns to try a new life
    There may not always be a way to get back to where you came from
    And if you can live life as a good man, pay you bills,
    Keep your family warm and fed – what else do you need?


    • margo roby

      21/09/2011 at 8:44 am

      Jules, I love this. Makes me want to hear about your whole family told this way.


  5. Teri

    20/09/2011 at 2:54 pm

    I read the prompt- and took a deep breath. Hmmm writing about my family- rather not. So I put it aside and wrote and posted a blog post inspired by a blogger named Julia Fry. I went for a walk. It has been raining and chilly here for a few days. So dampness was rising up as the sun began to peak through- Then I walked by some moldy mulch and was hit with a small thought. I texted it to myself and came home and added a second post to my blog. I did pretty much nothing you suggested above- but it was about one of my grandmothers- well kind of. And that will be enough.

    • margo roby

      21/09/2011 at 8:46 am

      Teri, I look forward to seeing what you eventually wrote. What I love about poetry prompts is they are what you say, suggestions that start the brain on a path. If you end up on a completely different path it doesn’t matter. You have a poem. That matters.


  6. Mike Patrick

    20/09/2011 at 6:46 pm

    This one could have turned into an epic poem, so I cut it off in the Revolutionary War.

    • margo roby

      21/09/2011 at 8:49 am

      Aieee! You have a family like mine, Mike. I have every line back to the 1700s and some earlier. Where did your ancestors settle when they came over? I have been discovering that with the small sizes of towns back when the States were being settled that different lines knew each other.


      • Mike Patrick

        21/09/2011 at 3:07 pm

        From snippets of information located in family Bibles and country records: he enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War from Salisbury, North Carolina. He married Mary (Polly) McCord in Iredell County, North Carolina. They had eight children. 1800-1820: he was a county clerk in Overton, Tennessee. They finally settled and lived out their lives in Secor, Illinois. We’ve been to his grave, which had been restored by the Daughters of the American Revolution and is inscribed “A Revolutionary Soldier.

      • margo roby

        21/09/2011 at 3:14 pm

        Well, well. We have McCords in one of our lines. Weirdly, I was just this moment heading for them to work on them when I saw your comment. I’ll let you know if our McCords were in any of your areas. We have a Col David McCord married to a Mary, who fought in the revolution but I don’t yet know where he was situated. This stuff is addictive 🙂

  7. Sharp Little Pencil

    21/09/2011 at 1:25 am

    Normally, I write about the women on the Irish side of my family – Mom, Grandma Blanche. But I have a framed picture of an extremely tall man in full conductor’s uniform… careworn face, but still with a protective arm around his granddaughter, my mother, Charlotte. He was on my mind tonight, as I heard a train running through Madison… Amy

    • margo roby

      21/09/2011 at 8:51 am

      We have a lot of Irish here. My family, Mike’s, yours! I hadn’t thought of pictures. Of course! I look forward to the poem, but your brief description gives me the man.


  8. R.Ross

    21/09/2011 at 3:43 am

    In tiny shreds of writing,
    I offered up my words,
    in lists inconsequential,
    of what I had to do.
    Buy soap. Wash hair.
    Post birthday card.
    Cut nails and iron dress.
    Write letter to my sister.
    Soak underwear tonight.
    In pencilled, leaded
    offering, I wrote it down
    to last, that I would be
    remembered; that you
    would know my past.

    • margo roby

      21/09/2011 at 8:54 am

      Lordy, this is wonderful, Ros. I have come across many lists in the past week and my brain cells must have been sleeping. And, I came across many scraps of scribbled notes. I will have to go back up and go through the papers again. Thank you for the inspiration and the poem.


  9. wordsandthoughtspjs

    21/09/2011 at 12:30 pm

    Love this prompt, Margo. I already have a good idea what I want to write about. See you in a few days with something. It is nice to see you back with us 🙂


    • margo roby

      21/09/2011 at 12:41 pm

      I had a feeling you would like this one, Pamela. And, thank you. It’s good to be back.


  10. b_y

    21/09/2011 at 1:36 pm

    So glad to see you back.
    I’ll have to fabricate something for this, since I know nothing but a name or two before my grandparents, and very little even of them.
    Envy your connection

  11. margo roby

    21/09/2011 at 2:00 pm

    Glad to be back, Barb! Fabricate away. One thing that might help the fabrication is if you know countries ancestors came from. I have been lucky. I had an uncle who was a professional genealogist who did my father’s entire line back to the 1200s. Then on my mother’s side I have an uncle who has taken us back to the 16/1700s. Amazing work by both men.


  12. vivinfrance

    21/09/2011 at 5:15 pm

    Margo, I love the idea of this prompt, but it will need more time and energy to do it justice than I have to spare at the moment. I will perhaps come back to it later.

    The poetry course I am on is very intensive, with lots and lots of excellent writing exercises, some of which have made me dig deeper into myself that I am entirely comfortable about. Though I’m learning lots, I’m coming home drained. At the reading last night, we had a quarter of an hour each to read. All the others were reading from their own published works, which made me feel very inadequate!

    • margo roby

      22/09/2011 at 11:12 am

      Uh huh…and are you the same woman whom I have just been told spent 48 hours in the hospital for a dickey heart? However, I suspect that at this point in your life you know exactly what choices you want to make. I’m grinning, I’m grinning.

      I always have a problem with the exercises that ask me to dig deep. I wonder if getting them in a course would force me to do something I now avoid…hmmm.

      You could slow down an iota, no? Enjoy the rest of the course.


  13. James Penha

    21/09/2011 at 10:31 pm

    Funny you should mention, Margo. Take a look at my latest Origami: Genealogy.

    • margo roby

      22/09/2011 at 12:15 pm

      Great Jumping Jehosephat! Hello you. It’s way past time to meet for coffee 🙂

      I look forward greatly to reading the poems. I am working on my next collection for Origami. I have reached the point of finding some way to remove one line, in most of them. Topic: natural disasters — seems a good year to do them. Waterways just took the poem I wrote on your mask. You saw the original but not the structure it has now. My next goal: a poem in Waterways, to your prompt, that you have not seen.

      • James Penha

        24/09/2011 at 9:21 pm

        This isn’t as rich as coffee with thee, but it’s sweet. Looking forward . . .

  14. vivinfrance

    22/09/2011 at 6:18 am

    In for a penny: this is the nearest thing I’m going to get to a genealogy poem this week!

  15. Sharp Little Pencil

    23/09/2011 at 11:33 pm

    I don’t know why on EARTH I said “Magpie Tales,” when I revisited the poem, shored it up, and posted it because of YOUR prompt. What a ditz. Have since gone back and labeled it “Tuesday Tryouts.” (blush) Remember, I AM a mental health “consumer” (P.C. for “multiple diagnoses, all with confusing acronymns!) Amy


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