Everyone uses ShortbreadStories differently: as a portfolio of polished work, as a learning exercise, as a library, or as a writing community. Others use it as a stop gap, sometimes already knowing that their piece needs work. Karen, who’s been a long-time member of ShortbreadStories, has been reading on the site for years, but only recently began uploading work. In this blog she talks about why she uses ShortbreadStories and about how Shortbreader comments help her move forward with her writing. Karen also hoped by addressing all of ShortbreadStories in a blog, it would get us all thinking about how we use the site’s comments.
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/by Karen Graham/
I’ve had my head stuck in thesis-land for the past month, and — while I’ve read everyone’s comments on my little poem — I haven’t gotten round to thanking everyone and responding. I will do shortly, but I have to get past this next deadline first.
Nevertheless, a couple of the comments got me thinking about the difference between my perception of the poem and the way my readers responded to it. I was under no illusions that this was a finished piece, and I’m still not. I’ve spent a good deal of time lurking about on ShortbreadStories reading stories and blog posts and comments, and I came to the conclusion some time ago that Shortbread is a bit like Kings Cross Station – you can spend an enjoyable time there, you can meet people and shop and eat and drink, but it’s only ever a stop on a journey to your final destination. It’s not home. Shortbread is not the home for my writing, or for yours either. It is a place that it needs to go through to get where it’s going.
Some of the comments I got reflected this, like those expressing the hope that this first step into submitting with ShortbreadStories helps me get the confidence to submit more, or those informing me of poetry competitions that I could submit to in a search to find a home for my writing.
Another brought up a different point entirely on my poem Mother:
“Hi Karen, just something for you to consider. To me (Only a thought!) the second lines after the ‘Mother’ line seem a little too long. I think the last stanza with the line ‘I am trying not to cry’ sounds as if it has the right rhythm and length to it. It follows the ‘Mother’ line very well. The content is strong and sad and makes you consider that the poor soul will now have two voids in their life. All the best. Hugh“
It was not a surprise to me, as the author of the poem (wow that’s a weird thing to write), that a reader noticed a difference between the rhythm of the first long stanza and the final short one. This was sort of the idea I was going for, but without being too precious about it. I was at the stage of getting something semi-finished. The right amount of lines, the right tone, telling a story from beginning to end. I wasn’t at the stage of sitting down and thrashing out my rhythm and metre with dashes and slashes. Yet.
The rhythm is there, and there’s a difference in the way that last stanza feels — from my perspective. This difference is, to me, the opposite of Hugh’s interpretation. I’m not for a moment saying that he’s wrong. Indeed, I greatly believe that if the reader doesn’t get what I’m trying to say then I haven’t made my point well enough. This is normally something that I talk about with students when discussing their academic writing; however it is equally true for creative writing. Hugh’s comment shows me that the discord between the beginning and the end of the poem is there. The reader feels the change and they notice the twist. This is all a very good start.
For me, the rhythm and meter in the final stanza are too short. I’m left feeling the desolate, finite, rushed end of that stanza. But, I can see my character. I can hear their words and the lilt of their accent. I can see where they leave the note to their mother, and what they do after the close of that last line.
My job as an author is not to bend my reader to that exact image of the character. Instead of taking their head in my hands and forcing them to see my character through my perspective, I take a step back and see what they look like to the reader(s).
And so, like the mother in my poem, I have no choice but to watch. My character and their story no longer belong to just me. They belong to you, reader. No longer mine, but ours. And that is the whole reason that I write in the first place.