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The News

by Jacqui Whittingham 

Posted: 14 July 2008
Word Count: 88
Summary: My first attempt for some time. Generated from a long period of waiting for a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome in my daughter which on one level could clear me of parental blame for the challenges she has to face but on the other hand may trap her - if she and we let it. (In the light of comments I modified this summary to give more clarity - may review again later)

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Vindication bears me up on wings to freedom
but dashes itself to pieces against the pane
of anger and grief, and recognition
my liberation is her prison
boxed in by bars of imperception and frustration.

Is my job now the warder of the keys?
To keep her trapped safe?
Better to help her fly free
Even if her wings are torn by the beating winds
she will have to face.

Maybe she will fly higher,
Further than most,
To more exotic climes
My bird of paradise
My egg.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 10:55 on 16 July 2008  Report this post
Hi Jacqui - Iím sorry to make this kind of comment on your first poem, but I feel we do have a problem here. Itís not with the writing or technical aspects of the poem, but a more general difficulty for the reader. The poemís imagery of birds, flying free, cage and prison is strong and certainly communicates something to the reader. But we canít help asking, ĎWhatís the story?í Something powerful is going on, but itís hard to construct for ourselves what it is. One person is vindicated but the other is trapped. In what circumstances? Itís intriguing, but I find it very hard to imagine the circumstances - the story behind the poem.

There are two qualifications to make. One is that Iím only one reader and canít speak for all. Someone else might read the poem and recognise right away, or have a pretty good idea about, the kind of story that produced the poem. The fact that I donít see it may be because itís outside my experience.

The other thing is that poems, especially personal ones, can often be open to different interpretations. If a reader doesnít know what you know - doesnít know the actual story behind the poem - he/she can use the poem as a starting point and make up a story for him/herself. If that happened to your poem, you might find it disconcerting - if someone were to tell you what they think the story is, you might say, ĎItís not like that at all, thatís not at all what I meant.í But if the readerís version works for that individual reader, thatís how poetry often works. The poem takes on a life of its own, and readers see things in it that the poet never dreamed of. The trouble is, I wonder how many readers could build up a story for themselves from the Ďevidenceí of this poem?

Your title sums it up. ĎThe Newsí is mysterious and intriguing, but I canít see a way to get some sort of handle on what that Ďnewsí is. Another way to look at it is to let the poem be enigmatic - let it be a mystery. Let us enjoy the picture of a bird set free and flying through storms but finally soaring high above the earth, and enjoy too the human comparison - the joy of freedom after any kind of imprisonment, whether itís an actual prison cell or mental shackles of some sort. Let the poem Ďfloatí. Never mind what the original, actual circumstances were. Itís possible to look at it that way, but Iím not sure it works. Maybe, as I said already, for other readers who can more easily guess at the story, or make one up for themselves.

In other words, what Iím saying is that the poem - though vivid and quite powerful - has a private aspect to it that could make it puzzling to many readers. Is there any way you could tell something of the story in the poem itself, and give the reader a little more to go on? But you may not want to do that.

Let me know what you think - if you think that the Ďproblemí Iíve indentified really is a problem, or if Iím making too much of it.


Jacqui Whittingham at 23:01 on 17 July 2008  Report this post
Hi James
Thank so much for the time and effort you have put into commenting on my piece - I really value any comments I get.
I guess the first thing I felt was one of surprise as I honestly felt my poem was very simple and clear - I guess my writing is more obscure than I thought and I am so immersed in the whole thing that the meaning seems obvious to me. I think everything I am writing at the moment is more about feelings than stories and as such is all probably equally obscure to the reader. What I' m really pleased about is that the power of the emotion seems to be hitting through.
Without getting too personal I did wonder whether you are a parent? I think it is very clear that the relationship is a Mother/daughter thing. The sense of responsibility that my absolution is at the cost of a life-long label of Asperger' s syndrome for my daughter is implied. I feel that some parents, particularly Mothers may pick up on something of this if they have ever been in a similar position. I am not worried if anyone interprets the story differently - to me if the emotion evokes a response in the reader then the poem has done its job.
You suggested making the poem less mysterious to the reader - I guess one way would be to change the title. The poem for me was about the feelings that the news released and what I could do with them, changing the title would put more emphasis on the diagnosis itself. But if this would make it more generally accessible then I am happy to think about that. I guess I could call it something like ' Asperger' s Legacy' - let me know what you think.
Once again thank-you - your comments have given me a chance to look at my work in a different way
and learn how to improve.

joanie at 08:29 on 20 July 2008  Report this post
Hi Jacqui,

Your explanation is needed, I think. It makes sense now that I know the background, but it didn';t before. I know exactly what you mean about it seeming abvious to you as you are so involved in it and trying to get your thoughts and feelings into verse! I have done the same.

I agree that the title could hold the key. I do like the closing lines and the bird/egg, with all the implications of protection and letting go, which is so much more difficult in your case.

I enjoyed the read - it is powerful.


Jacqui Whittingham at 15:40 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
Hi Joanie,

Many thanks for your comments and understanding. After some more thought I think James and you are both right - it does need something. I'm still thinking about whether the title is enough, trouble is adding anything more will change the release of tension and for me would say too much. There was a definate effort to move from despair towards acceptance. I think I will need to come back to it in a few months when things have moved on a bit and see how I feel then.


joanie at 15:51 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
That's a good idea. Leave it for a while and the solution will probably hit you in the face when you look at it again!


James Graham at 20:55 on 23 July 2008  Report this post
I've thought about this a bit more. (Yes, I am a parent - two daughters!) Of course parents who have been in a similar position will pick up on this instantly, and the poem may in the end mean more to them than to others. But I feel it does need something to point those others in the right direction.

Just a title, I think. I don't think the poem needs to be (or should be) changed or expanded or tampered with in order to spell out the real circumstances. All it needs is a factual, direct title, which can be stretched out a bit if necessary beyond two or three words.

It doesn't always matter if some readers take a different story out of a poem, one that the author never intended. But somehow I feel it would risk diminishing this poem if some readers were left to make up their own story - as if it was any old thing between mother and daughter. They should know it's about Asperger's - that's important.

But as you say, often it's better to leave it for a while. I've lost count of the times something like this has 'hit me in the face', as Joanie says, after putting a poem away. It seems to work.


Jacqui Whittingham at 12:00 on 25 July 2008  Report this post
Hi James
Thanks again - your comments are really reassuring. You are right about the Aspergers, it is important, I guess I'm still finding it a little difficult to be completely open. I will leave it a while, I'm working on other stuff as well, so can come back to it at any time.

Thanks so much for continuing to think about this for me - i'm really glad I joined this group again, it has really motivated me and opened up my writing again which has been closed for too long!


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