The imperfection of healing : crafting lyric poetry from personal family challenge : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Creative Writing at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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How can lyric poetry be used to communicate a father’s changing perceptions and emotional growth in caring for a child with autism? In writing about family health issues, we face many challenges as poets. Given the very particular nature of any given health situation, such as autism, we face the challenge of lifting the purely personal into one with broader significance. And given the entanglement of such experience with the trajectory of the circumstances, we face the challenge of engaging with that narrative without allowing it to subsume the impulses and pleasures of the lyric. The key questions that I wish to investigate are, firstly, how can we write autobiographical lyric poetry from these intensely personal family events while evading polemic or tragedy-based narratives that lack the nuance of the experience? Secondly, how can we create the emotional distance from the circumstances that inspired the poems to incorporate important narrative elements within the lyric, which elevates experience and perception? Finally, how can we create a narrative sequence from individual lyrical poems, in particular the trajectory of the narrative journey of the parent learning to deal with the challenges of a child’s health problems, be they mental or physical? I would contend that, especially for these works, the boundary between narrative and lyric elements is often blurred. This thesis is comprised of two parts: a critical essay (30%) and my own creative work, a manuscript of original poetry (70%). I am interested in several ways that poets create two sorts of distance. One I am calling an "emotional distance” in that they use various techniques to forestall sentimentality or conversely, the development of anger narratives that lack nuance. The other is what I am calling “aesthetic distance” in the sense that they use other formal strategies to depart from a narrow investment in the circumstances of the poems in order to link them to broader issues of significance, a form of moving from the particular to the universal. April Salzano’s collection Turn Left Before Morning will be discussed as an example of poems that lack emotional distance, leaving the narrator portrayed as a victim. I will then discuss in detail how aspects of emotional and aesthetic distance are successfully manipulated by three other poets within the their poems and collections: Anne Kennedy’s Sing-song, Siobhan Harvey’s Cloudboy and Jessica Le Bas’ Walking to Africa. I contend that for these poems that are based in autobiographical narratives, the emotional heart of the poems must remain consistent to the struggle of parenting a special needs child. However, while the lyric should gain prominence in individual poems, a narrative sequence and a coherent tone across poems can be developed within the overall collection. The challenge has been to bring these techniques into my own work, which comprises the creative portion—and not only to balance detail with lyrical impulse but also accomplish a nuanced portrait of my son. While I prefer to reject the tragedy based narrative, I have tried to portray the some of the nuance of parenting a special needs child. The aim was to create a unified collection of autobiographical lyric poetry that communicates the unique angle of vision of this father of an autistic child.
Autism in children, Families, Poetry, Autobiography in literature, Salzano, April. Turn left before morning, Kennedy, Anne, 1959-. Sing-song, Harvey, Siobhan, 1973-. Cloudboy, Le Bas, Jessica. Walking to Africa, Criticism and interpretation