“Think small,” poet Richard Hugo advises. Think scene. The scene, its story, is all.
In his memoir The Bend for Home, Dermot Healy writes, “Family stories were told so often that I always thought I was there.” Poet Naomi Shihab Nye, in the concluding three lines of her poem “Storyteller,” says, “We dropped our troubles / into the lap of the storyteller / and they turned into someone else’s.”
I grew up listening to such stories in the parlor of my grandparents’ farmhouse. Sunday afternoons, kinfolk would drop by: Great aunts dipping Garrett Snuff and spitting into emptied tin cans of Libby’s Corn stuffed with newsprint torn from the Wood County Democrat. The part-time preacher from the Sharon Baptist Church just stopping in to say he had missed not seeing Mr. Bob and Miss Viola in church the past few Sundays. Were they feeling poorly? A neighbor lady from down the sandy road a ways hoping to sit a spell, appreciate a piece of chocolate pie, a glass of iced tea. These were stories shaped through the telling, stories shaping the teller, defining both teller and listener. “Remember who you are,” my grandmother would say. “Don’t forget who you come from.”
Healy, Dermot. The Bend for Home. Harcourt, 2000.
Hugo, Richard. “Writing Off The Subject.” The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, by Hugo, Norton, pp. 3-10.
Nye, Naomi Shihab. “Storyteller.” Transfer, by Naomi Shihab Nye, BOA, 2011, p. 26.