The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Magnificent Mary Karr

       I saw Mary Karr last week, and am going to begin with how she ended. Here is the poem Mary Karr recited--by heart--after an audience member told her she carried a copy of the poem in her wallet for years.


I have this son who assembled inside me
during Hurricane Gloria. In a flash, he appeared,
in a heartbeat. Outside, pines toppled.

Phone lines snapped and hissed like cobras.
Inside, he was a raw pearl: microscopic, luminous.
Look at the muscled obelisk of him now

pawing through the icebox for more grapes.
Sixteen years and not a bone broken,
not a single stitch. By his age,

I was marked more ways, and small.
He's a slouching six foot three,
with implausible blue eyes, which settle

on the pages of Emerson's "Self Reliance"
with profound belligerence.
A girl with a navel ring

could make his cell phone go brr,
or an Afro'd boy leaning on a mop at Taco Bell --
creatures strange as dragons or eels.

Balanced on a kitchen stool, each gives counsel
arcane as any oracle's. Bruce claims school
is harshing my mellow. Case longs to date

a tattooed girl, because he wants a woman
willing to do stuff she'll regret.
They've come to lead my son

into his broadening spiral.
Someday soon, the tether
will snap. I birthed my own mom

into oblivion. The night my son smashed
the car fender, then rode home
in the rain-streaked cop car, he asked, Did you

and Dad screw up so much?
He'd let me tuck him in,
my grandmother's wedding quilt

from 1912 drawn to his goateed chin. Don't
blame us
, I said. You're your own
idiot now.
 At which he grinned.

The cop said the girl in the crimped Chevy
took it hard. He'd found my son
awkwardly holding her in the canted headlights,

where he'd draped his own coat
over her shaking shoulders. My fault,
he'd confessed right off.

Nice kid, said the cop.

This is the pose she did after I said, "You're
61 years old? You look gorgeous!  I hate you."

         Here are some quotes of Karr's that I jotted down:

  • She was asked by her agent? publisher? where she wanted to do a book signing? She--for sure--wanted to do Boston, because she had taught classes there. She said, "I went there for the signing, and three people showed up."
  • "A lot of literature is about longing."
  • "Memoir, if done right, is knocking yourself out with your own fist."
  • "A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it."
  • "I remember myself as smart. There was no evidence I was smart."
  • (In writing memoir) "You get ambushed by the truth."
  • (As a memoirist) "My goal is to make you feel something."
  • "I'm an inefficient writer but a skillful editor."
  • When writing one of her memoirs, she threw away 1,200 finished pages... "they went to live with Jesus."
  • "I spend a lot of time in my head. I have a big inner life."
  • "What is the difference between autobiography and memoir? Well, memoir sounds so much more French. Mem-wah."
  • "The ass-whipping is easy to write. It's hope that's hard to write. Hope and love are hard to write."  
What writer would you most like to see in person, and why?


  1. Wasn't she fantastic? Her personna was so real, and she immediately connected with the audience. You pretty much covered everything. Great journalism, Sioux. That poem is phenomenal, isn't it?

  2. Linda--She WAS fantastic. And thanks. And yes, that poem is incredible. I'm so glad we went...

  3. Sorry I missed her. I have so much going on and Katie was with me that night, so didn't want to get a babysitter, etc. But I am going to read that book LIT you recommended to me! I would also love to see how a great speaker connects with the audience as Linda said above. So hopefully she will come to St. Louis again. Anyway, you asked who we would most like to meet--this is hard for me. The first person that popped into my mind is J.K. Rowling. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I feel like even though she has had all this success, she is still so real and understands struggle. BUT I also would like to sit down and chat with Stephen King because his book ON WRITING is the one that made the hugest influence on me as a writer.

    Sioux: Also wanted to say: Thank you for all your support of me on my blog and at WOW! you are the best.

    1. Margo--I encourage you for purely selfish reasons. If you write more, I get to enjoy more of the fruits of your labor... but you're quite welcome.

      I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and I'd love to listen to Stephen King talk. I'd really love to see King and his son (Joe Hill) together. THAT would be a fun event.

  4. Loved that poem, Sioux, thanks so much for sharing! And I, too, have wondered what the difference is between memoir and autobiography. I'm glad she cleared that up. ;-)

    I've been lucky enough to see the writer I'd most like to see--Neil Gaiman--and he was every bit as interesting and entertaining and engaging as his books. But a very close second would be Anne Lamott, whom I've also seen, and enjoyed every word of wisdom, writing and otherwise, that tumbled from her mouth.

    1. Cathy--So if I read only one book by Gaiman, what should it be?

      Anne Lamott IS a delight to see... and "tumbled" is the perfect verb when it comes to her.

  5. I'm glad to have been there too! Nice notes you took.

    1. Lynn--We were a fearsome fivesome, with Marcia and her hubby...

  6. Stephen King. I'm pretty sure it's his voice I hear in my head.

    1. MZ--You hear King's voice in your head? Don't read his son's work ...I cannot get a couple of his books out of my brain.

  7. As Cathy already mentioned, I'd love to see Anne Lamott. She is one of my idols.


    1. Pat--I think a lot of writers worhship at the Anne altar... I know I genuflect every time her name is mentioned.

  8. I have (perhaps temporarily) copied your citing of Mary's saying on/ about memoir/ memoirists into my working copy of my own memoir. Wondering (if I later needed to, or thought I did) if they could be used as epigraphs? Would I need your and Mary's ? I found you on Claudia's Page blogs and subscribed to yours.

    1. Patricia--I am not sure what you would need to do to include Mary Karr's poem... Get her permission? Simply give her credit? I don't know. Perhaps going online and researching it will give you the information you need?

      Thanks for joining in and good luck. Writing a memoir can be quite healing. Keep in touch to let me know of your progress... Memoir is my favorite genre to read as well as to write.

  9. An author I'd like to see in person? I don't know. It seems wrong. Like reading a book written by an actor.

    1. Val--Oh, there's actors I'd love to see as the author of books. Like Viggo Mortensen...


Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by...