Dona Munker: Writing a Biography

      ~ Writing a Biography ~
      About Writing Biography and Imagining a Life


July 7, 2017

Tags: Andrea L. Fry, Biography and imagination, The writing life

Dumpdiggers, by Rob Campbell
  Every so often something comes along to remind me that this blog is about more than just writing a biography. It's also about using what we know (not only from research but from life) to imagine other lives: lives that actually happened, lives that were part of history. To me, it's one of the most satisfying things about writing biography.

  The title poem of The Bottle Diggers, a new collection by the poet Andrea Fry, blew me away because it so perfectly evokes what trying to do that is like. Biographers, too, dig in libraries and archives to resurrect, if we can, the intimate quotidian details of our subjects' lives. Wondering what really happened, wondering what it all means, we turn the detritus they left behind over and over in our minds until finally we can't resist trying to capture the absent owners through the alchemy of language, memory, and our own experience.

The Bottle Diggers

We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers,
  ghosts, giants, old men, young men,
   wives, widows, brothers-in-law.
     But always meeting ourselves.

             —James Joyce

Away from the highway in the thick of leaves
we stumble on rubble, the foundation of a house.
We scan the field for its onetime dump,

for the subtle rise of hidden shapes, ground draped
like the top of a pie. We walk through ourselves,
search for bottles from another time, with boots and sticks

we loosen the dirt from glinting heels and collars
that stud the soil. Driven to find just one vessel intact,
we sink to our knees to free each glimmer.

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Earth rises around us as if we, too, were broken glass
or sullied china cups with yellow stems prancing around
the rim. One by one we free each remnant and hold it up

to catch the sun. We keep digging, but never find
a bottle whole. So we name this place heartbreak dump.
We name this place always meeting ourselves.

We find the blob-top, cold and fat with emerald lip.
A tapered gin that leans like an amber mummy.
The bromo with a syrupy essence, sealed with scab of cork.

The punt mark's seamless body, spilling down
to a jagged base, prized
For that fundamental scar.

© 2017 by Andrea Fry. Published by permission of the author.

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        The disciple of a famous sculptor came upon his master carving an elephant from a huge, shapeless chunk of stone. "Master," cried the disciple, "What splendor! What realism! What insight! How do you do it?" "Simple," replied the sculptor. "You just cut away everything that isn't elephant."

        Stalking the Elephant is a blog about creating an elephant from a chunk of stone, a.k.a. writing a biography.

        It's also about the biographer's writing life (well, mine, anyway) and a work in progress, SARA AND ERSKINE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE. This is an intimate reconstruction of the life of SARA BARD FIELD, a World War One-era minister's wife, suffragist, and poet, and her extraordinary affair with an outspoken attorney, philosophical anarchist, and Renaissance man CHARLES ERSKINE SCOTT WOOD.

    Subscribing is easy.

        This couple takes up a lot of time (not to mention a lot of oxygen), and since I don't have a regular posting schedule, the best way to receive updates is to sign up to be notified when I post something new.

         Here's how: On the blog page, click on the RSS button of your browser. (In Firefox: Go to the Bookmarks menu and select "Subscribe to This Page.") You can then check to see if there's been an update in the RSS feed of your browser's toolbar.

    Visit the RESOURCES page and take advantage of a growing list of links, blogs, and books for anyone interested in biography and writing lives.

      Sidebar Photo Credit: Elephant Country Web

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