Poetic truths, Helen Heath

In a Slant Light: A Poet’s Memoir
Cilla McQueen
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781877578717

When I read Elizabeth Knox’s personal essays The Love School, in 2008, I finally realised that a writer’s past is whatever they say it is. I was exhilarated by this belated epiphany; it opened up so many possibilities and provided a philosophical foundation for me to write my début collection of poetry. Of course, poetry (or poetic narrative-memoir) is not always fully confessional or autobiographical, even if the narrator tells us it is. In our postmodern world, the Lyric “I” is not always singular. We know memory is unreliable and malleable. We know that the old singular “Truth” becomes multiple truths, which can provide more insight into a life than the singular. In a Slant Light opens with Cilla McQueen’s first “memory” at six months old – being held up to the window to see snowfall. This leads us, the readers, to expect parts of this memoir to be imagined, or at least to contain memories reclaimed from family stories. My expectation was that this strategy would lend many possibilities to the narrative of her life.

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