Elly McDonald

Writer

Where poems come from Pt.3 / Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. By Daffy Duck Pt.2

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In 1984 I wrote a poem I called ‘Tidal’ and submitted it to several publications simultaneously, as was my practice. (The odds against a poem being accepted were low and editorial decison-making was slow.) All four journals published it. How embarrassing.

‘Tidal’ was a love poem to my dad. My dad across that period spent hours fossicking on the rockpools at the local beach, looking for shards of willow-plate and fragments of other ceramics lost in C19th shipwrecks.

His pose bending over the rockpools reminded me of a framed print in his parents’ house, the house where he’d grown up, a famous Edwardian image of a woman beachcombing. (Dad named a later home ‘Beachcomber’.)

In ‘Tidal’, I combined that image with the image of my father seeking, seeking… and merged that with the image of his parents on their wedding day, his mother, Edie Gibson, looking young and lush. A Gibson girl.

Two years later, in 1986, I wrote ‘Father and Child’, a deliberate echo of ‘Tidal’, this time the love between father and daughter rather than son and mother. Both have an erotic charge in the last line, intentionally evoked by reference to touch.

‘Father and Child’ was written as an technical exercise, a conscious attempt at a ‘happy’, “life affirming” poem. But I wasn’t happy with it. My father seldom talked about his mother or his parents’ relationship, which I knew was violent. So I wrote the poem ‘Wedding Photo’, about a battered bride, at much the same time. There’s an earlier poem, ‘Mad Edie’, also about, duh, Edie.

(I knew my grandfather’s feelings for Edie were tender, too. As he lay dying, he told 15 y.o. me that I looked just like 14 y.o. Edie as he first met her.)

At the same time as ‘Wedding Photo’ and ‘Father and Child’ I wrote a poem I called ‘Possums’ about someone I’d trusted who turned into a goblin. It was a poem about emotional violence and fear.

That suite of poems put paid to my poem writing for a few decades. A bit before I wrote my first poems in 25 years, my sister took a portrait photo of me as a kind of water spirit / earth goddess. The Gibson Girl of ‘Tidal’ turned full circle.

I’ve written before about a day at poet Dorothy Hewett’s place where I overshared about my maternal grandparents (not Edie and Angus) and Dorothy turned to her husband and said: “How gothic.”

My sister spontaneously confided similar thoughts last week: “Both our grandfathers were so gothic. One lived in Miss Haversham’s house, the other was King Lear.”

So what’s this about? Honestly, I’m over people assuming they know what or whom I wrote about. Those people don’t know the names of the people who mattered most to me. It’s just a bit ‘You’re So Vain’. I bet you think this song is about you.

But you know what? Even if the song *were* about you, I own my experiences and memories. And anyone who feels otherwise can climb a rat’s arse.

Author: Elly McDonald

Australian-born, with English mother, has lived in several Australian cities and in London. Travelled widely. Way way back when, published widely as a poet and short story writer.

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