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‘My Perpendicular Daughter’ by Emily Berry and a new writing prompt from Ben Rogers

Confusion and resentment begin today’s poem by Emily Berry, where a new mother complains that her daughter has not fulfilled expectations: “I wish they hadn’t lied/ like that”.  Spare language and few tangible details add to the clinical and disturbing atmosphere, in which a woman is left exposed to dispassionate and questionable responses from unseen professionals.

At Poetry in Aldeburgh: Emily Berry features with Kayo Chingonyi in a Poetry Society editors’ masterclass led by Poetry Review editor Maurice Riordan on Sunday 6th November, 10am-11am


My Perpendicular Daughter

grew taller than they said she would
when I got her; I wish they hadn’t lied
like that.  I thought a daughter would be
light and quiet – not at all; they hung her
upside down inside me: now she sticks
straight out, gets in the way when I stand
close to walls.  I tried to take her back
but they said I should be glad a man had
known me, and I’d only got what I’d been
begging for.  Would I like a booklet?
Instead I asked for milk and tipped its
long white screech right down; it left my
tongue all feathery.  ‘There are no returns
on daughters,’ they pointed out.  She was
under my dress like you-know-what: ‘This
is how the end begins,’ I said, and aimed.

from Dear Boy (Faber, 2013)


Writing Prompt: Klecksography Ekphrasis

Hermann Rorschach’s ten inkblot images were famously developed in 1921, a psychological test initially created as a way of profiling people with schizophrenia.  He was possibly influenced, along with a number of other psychologists, by German psychiatrist and poet Justinus Kerner’s popular book Kleksographien (1857), a series of poems inspired by inkblots turned into drawings.  Kerner’s images include an inkblot forming a frame for words, some disturbing looking insects, and an eerie gallery of strange-looking figures including one holding what looks like a huge two-headed axe.  Kerner’s book was the first of its kind, inspiring the word ‘klecksography’, the art of making images from inkblots.  In the vein of Kerner, though less dark, is Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine’s book Gobolinks (1896), which declares at the outset that it was “begun in the spirit of fun”, and explains how to make inkblot monsters, depicting oddities like ‘The Unfriendly Chickens’ and ‘The Graceful Polly-Wogs’.

Today’s task is to craft a poem that uses as its starting point a klecksograph.  How much you choose to focus on the image or deviate from it is up to you, and would probably provide a psychologist with all kinds of information about the make-up of your unconscious.

Read Kerner’s Kleklographien (in German, with pictures) here:

Read Stuart and Paine’s Gobolinks, or Shadow Pictures for Young and Old here:

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Image Credits:

L Filipe dos Santos