Creative nonfiction as poetry: Thanks for the vinegar

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Before I completed my Masters, I had no interest in writing creative nonfiction. It looked complicated and far too journalistic for my writing talents.

It came as a surprise then to learn that some of my personal writing projects already experimented within this form.

Creative nonfiction is more than literary journalism

Creative nonfiction which is sometimes called narrative nonfiction or literary nonfiction encompasses more than journalism stories.

Creative Nonfiction Journalism articles
Literary journalism is just one aspect of Creative Nonfiction

Image by Pexels C0 @ Pixabay.com

While its application does give newsworthy stories a raw, narrative emotional power, creative nonfiction dips into a spectrum of other formats which include:

  • Memoir,
  • Essays,
  • Real life short stories,
  • Travel writing,
  • Biographies,
  • Cinema, and
  • Poetry.

And it is this last expression, poetry, where I see my earlier intersection with creative nonfiction.

What is creative nonfiction?

Lee Gutkind, lauded as the “godfather behind creative nonfiction” wrote an excellent New York Times bestseller called, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. This book is now my bible to creative nonfiction. In it, Lee describes the goal of creative nonfiction to:

make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy. But the stories are true.

Since embracing creative nonfiction as an entertaining way of crafting real stories, I’ve discovered that there are real stories wanting to burst from the closet of my grey matter.

Poetry as creative nonfiction

One such story remembers a time in my youth when I would run into the ocean without any second thoughts. The story revealed itself in poetic form during an experiment in my writing journal two years ago.

Aside from recalling a moment in my life when my mortality was in question, this poem also reflects on change and regret.

To preserve my friend’s privacy, her name was altered slightly. I don’t think there is anything in this poem that will cause her to want to hit me over the head.

Interestingly, when I approached her about publishing the poem and what name to use, she mentioned a friend of hers who carried me on the beach that day.

I am embarrassed to say that I have no recollection of his kindness and help. However, this poem is as much for him as it is for ‘Justine’ and those who fussed over my well-being and brought the vinegar.

Thanks for the vinegar

The ground was damp as we

opened the caravan door

the evening storm had vanished

just like the week before.

The day was ours to conquer, and like

every day at the beach

a dip in the sea was expected

even when too far to reach.

With sunscreen on our bodies, and

our togs snug about our hips

we headed down to the ocean

with no care for rips.

As our fate would have it

the tide was full and calm

it washed gently over the shell grit

tuning our ears to nature’s psalm.

I was a summer mermaid

swimming in the sea

holidays were fun times

there was no stopping me.

My favourite place was Seaforth

it was quaint but never boorish

I’d swim about my father’s line

when he went out to fish.

The last time it was Armstrong

where a friend invited me

to come and enjoy the sunshine

and sea with her family.

We ran into the ocean with

the salty spray around our knees

we’d brought along a floating bed

to sit on when we pleased.

We splashed about like children

cooling each other down

we screamed and laughed as we

mucked about like a pair of clowns.

The water grew around me

until I was waist deep

when something sharp, electrifying

stung me on my feet.

My hand darted into the water

to swipe the annoyance away

I wasn’t going to let the sea lice

ruin this glorious day.

My leg was not so lucky for

it was in the way

as searing pain fired up my limb

and hand that had to stray.

My friend kept coming toward me

with laughter on her face

the water splashed around her hips

as she began a chase.

‘Justine get out of the water,’

I said, in a serious voice.

Did she think I was joking or

that she had a choice?

‘Justine,’ I said. ‘Go get help.’

The words trembled on my tongue.

As an afterthought, I added

‘I’ve been stung’.

Justine turned and fled from the water

screaming, as she ran up the beach

alerting other beach goers

with her stentorian screech.

Multiple bottles of brown vinegar

poured onto my leg.

A group of strangers gathered ’round

as I began to beg,

‘Can someone call my Dad?’

I hadn’t seen him in a week.

The pain was quite excruciating but

I did not want to freak.

© The State of Queensland 2017 CC BY 4.0

A blanket went around my shoulders

as I was led to a strangers car

and buckled up inside it

for the nearest hospital was far.

The driver had been drinking

but the only one with wheels

so I took her offer to get me there,

there were no other automobiles.

Angry zigzag welts rose

upwards on my limbs.

Had a knife wielding surgeon

carved railway tracks on my shin?

‘You could die,’ said the driver

as I began to sing

soothing my bewildered psyche

with a lullaby and hymn.

We made it to Sarina’s hospital

where I was placed in emergency care

doctors treated me with heat packs

while I just laid there.

I never got to say thank you

to all those people on the beach

who without any hesitation

applied vinegar and did not preach.

I should have known better

then to go into the sea that day

for the storm had washed the stingers

from the creek into the bay.

I did not die, not literally

nor was I scarred for life,

I was the first that summer

to feel the box jelly strife.

Perhaps if I’d worn panty-hose

to protect my legs and arms,

I might still enjoy the feel of sand

And sea, those summer charms.

Now, I fear the ocean waters

and rarely do I swim.

The summer mermaid that I once was

has gone, and that is grim.

Credits on this page
Picture of Sarina Hospital © The State of Queensland 2017 CC BY 4.0 Image has been modified: resized, cropped and colorized.
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