Really the title of this post should be something like Open Burning: writing about divorce when you have the responsibility of raising a child with your ex and live two blocks away from one another and at some point you are going to want to date someone again who probably won’t want to deal with a whole book about how you coped with a divorce.
But there’s not enough room for all that in a title of a blog post–in a book of poetry there might be enough room. Maybe. As long as you proceed with caution. Maybe don’t even proceed at all. I’m still not sure.
This isn’t necessarily a post about how to get away with writing about divorce without hurting anyone’s feelings. It’s more about how I went about writing about my divorce.
I’ve always loved writing love poems. Splayed, my first chapbook, was my first attempt, Nearly Perfect Photograph, my second. I grew as a writer and thinker in the space between those books. This is my third attempt.
To be honest, I don’t think this book exist unless at the core there are love poems. Love poems to my former wife and to my daughter. Many of which where written during our marriage. Several are even marriage sonnets that are now, I guess, divorce sonnets.
Once that core is in place, the opportunities to dig into the other emotions opens up. This is where the caution seeps in.
If you are writing to hurt someone you should stop. If you are writing to heal yourself and it involves pain, there’s reason to move forward. Eloise (my former wife) read the book and consented to its publication with one caveat. That I be careful with what I put into the world as it relates to our daughter.
And she’s right. Eventually, Abra will find and read what I’ve written in this book. It could be when she’s a teenager, or and adult, or long after we are both gone and she’s an old woman.
If you are writing to score points with your kid now or in the future you should stop before even getting started. Abra will likely not even know this book exists for a very long time. If she does read it, I won’t begin to predict what kind of impact it will have on her.
There are no heroes or villains when a family separates. Whenever I shared the manuscript with someone, I would ask two questions: does it seem like I’m making myself out to be a victim; does it seem like I’m indicting Eloise.
In other, plainer words, just because Eloise chose to leave our marriage didn’t mean that I wasn’t equally responsible. Not only did I think that was the most productive way to approach my post-divorce life, but it also helped the book grow into a more fully realized account of the experience.
Part of the book records the dreams I began having after the separation. These dreams presented themselves as fully developed movies in modes and styles I’d studied in college.
When I began writing these poems, I didn’t know they would have a place in this book. I just thought I’d want to remember what was going on in my head, and it was important to stay on top of my mental health.
An odd fact coincided with these dreams. The first four years of Abra’s life, I had zero dreams. Not a single one. I wrote down the first one I had when I finally started dreaming again. It scared me, but wasn’t a nightmare. That’s the poem I’ve chosen to start the book. It might not be the most memorable, the strongest poem, but it became the door through which I saw the manuscript.
Before Abra, I dreamt about dying frequently, often in cartoonish, video game inspired ways. I remember a dream in which I repeatedly took a bullet to the next and had to choose to restart from the beginning of the dream, James Bond, Goldeneye style.
I’m still not entirely sure what was going in my head before or during the separation. Just like I’m not entirely sure where the marriage itself broke down. The book isn’t quite the blurred boundary between the dream world and the real world, though sometimes they are explicitly connected. I see it more as the brain working through a process and language to deal with the grief, shame, guilt, isolation–where every detailed can be scrutinized and dissected for meaning and still not necessarily lead you to the truth.