Considering it is just after Mother’s Day, with Father’s Day looming on the horizon, I thought I’d talk about writing poems about parents. We get a lot of those type of poems at Gyroscope Review. It’s an important topic as poets work through their feelings about parents and the past – and sometimes the future. It’s a deeply personal topic, and there is a fine line between the danger of lapsing into sentimentality or letting the poem explore the theme. Writing about the loss of a parent, or a parent with cancer is a tough topic. Look for the universal in the subject. People will care a lot more about the poem if they can see themselves in it. They might be indifferent about your pain, but let them see how it’s everyone’s pain and they are on board.
Other parent poems we get are about the act of raising a child with all the cliches of childhood. Skinned knees, first dates, learning to ride a bike. How do you open that up? Approach it from a father’s point of view, or a sibling, or the skinned knee itself. Take us somewhere new. Make us see the subject in a different light, one we haven’t thought of before. What we don’t see is enough poems about the intricacies of being a parent. What it’s like to raise a special needs child, or a gender fluid child. Or a bullied child. Or an autistic child navigating the everyday world. Put us in your sneakers. As a parent, how do you approach these topics without echoing breathless news headlines?
Here are some Gyroscope Review poems and the issues they are in to explore:
My Bi-Polar Bear by Paul Strohm ISSUE 18-1 WINTER 2018
Candy Colored Dreams by Deborah L. Davitt ISSUE 17-4 FALL 2017
Sketches of my Mother by Samuel Salerno ISSUE 17-4 FALL 2017
Grendel’s Mother by Sally Zakariya ISSUE 17-3 SUMMER 2017
Every Day is Mother’s Day by Alexis Rhone Fancher ISSUE 17-1 WINTER 2017
The Man Who Explained Maps by John Grey ISSUE 17-1 WINTER 2017
Memorial for Miriam’s Dad (and Miriam) by Sandy Feinstein ISSUE 16-1 WINTER 2016
Waking Daddy by Akualezli Hope ISSUE 16-1 WINTER 2016
Letting Go by Barry Charman ISSUE 16-1 WINTER 2016
Mother’s and Father’s Day make everyone hyper-focus on tradition—cards, ties, a bouquet of flowers. Dig deeper. What if, as a parent, or a child, you never gave or received any gift on those days? How would you feel? Does acknowledgement matter? Has it torpedoed a relationship? Is it revenge for an imagined slight? Self-preservation?
Parents aren’t as simplistic as we remember them to be. They have lives outside of their children. We often are exploring through poetry our relationship with a parent, and how it’s changed now that we’ve gotten older (and so have they). We should no longer look back with nostalgia, but with the critical eye of the poet, ready to write the truth, no matter how unpleasant it might be, or what it might reveal about ourselves. That’s a tough order. But poets are up to the challenge.
Today is May Day, an international spring holiday in the Northern Hemisphere. People dance around May poles, leave baskets of flowers on doors, generally celebrate the return of warm weather. There has been plenty of poetry about spring, flowers, the giddiness of the season after a long winter. And those are poems that we all need from time to time, poems that make us feel like rushing out and falling in love.
International Workers Day is another May 1 holiday first observed in 1890 to honor people killed in the Haymarket affair. The Haymarket affair refers to the labor demonstrations of 1886 when Chicago workers united in Haymarket Square in favor of an eight-hour workday with better working conditions. Violence broke out, a bomb went off. People died. And labor kept pushing for better conditions.
Plenty of literature evolved from the labor movement, some written by workers and some written by those who sympathized with workers, which makes for entirely different audiences. One genre that developed in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s was proletarian poetry, which offered the working-class perspective. The New Masses, a leftist magazine established in 1926, played a large role in promoting and defining proletarian poetry, as well as in encouraging working-class writers.
For this May 1, we offer you links to a bit of proletarian poetry. We suggest that this poetry has plenty of relevance today, with ties to current movements like the breakbeat poets who also take on capitalism among other things. Whether you are a worker or you sympathize with workers, there is truth and history in this literature. Take a little break, follow the links, feel these voices.
Happy May Day. Happy International Workers Day. And happy reading.
Poem in the American Manner by Dorothy Parker
The crowd at the ball game by William Carlos Williams
Brass Spittoons by Langston Hughes
Dirge by Kenneth Fearing