If you were to write your life story with poetry what would you say? Would you leave out painful memories and focus on personal triumphs? Or could you gather the strength to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, for public consumption?
In his deeply personal book My Life in Pictures, Ottawa-author Christian McPherson offers his autobiography through a series of beautiful prose poems. Starting with his birth in 1970, his life story combines painful memories (his father’s tragic mental illness; lost love; the death of his stepparents) with the joys of life (discovering the thrill of writing; getting married; having children).
Through this narrative of highs and lows, wide smiles and painful tears, there is a curious mind lurking behind the page that is constantly searching for meaning. There is also the ubiquitous presence of the big screen.
A cinema fanatic, McPherson names each of his poems after a movie. Starting with the 1969 classic Easy Rider, the book proceeds through movie titles in chronological order, like a film projector displaying a long highlight reel of cinematic works from the last four-and-half decades.
The poems not only tell the story of McPherson’s life, but also offer an indirect history of modern cinema, occasional commentary on the various cited films, and a look at the cultural tastes of our society since the late-1960s.
This passion for the big screen, coupled with his search for meaning in life, led him to write this poetic autobiography through cinematic eyes.
“I had the idea kicking around my head for many years,” says McPherson, when asked how he came up with the idea for My Life in Pictures.
“Anyway, one day I ended up on the couch of a psychologist because of stress. She asked me about my childhood and all of sudden all this stuff came pouring out of me that had been bottled up. It became the catalyst for me to write it.”
The result is a wonderful work. Apartment613 readers may recognise McPherson as the author of two hilarious novels that poke fun at the life of federal public servants. While these novels are definitely fun reads, they are not challenging works of fiction.
My Life in Pictures, on the other hand, is proof positive that McPherson is a highly talented writer who has impressive literary chops. He also is brutally frank when describing his own life.
“Honesty in writing is important to me,” says McPherson, who – if you include My Life in Pictures – has published six books (three poetry collections, two novels and a collection of short stories).
“It’s important in what I read but it’s really important for me in what I write. A lot of contemporary poetry I read is very clever. Smart and has interesting word play. That’s fine to a point, but it grows old for me real fast. If the work isn’t personal and honest it will come across a pretentious.
“Honest writing will move the reader. You can’t hold back when it comes to writing and you definitely can’t hold back when it comes to writing about your life. If you don’t put your soul onto the page, who the fuck cares?”
After reading his cinematic and poetic autobiography, I understand McPherson’s view on honest writing. Whether it’s describing the painful experience of watching his father descend into madness, relationships gone sour, or the love that he feels for his wife and children, this book is a delight – albeit at times painful – work to read.