October 27, 2020

The Intersection of Memoir and Poetry

This post is inspired by Jacqueline Woodson, author of many books, including her memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.

In addition to teaching in our upcoming boot camp (September 22-October 27), Jacqueline is a guest this week on my podcast, “Write-minded,” where she shared her thoughts about memoir and poetry.

She said:

When we’re writing memoir, we’re writing the small moments. When we think about memory, memory does not come in a linear narrative. Memory comes to us with lots of white space around it—and that’s where the poetry is.

I found this both enlightening and freeing. It’s hard to write a linear narrative, and not enough teachers of memoir offer freedom and space to consider the white space and how to handle that part of your memory—the parts you may not remember, the scenes that must be reconstructed, the moments that need to be pulled and prodded until they’re on the page and “good enough,” which in our classes we qualify as what’s emotionally true.

Learning about the intersection of poetry and memoir doesn’t mean you must turn your memoir into a memoir-in-verse. Opening your mind and heart to the power of individual words just makes you more mindful. Reading someone like Jacqueline, who’s so intentionally spare and who packs so much meaning into such small spaces, can challenge you to do more with fewer words. Not every memoirist needs to be spare in their approach, but all memoirists can improve their craft by learn to better writers by becoming more merciless where excess words and overly flowery language and redundancy are concerned.

Reading poetry will help you become a more diligent wordsmith. Considering the intersection of your own writing with poetry will support you to come to the page with more intentionality. Even if this kind of writing is as far as can be from your own style, there’s a lot of value in adopting a spirit of mindfulness with your words and cultivating a practice that acknowledges just how much each one matters.


If you’re intrigued by this topic and as inspired as we are by Jacqueline Woodson, we invite you to check out our 6-consecutive-week ELEVATE YOUR MEMOIR BOOT CAMP starting on September 22, 2020.

In Week 6, Jacqueline will teach about poetry and memoir, and give tips for making meaning and spending time mining the importance of the small moments.

Check out our BOOT CAMP (September 22-October 27). We hope you’ll join us for this topic and more—and discover new ways to ELEVATE YOUR MEMOIR.   

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