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Genres and Subject Matter

Sometimes the genre a writer wishes to use does not work for the subject.

I was contacted by my childhood best friend’s younger brother through Facebook. The church membership at the church we had attended (for me from ages 6 to 23) had shrunk to the point that the property had been sold to a local, private Christian K12 school, and the school was renting the property to a satellite church.

D contacted me because the school recognized that many former members would want various items from the church. D and his mom went to the clean up Saturday and retrieved a painting my paternal grandmother had painted after my grandfather died (cancer, 1989 - I was 14). I had no idea a painting existed, but I went to D’s parents’ house, one I had spent much time in as a child, and visited with his mom. Grandma had died in 2004, after Hurricane Frances (ironically, the name of my grandmother’s mother). Apparently, Dad knew about the painting; it was in the “old ladies” Sunday school room, a richly furnished (compared to the more utilitarian classrooms) room across from the chapel with cushioned sofas and chairs. It looked like a formal living room the children are not allowed in. It also had the best ladies’ restroom in the church, which was over 40 years old.

The painting was mounted in an ornate gold frame and is of Jesus on a beach with crashing waves, and He has his arms outstretched, welcoming the viewer to his embrace. A plaque mounted on the bottom of the frame notes that Grandma had painted the oil painting in memory of my grandfather.

For me, this was an unusual series of events, and I felt the need to write about it. I first attempted prose, as this has been my usual genre, but the writing felt false; it felt forced, which is not good writing.

What was I to do? I needed to write about these events but was unable to and did not know why I was unable to. It may have been that the subjects involved (old friendships, aging, change in general) were too emotional for me to write honestly.

I attended the St. Leo University Sandhill Writers Conference at the start of May 2018, many months after the events above, and in a haiku workshop I discovered that I needed to use haiku to write about my experiences. The reason, I believe, is that my co-sponsor for the Creative Writing Club at the college where I am a professor had me participate in the previous October’s haiku a day month: 31 haiku in 31 days. Something in my brain at this point could only write in haiku. Once I started writing in that format, the writing no longer felt forced, and almost before the workshop leader (Susan Lilley) had us write haiku for the purpose of finding the turning point, or volta, I had completed a draft of a series of haiku.

Refer to the next post to compare my first attempt (in prose) to capture the experience of discovering the painting and my next attempt (in poetry, specifically a series of haiku).


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