Jim Murdoch wrote a poem in response to my post, Clouds.

I have been on an online colloquium for the past two weeks discussing a paper on the issue of boundary violations among those who work psychoanalytically.

In many ways the topic skirts around one of the greatest taboos, that of incest. In his poem Jim explores his response to the experience.

Thanks, Jim, for giving me the okay to post this poem. As I’ve seen from the recent closed colloquium, incest is still one of the great unspeakables.

Back then she didn’t have the words;
it was all ‘stuff’ and ‘things’
but mostly blanks.

Now she knows all the proper words,
every euphemism
and dirty word.

The proper words don’t sound right though;
there was nothing proper
in what he did

just a lot of stuff with things and
stuffing things in places
without real names.

Nothing is real without its name.
Back then she learned the names
Pain, Guilt and Shame

because what happened then was real
but it only became
real when she said

its name out loud for the first time.

Jim Murdoch
Wednesday, 04 May 2011

29 thoughts on “Lacunae”

  1. Thanks Lucy chili. I've checked out the link as you suggest and you're right. It comes up as invalid. I don't know why I can access it automatically from my computer, which led me to believe it was accessible and valid for all. I'll take the link off. thanks.

  2. but it only became
    real when she said

    its name out loud for the first time.

    And how many times do I wish I'd never said it out loud. I'm still trying to stuff it all back in the box of forgetfulness as I don't think I can deal with it at all.

    But that doesn't detract from the power of the poem and what it reveals about our hidden world.

  3. Thanks to all who have commented so far. Like all poems this has a bit of history. It started with a word. A lacuna is a gap in a manuscript, inscription, text, painting, or musical work. I found it in a post by my friend Jennifer Trinkle called ‘Reconcilliation’ back in February. It’s a word she’s fond of because she’s used it a couple of times before and it obviously resonates with her. Jennifer, like Lis, focuses her writing on creative nonfiction. It’s not all she writes but a good chunk of it is. Anyway, for three months this word has been a locus around which I’ve been buzzing. Good words should not be squandered so I was keen not to use it too quickly and waste it. Okay, it’s just a word and I could write a dozen poems incorporating the word ‘lacunae’ or some variant thereof but I also believe in the law of diminishing returns and so I bided my time.

    When I read Lis’s post, ‘Clouds’, unlike most people who chose to respond emotionally to the subject matter I decided to look at the writing. The text was just over 200 words long and I called it “flash autobiography” – no idea if the term has been used before (and, for once, I didn’t check) but it seemed appropriate. Because of the brevity I said, “[I]f it’s going to be this short you ought to go the whole hog and hack away until all you have is a poem.” Of course, having said that (and being well aware that poetry is not Lis’s forte) I found myself drawn to demonstrate what I meant.

    Words are very powerful. I think we sometimes forget just how powerful they are. Once a word has been said it cannot be unsaid. So say with care. That goes for words like ‘love’ and words like ‘incest’ – they come with a whole world of associations especially if you have personal experiences to draw on. We cannot not read into things. In my poem I do not say what happens. Those who are aware of Lis’s post will assume that I’m talking about the events she described. I am not. I am not even talking about incest specifically. There is nothing here to suggest that it is not a wife being routinely abused by her husband. The key here is the naming. I saw a programme on TV after I wrote this poem – I forget now what it was about – but someone is being accused of something and the accuser is told, “You have to say it. You have to say the words.” I’ve heard similar before, like at a viewing of a corpse, some places require that you say out loud who the person was. Why is it that when you stand up at an AA meeting you have to introduce yourself with the words, “Hi, I’m such and such and I’m an alcoholic”? If something is real can words make it more real?

    There are very few sex acts that don’t come with a euphemism or two attached. I can’t think of one for incest though; it always gets its proper name and, of course, I play on the word ‘proper’ in the poem; ‘Pain, Guilt and Shame’ all get capitalised because that’s what you do with proper names.

    I grew up in a generation where you didn’t talk about a lot of things. Anyone who remembers the comedian Les Dawson’s character ‘Ada’ will know what I’m on about, the women who when they get to certain words that they don’t feel they can say out loud simply mouth them; it’s somehow not as bad if you don’t say the words. These are the blanks in the conversation.

    In the first section of the poem it’s ‘word’ that is repeated; it the second half, it’s ‘name’. Not all words are names. Names are personal. What happens here is personal.

  4. We just returned from Hawaii where we learned that, among all the taboos such as stepping on the king's shadow or women prohibited from eating bananas, incest was not among them, particularly among the Alii or royalty.

