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The art of the Six-Word Memoir

The art of the Six-Word Memoir

By Arts Columnist Nancy Pincombe

Exercises in minimalism and brevity have long fascinated humans. How often have you been asked what you would take to a desert island? What music, book, food, which companion? In literature and communication, less is increasingly a requirement. Think of the “flash fiction” and postcard contests, our headlines and tweets. Increasingly, we have to pack a lot in to our text.

Danielle Arsenault and Eilis Carpentier asked young people to write six-word memoirs. These are on display in the kids’ section at the Gibsons’ Public Library. “Memoir” was loosely interpreted (these are kids after all). “Describe your life in six words” is more how it played out. These sorts of exercises harken back to the time Ernest Hemmingway was challenged to write his life’s story using just six words. He came back with the famous: “For sale; baby shoes, never worn.”

Once each student chose, pared, and edited their words, they were photographed using an Andy Warhol inspired filter, which was mounted in an empty CD case along with their printed text. Every photo is uniquely angled, some in profile, some just eyes, some that cut off the face in unexpected places. The effect is very cool. The text is fascinating. One looks for poignancy, cheekiness, layers of meaning, ambiguity. I wish I could quote them all here. My favourite that day (it might change, day to day) was “Why can’t I wear hats well?” by J.S. (grade 10) followed closely by “The sky is never the limit” by A.H. (grade 5). “I don’t like being left alone” by M.P. (grade 10) was haunting. “Ball and net, all I need” by A.R. (grade 5) was wonderfully succinct and a terrific metaphor. Really, each one deserves a little spotlight.

There are twenty-eight “memoirs” on the wall now, but soon there will be more. A free workshop is scheduled for Saturday April 18th from 1:30 to 3:00. Call the library 604-886-2130 to register. This is really fun and open to kids aged nine and up!

Speaking of poetry, because really, we were, get ready to attend the Spring Poetry Festival four Sundays in May (3, 10, 17, 24) at the Creek Gallery (behind the Gumboot Restaurant) starting at 1:00 p.m. There are thirty-seven poets signed up. Each poet will read from the work of another poet as well, giving the event a wonderfully wide reach. Every afternoon will include some live music. This sounds hard to beat. By donation. Laurie 604-885-8450 for more info.

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