Friday, February 15th, 2013
“In my classroom, memoirs are a place for them to say in six words what some of them have never tried to articulate let alone creatively.”
Name: Lisa Bottone
Place: Warren, New Jersey
SMITH member since: May 29, 2008
Lisa Bottone, known to the SMITH community as sisterpoet, began her Six-Word Memoir writing with six words that live up to her screen name: “Love is a four letter word.” Lisa first heard about our lively, literary online world in an old-school way: at a book festival in Brooklyn back in 2008. Nearly five years and 2,398 memoirs later, sisterpoet is everything a writing community could ask for: a poetic, funny, and thoughtful writer, and a frequent commenter on the work of others, often offering more than just six words of praise and support.
Lisa is a lifelong writer with a passion for music—Morrissey, founder of the band The Smiths is quite appropriately her favorite—is also a teacher who has taken her love of the six-word form back into her own life offline, where she introduced Six-Word Memoirs in her seventh graders at Warren Middle School. In our “Six Questions For….” feature, Lisa tells about more about her and her life and work, in six words and many more.
When did you start writing, and what have been turning points in your creative life?
I started writing when I could hold a writing implement. I have a book of fairytales my mom gave me from when I was a child and I am told I would pretend to write my own despite the fact that I could not even form a letter.
A turning point in my writing came when I was asked to be a part of The National Writing Project as a writing fellow. It was an intense experience on many levels. I wrote a story called “Shelley is not a Hippie,” a memoir piece, and it was published as part of an anthology in connection with the National Writing Gallery. It was not the publishing/end product that impacted me as much as the process I took to see it to completion.
As part of the program I was required to post a piece for feedback. Fellows from all around the county could “press” me or “bless” me on any given part of my piece. They did both. Until that point I was not comfortable sharing my work. I hate being like a turkey on the table but realized the importance of being vulnerable. A professional journal piece in fact came out of that experience as well as I try to encourage other teachers to allow themselves to go to that place as writers—that place of full exposure—if they expect that of their students.
A second major turning point came one summer in Asbury Park. I was on the boardwalk and saw an ad for a workshop “Using Music to Write Memoir.” I had just come out of the carousel place I visited as a child. We lived in Brooklyn yet we drove all the way there to go to the beach and the Easter Parade and such. Over 40 years later, I found myself sitting in the broken house that held so many memories. “She is broken,” I jotted down in my notebook as I sat on the floor of the now shell of a building. That night at the workshop, the presenter played instrumental music as we free wrote. I heard the faint sound of a carousel in the background. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I cried. I shared with the only other woman who showed up and she cried too. There we sat in the old Steven Crane house with many ghosts so to speak. It was a feeling very difficult to put into words. It changed me as a person and a writer.
Can you share a favorite Six-Word Memoir of yours and tell us why it’s meaningful to you?
“Learning to sit comfortably eating alone.” Those were six words I recited on an NPR show that featured SMITH Magazine and a few of us discussed the backstory to the memoir. I believe it is strong image and is universal in the message. At times of change, you have a choice. If life hands you a situation that forces you to “eat alone,” literally or symbolically, you must sit with that and find a way to get comfortable.
You’re a teacher who’s taught Six-Word Memoirs in your classroom. What surprised you about the students’ work?
I have brought memoir writing into the class in a number of ways. I have used them in poetry lessons and short story lessons for example. This year, I decided to participate in a pilot program called BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I decided my pilot lesson would be a Six-Word Memoir lesson for seventh graders, one that incorporated the use of technology.
The students’ depth of expression and the honesty never ceases to amaze me. I am touched by their level of trust to open up in such a way that their story is out there. They put their heart on their sleeves and dig deep. They have something to say. They want to be heard. They have a voice. Memoirs are a place for them to say in six words what some of them have never tried to articulate let alone creatively. [Note: watch a video compilation of their work below.]
As for the technology component, the end product compilations have been extraordinary works of creative expression. I love the way they have become excited to and not afraid to take their products to as many outlets as possible. One student placed her memoir on Instagram. Not as a class assignment but as an expression of her pride in her work. Other students are entering state media contests and local art contests.
What authors inspire you or do you admire?
I am a Shakespeare nerd. ‘Nuf said.
How did you come up with the SMITH handle sistapoet?
I am a huge Morrissey fan. He sings a song in which he says “sister, I’m a poet.” I hate labels in general and I think it is funny when people latch onto them and cling for dear life. Morrissey is pretty well known for his sarcasm. I believe he sings of the people who need to call themselves poets are really not. So am I a poet or just a girl who calls herself one? Am I a girl who calls myself one because I want to be one, thinks I am, or wants people to think I am?
Finally, what’s your Six-Word Memoir for today?
Made my choice, I am sure.