A poetic memoir
Poetic Book Tours presents a guest post on writing, by poet and memoirist, Sherry Quan Lee.
Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die is a memoir in poetic form. It is the author’s journey from being a mixed-race girl who passed for white to being a woman in her seventies who understands and accepts her complex intersectional identity; and no longer has to imagine love.
It is a follow-up to the author’s previous memoir (prose), Love Imagined: a mixed-race memoir, A Minnesota Book Award finalist.
The Writing Process by Sherry Quan Lee, guest post
A student once said to me that she appreciated me telling
the class to keep everything. Keep each
and every draft of your writing, your manuscript. Did I say that?
Actually, I save nothing.
Okay, next to nothing. When did I
start letting go? It’s not about keeping what brings me joy. My writing isn’t joyful. Although, someone once said it had sass.
I have always decluttered.
Every two or three months I purge-this includes not only things, but sometimes
people (sometimes they purge me). But
since the Pandemic, actually even before, I started a momentous purge—maybe it
was when I turned 70 and knew any day now could be my last and why make my
children go through my things, things they wouldn’t want.
My office files are fairly pristine. Sorted, labeled, shelved: insurance, taxes, car, condo,
publications—mine and those of my friends.
Yet, as the piles of my essays and poems thin, I am heart struck to
notice a journey of words that repeat, that sail forth, that bring me to my
writing/life today at the age of 73.
Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die was
published March 2021. Now that’s a scary title if not understood as a
metaphor. The mock-up of the cover has
the sub-title in small font size. What
does that mean? Are we afraid of
death? Actually, the title came from a
poem within the manuscript and it stuck, the line in the title, not the
poem. It’s a metaphor. Clarissa Pinkola Estés said What must
I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? I say, what
must I let go of to generate love, be love, give love, get love.
As I fumble through boxes of what I have not yet been able
to discard, I discover a few poems that haven’t yet found their way to the
trash. One poem in particular, but there
are others, starts out like this:
“I woke up knowing I was dead. The first thing I’ve been sure of all my
life. The marks stretched, some visible
and some invisible. Stretched past
cardboard boxes. None of them
empty, Each box filled with an arm or a
The two-page poem contain boxes each labeled by a decade.
It ends with: “This was love. She had finally gotten what she wanted. But she was no longer who she was. She didn’t
The poem was dated October 15, 1999. Only three years after I earned an MFA. There
are hand-written revisions. There is a
short version printed in red. A note
says Vulva Riot. There is a chorus that
reads: “Stretch marks, mark time,
highway marks, passing marks, remarks, earmarks, market, marker, question
marks, magic markers, grave markers, stretch marks.”
Sometimes we don’t know why we say things, do things, save
things—write things. But there is
significance to our actions. I am glad I
saved this poem. If I had come across it earlier, it would be in my book. It would be the Introduction, the
Foreword. I am going to edit the
poem. This poem will not be
discarded. There are no rules I told my
students. Save all your drafts or
don’t. Discard everything so future
generations won’t be bothered, or save what has been your life line and hope someone
will embrace it.
choose a word, such as mark and explore it and all related words
by sound, by meaning, or both. Create a
chorus/a short verse. Let it be the
pattern that emerges. How do you fill the
empty spaces in-between? Are they boxes
marked by decades such as:
“One box, marked 1953-1963, contained Hostess Cup
Cakes. Campbell’s Chicken Noodle
Soup. Barbie dolls. Captain, May I. Sorry.
Sugar and Spice. Axel and His
Dog. Captain Kangaroo. Nancy Drew. Bobbsey Twins. The Little Engine That Could. Pop Beads,
Roller Skates. Crinolines. Hula
Hoops. Red Rover. Pony Tails.
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Kool Aide. “Go Tell Aunt Rhody the Ol’
Gray Goose Is Dead”. The Salvation Army Book Store on Nicollet Island. Government
Surplus. A metal Grocery Cart. Trading Cards. Air Raid Drills. Standish Elementary School. Woolworths.
I probably did tell the student to save all of her
writing. I probably meant it. Much of my writing, however, my former life
was left behind when I made, yet another relationship move. This one sudden. Sometimes things aren’t saved because we
can’t take them with us. But sometimes,
a book authored and signed by you to another poet will show up on a Google
search and you know not everything is lost, it just might have found a new
Sherry Quan Lee
June 26, 2021
Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer. Also, It's Monday: What Are You Reading, and Sunday Salon