  5. Yes it is a powerful poem. It reaches those corners of the mind that haunt one. Speaking in some form creates peace of mind, I think.
    On another note I am interested in the colloquium you speak of. Could you email the details of it if it is not possible to put it up here?

  6. We know how hard it is to speak about these things, Marie. We know and yet it's hard to name them. The hushed whisper is about as much as we can manage. Thanks, Marie.

  7. If only I were a poet, Jim, I'd write more into the emotional essence of these events, but I can only write as I do for all my imperfections.

    It's fascinating to read about your process here and I'm pleased for the link to Jennifer Trinkle's post.

    Words are tricky beasts, resonant with meaning depending on their location relative to one another. I do not try to think too much while I write.

    I try to let it flow and afterward when I edit I avoid too much pruning as a rule because I think sometimes it kills the life of whatever it is I'm trying to say. If I were a poet I'm sure I'd be far better at pruning.
    Thanks, Jim

  8. I have read there are cultures beyond the western world, Robert, which are less concerned about incest.

    So many of these issues are socially constructed and relate to civilizing influences and power.

    I hope you enjoyed your time in Hawaii.

    Thanks, Robert.

  9. I’m reading a book about, of all things, werewolves at the moment, Lis, the first I’ve ever read and, very likely, the last I’ll ever read. My only experience of werewolves is in films and on TV where we’re outsiders viewing the goings on and even though the actors work hard to add some depth to their characters I can’t say I’ve ever really suffered along with them. This book is in the first person and so you might think it would work better but I’m still not feeling it or maybe I am and I’m unable to relate to the feelings being described; I think that’s more like it. That’s why in my poetry especially I’m interested in touching people. If there’s one thing my poetry gets criticised for it’s the fact that it’s too cerebral. It’s a thought but I’m not sure it’s necessarily true. I don’t see meaning as the sole preserve of the mind. This poem is deliberately vague about the specifics forcing the reader to engage, to put themselves in that situation. I did consider writing it in the first person but there’s a horrible tendency for people to read poems like that as confessional and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong message.

    I am nowhere near as careful with my words as you might imagine nor do I prune heavily; I structure, there’s a difference. And that goes for my prose too. I’ve been writing poetry for thirty-five years now and I pretty much nail it first time if I’m going to nail it at all. In the notepad beside my desk just now I have fifteen poems scribbled down over the past few weeks. I’ll maybe be able to do something with one or perhaps two of them. It’s not that the rest are that awful and twenty years ago I might have been pleased with them enough to keep them but I hold myself to a higher standard these days: does what I’m saying in the poem need to be said or is it just covering old ground?

    Allen Ginsberg is famous for his adage: “First thought, best thought,” and although I’m not fond of most of his poetry I do think he has a point that ought not to be dismissed out of hand. You yourself know how much parapraxes can reveal about how we truly feel about something and even my poems, which appear structured and considered, are formed around gut responses. I probably wrote the first four stanzas to this piece in maybe two minutes, probably less. The last three I thought about a little because I wasn’t sure that I’d not said enough with the four but I, again, went with my gut; the poem felt incomplete. The meaning of the poem never changed from first draft to finished product. The precise wording did but only a little. I don’t like the line ‘every euphemism’ because it adds another syllable but most people say ‘every’ with only two stresses and so I left it be. Likewise the four lines ending ‘names’, ‘name’, ‘names’ and ‘Shame’ bothered me a little but when you read the poem properly the end rhymes don’t stick out like sore thumbs and so, again, I left it.

  10. I was once in a writing class with a woman who wrote about vampires, Jim. She was the only one in the class I could not take seriously.

    She took her vampire stories seriously and told us that she did well with her writing. She even scored interest from an American publisher. But vampires and were wolves do not do much for me unless they're covered in layers and layers of meaning.

    Thanks for this, Jim and for detailing more on your poetry writing process.

    I agree with Ginsberg's comment about the first thought being the best. I think it's pretty true.

    We can overwork our stuff and often that initial impetus is the best.

    Thanks again, Jim.

  11. Thanks, Antares. I recognise how hard it can be to respond to and to make sense of some of these awful experiences. It's good to know you visited.

  12. I have been gone lately dealing with (good) real life stuff, so I've been distant and bad with commenting, but once again I feel that there isn't a lot of me I can bring to this comment concerning this topic. Wishing you well and looking forward to reconnecting a bit when I am able.


  13. Tracy, I too am having a hard time getting into the blogosphere at the moment. My thesis has taken over.

    By all means reconnect when you are able, as will I.

    Thanks, Tracy.

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