We all love ‘I Remember’ exercises. Based on the poem by Joe Brainard, and popularised by the likes of Jack Collom, these pieces of writing simply start each line with the words ‘I remember’ then evoke some memory. Some lines from Joe, as selected by Jack in his and Sheryl Noethe’s excellent Poetry Everywhere:
I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.
I remember how much I used to stutter.
I remember the first time I saw television. Lucille Ball was taking ballet lessons.
I remember Aunt Cleora who lived in Hollywood. Every year for Christmas she sent my brother and me a joint present of one book.
I remember a very poor boy who had to wear his sister’s blouses to school.
They rank among my favourite forms of writing, because:
1. the writing tends to be natural and easy, unforced and uncluttered – writing from the heart, writing from the gut
2. the writing tends to be concrete, vivid, specific (e.g., with Brainard: Dorothy Collins’ teeth, very light faded blue jeans, ice cubes in the aquarium)
3. the writing usually shows rather than tells (the contents of Brainard’s version – the bridge teacher, the references to movie stars, the clothes, the poverty – conjure up a whole time and place, for example)
4. they are economical – each line or section stops when it has to stop, and then on to the next …
5. I love lists (if you couldn’t tell)
6. the form is regarded as both poem and/or prose and/or either/neither, and I love writing that plays with or maybe ignores categories, and simply enjoys being good writing
7. the process of free association often takes us to places we never expected
8. the simplest things are often the best
9. repeating myself – the writing is natural and easy, unforced and uncluttered
There is of course a risk that this sort of writing unearths deep, sad memories. Maybe that’s not a risk. Maybe we need to confront those memories from time to time? But maybe, unless that is its purpose, we also need to set limits around that sort of writing (or have a therapist to hand). I often suggest that writers focus on, e.g., happy memories. The tone in the writing often ends up being quite soft and nostalgic, anyway.
So: this week, do an ‘I Remember’. But also introduce some twists, or focuses. For example:
* Remember your schooldays, a holiday, Christmas, a wedding, a love affair
* Remember your first times
* Remember your blessings (count them, even)
* Remember your failures (but maybe limit them … and only if you next:)
* Remember your successes (unlimited, and remembered after your failures – let’s end on a high, please)
* And maybe do ‘I remember’ for characters in your fictions? This can involve a slight shift in the writing, and perhaps a bit more thought than some of the more natural, I-centred versions, but it can also be a good way to graft some of your fictional content on to your natural, easy, remembering voice
* And invent your own rememberings too! (Give us some prompts and ideas too, if you like.)
You can probably write forever this way. You might want to set some limits (time; focuses). Or you might not.
Enjoy! These pieces really are some of the most fun in writing.