Saturday, 27 February 2016
In the past two months I've written an article and a seminar paper on creative historiography and the process of crafting fact and fiction in my poetry. For me, both of these pieces hinge on one topic, mermaids. While working as a library assistant (the first time around) in 2002 I came across an old & falling apart copy of Sea Enchantress, a fascinating book that charts the evolution of mermaid myths across continents and centuries. With an idea for a poetry sequence already in mind, this book eventually provided the needed push to start putting my mermaid poems onto paper.
Fourteen years and many poems later, I still flick through my copy of Sea Enchantress with wonderment. No matter which page I turn to, information leaps up and my mind starts to make links between historical documented sightings of mermaids and the more recent fictional sightings. This 2013 'mockumentary', although impressive, would be much more convincing without the two men filming it being so fake in their astonishment!
The article, for a creative journal, and the paper required me to reach back into my notes and memory from the early beginnings of the sequence of poems, and I was pleased to find that the material for the writing felt as rich as when I first began. Now researching in and living near London, the mermaid sequence has formed part of my PhD in poetry, and along the way it has taken me to far-off reaches such as the isles of Iona, Kerrera, and Mull in the inner Hebrides as well as the isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, trips that provided endless inspiration already fuelled by an obsession with mermaids in my childhood (albeit those of Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida).
It is comforting to find this tangible through-line to my past and I am amazed to sense that the magic surrounding the possibility of mermaids (however remote) still has the power to hold my writing attention. The act of writing the article, on the process of keeping creative notebooks for long poetry projects, renewed the value I place on my current creative journals. Likewise, the seminar paper has helped me to structure the method I take in researching other poetry sequences that seek to reconstruct events from the past, both factual and those based more loosely on fiction.