Friday Writing Experiment No. 3: Variations on the Form of ‘I Remember’

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 selected from Joe:

I remember chain letters.
I remember Peter Pan collars.
I remember mistletoe.
I remember Judy Garland singing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ (so sad) in Meet Me in St Louis.
I remember Judy Garland’s red shoes in The Wizard of Oz.
I remember Christmas tree lights reflected on the ceiling.
I remember Christmas cards arriving from people my parents forgot to send Christmas cards to.

And do watch this trailer too.

I Remembers 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., elsewhere in Brainard’s poem: 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 – a bridge teacher, references to movie stars, the clothes, hardship and simple pleasures – 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 – what arises arises

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

* I don’t remember (good for surfacing secrets and lies and subtexts and regrets and all that other good story stuff)

* 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.

(And all credit to Joe Brainard and his own ‘I Remember’, now in its own very handsome UK edition.)



  1. Patsy

    I especially like the idea of writing “I remembers” for fictional characters. Not that I have any fictional characters, but it seems like a way to tie them to a genuine life.

  2. Pingback: Friday Writing Experiment No. 3: Variations on the Form of ‘I Remember’ | Andrew Wille | Your Story Matters |

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