Tag Archives: a poet’s memoir

Memoir or Biomythography?

This is my last blog post in the month of February. I’ve been posting what I’ve learned from the memoirs I’ve read for two months now, and I still have plenty of books to cover.

I want to talk to you about other subjects, too, but I’m reluctant to ignore the rest of my memoir books. So I think I’ve worked out a compromise. I’ll try posting about a memoir once a week, and that way I will gradually work my way through them. It’s not only fun to share the books, but writing these posts reminds me of what I learned about each book, which is such a good review for me.

Then I can write about other things in my other posts–yay!

Today’s memoir is poet Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. On the cover it calls itself a BIOMYTHOGRAPHY.

So I didn’t think of it as a memoir when I read it in grad school. I was immersing myself in the work of Lorde for a possible chapter in my dissertation. Unfortunately, Lorde passed away of cancer while I was in grad school. She was 58 years old, the same age I am now. This chapter never got finished, although my dissertation did.

On a related note, here is my favorite Lorde poem, “Coal.”

Anyway, back to how Lorde wanted to think of this book–as a biomythography. In it she writes about her origins, as a Caribbean child growing up lesbian in Harlem, and she writes about some of the women she loved in her life. She tried to create a new literary genre, by combining a personal mythology with biographical events, but it reads to me as an experimental memoir.

Does that word experimental annoy you or turn you off? It does me. But this is a beautiful book.

In its play with language and boundaries, the book is representative of feminist texts of the early 90s. You won’t notice that so much as you will fall into Lorde’s world and find out what it was like to be an African-American lesbian poet of her time period. That’s what I learned from Lorde’s book.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

A Poet’s Memoir

Mark Doty, an American poet (b. 1953), wrote a wonderful coming-of-age memoir called Firebird

To the outside world, the four members of Doty’s middle-class family could be in a sitcom of the time period: the father is an engineer, the mother looks respectable, the older sister is popular, and the little boy is bespectacled and bookish. But all is not as it seems. Alcohol wreaks its slow destruction on the family.

But most crucial to Doty’s identity is a difference that occurs even before the disintegration does. The little boy, Doty himself, gradually comes to realize he is gay, and there is no place for being gay in the world in which  he grows up.

Because this book was written by a poet, the language is rich and evocative. I love the little boy at the heart of the book.

Here is one important thing I learned from reading Firebird:

Doty begins his memoir with a “Prelude” (so termed because of the use of music and art in the book) which is a beautiful essay in its own right and introduces the reader to a way of viewing a memoir. This essay is about a work of art from the 17th century by the Dutch painter Samuel Von Hoogstraten. It’s called Perspective Box with Views of a Dutch Interior.  

This perspective box contains the miniature furnishings of a miniature room which are distorted and misshapen; however, when you look through holes designed for viewing, suddenly the room comes into perfect perspective. Interesting way of viewing memoir itself . . . .

The metaphor of the work of art for memoir and the detailed description both serve as an inspiration to write with detailed accuracy and imagination.

Doty’s website can be found at markdoty.org.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing