In the last decade, postmodern and feminist thinking have helped to shift qualitative research beyond the more traditional forms of representation and open texts to multiple interpretations (Diamond and Mullen, 1990. These alternative representational forms that include (among others) narratives, poetry, collages, photography, and theatrical scripts, evoke more embodied responses and understandings (Eisner, 1997; Richardson, 2001), reduce the hegemony inherent in traditional texts (Denzin, 1997), and help share stories that have often been silenced or marginalized (Butler-Kisber, 2002). One of the artful forms used more and more frequently is poetry because it remains within the textual range, yet it has the capacity to evoke insights and sensory responses by illuminating essences in the play of rhythm, line breaks, and language. The ambiguity it portrays permits multiple interpretations, yet the signature of the author remains present.
If a goal of ethnography is to retell "lived experience," to make another world accessible to the reader, then I submit that the lyric poem, and particularly a series of lyric poems with an implied narrative, comes closer to achieving that goal than do other forms of ethnographic writing. Lyric poems concretize emotions, feelings, and moods-the most private kinds of feelings-so as to recreate experience itself in another person. A lyric poem "shows" another person how it is to feel something. Even if the mind resists, the body responds to poetry. It is felt. (Richardson, 1994, pp. 8-9).
The burgeoning interest in artful forms of qualitative work in response to postmodern and feminist concerns has forced researchers to pay attention to the nature of their relationships with participants and how they position themselves in the work. This attention to relationship and reflexivity (Macbeth, 2001) has pushed some researchers into participatory forms of inquiry where they work side-by-side with participants to delineate questions, and as a result of "action research" (Reasons & Bradbury, 2001), achieve needed change in the process. Others have moved to forms of self-study and autobiography where the researcher and participant become one, and relationship and reflexivity become less relevant issues.
This poem cluster I have presented is an autobiographical account of poignant memories of school days in elementary and secondary school. The poems are purposely grouped to reveal the multifaceted dimensions of my experiences. I have previously examined and represented poetic renditions of the activities and interactions of young girls to juxtapose their silence with their exuberance, and their sensitivity with their feistiness (Butler-Kisber, 2001). These "found" poems were based on themes that emerged from interviews with these young girls and were created by using their actual words culled from videotaped transcripts of their classroom while attending to the nuances and rhythms of their voices. In contrast, the autobiographical poems presented here were produced by turning inward and retrospectively identifying pivotal memories of my schooling while trying to recall the visual and auditory context of each. To avoid the linear thinking that produces more traditional textual forms, I did not "free write" in the way associated with most memory work (Haug, 1992). Rather for each episode, I brainstormed a series of words that seemed most reminiscent of the inner visual and auditory world I re-visited. Then I worked from these words, eliminating some and adding others, to shape the poems using rhythm, line breaks, pauses, repetition, and word play to re-create each memory in an attempt to show some of the "sights and sounds" and perhaps silenced dimensions of school from a young woman's perspective They are reflections that may resonate with those of other women, and hopefully will generate further discussion.
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Denzin, Norman (1997). Interpretive ethnography: Ethnographic practices for the 21" century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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Eisner, Elliot (1991). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry, and the enhancement of educational practice. New York: Macmillan.
Haug, F. (1992). Beyond female masochism: Memory work and politics. (R. Livingstone, translation). London: Verso.
Macbeth, Douglas (2001). "Reflexivity" in qualitative research: Two readings, and a third. Qualitative inquiry, 7, (1), 35-68.
Reason, Peter & Bradbury, Hilary (2001). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry & practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Richardson, Laurel (1994). Nine poems: Marriage and the family. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 23,(1), 3-13.
Richardson, Laurel (2001). Writing: A method of inquiry. In Norman K. Denzin & Yvonne S. Lincoln (Eds, Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd Ed. (pp. 923-948). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Reference Citation: Butler-Kisber, Lynn. (2002). "School Days, School Days…: A Feminist Retrospective." WILLA, Volume 11, p. 25-29.