7:53 a.m. — Atlanta
What is your earliest memory? And other early memories? We Write Poems, this week, asks us to go back to the beginning, to recall the events that flash through our minds when we try to remember our earliest memories, not memories fed by photographs, or family stories, but true memories.
I want to continue in that vein. As most of us think in images, remember in images, you may want to carry out the initial part of the exercise, with images [or doodles] that you draw. They can be stick figures. You can, also, write a word, or phrase, or sentence, for each event. Or, you may do a combination: drawings and words. It doesn’t matter. These will act as a mnemonic device, a record for you to take your poem from.
Many Plains Indian tribes, in the United States, kept winter counts. Their calendars ran from the first snow of winter to the first snow of the next winter. In order to have a record of any given tribe’s history, the winter count keeper for a tribe, chose an image to represent each year. These were not necessarily the most important events, but an event that the tribal community counted as memorable, perhaps, the death of a beloved leader, the record of a great hunt, or a meteor shower. Point of interest: every winter count robe, during the period, recorded Halley’s Comet.
The keeper painted the image of the chosen event on the inside of a buffalo robe, on the cured skin. Although some are in columns, most winter counts were drawn in circles, or spirals. Most counts covered about one hundred years. I see some of you flinching. Yes, I do have wonderful vision. Yes, I would like you to come up with one event for each year of your life. People! Such language! You may go from January to December, rather than first snow to first snow :-).
A couple of strategies I learned from my efforts to do this for each of my forty years of marriage: Start scattershot. Jot down the first thing you think of, not worrying about the year, yet. Keep jotting, in some form, stopping every now and then to see if you can order the events chronologically, or put down specific years.
Set up a spreadsheet and starting with this year, 2012, work backwards. Work in decades at a time, but if you think of something outside the decade, for heaven’s sake record it.
Keep jotting. You will find your brain recalling more and more if you don’t worry about not remembering. If the memories slow, go back to the ones you have recorded and choosing the ones that seem most likely for expanding, start noting sensory, and other, details. Move back and forth between recording events and making notes.
By referring to the calendar, members of a tribe marked events in their own lives. The keepers used the robes as mnemonic devices to recount stories for their tribal communities. You are aiming for a winter count that will provide you with an endless supply of possibilities for poems [the memories you recall will help with the next few prompts, as well]. The poems do not have to be about you, but your memory might fuel a poem. Ideally, you wait until you have a complete winter count. A couple of us might keel over before that happens.
Best scenario: you come up with something for each year of your life. You will have less to work with, but that’s okay scenario: you come up with a dozen memories. Alternate scenario: you come up with enough for this prompt, and you continue with the exercise because it has value.
You can go a couple of ways with your poem. You can pick one event to write about. You can link a series of events. You can make the event the minor key against the major key of a world event. You can be the speaker if you wish. You do not have to be the speaker even if it is your memory. You are allowed to change the facts, if that’s what the poem needs.
If you want to start with the start and haven’t seen the prompt at We Write Poems, give them a visit. Don’t forget to post your poems and leave the link in the comments [if the poem is too personal, you are welcome to post it in the comments rather than your blog]; come back during the week to check for links and read the poems.
I will see you Thursday for whatever Serendipity wanders along; Friday for the roundup; and next Tuesday for a prompt and a little discussion on self.
Happy winter counting, all.