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September 09, 2007

The spikes and thistles of authentic writing

I was thinking the other day about how authenticity means being human. 

"Authenticity may mean natural or beautiful.  It may mean rooted geographically or morally, but behind all that it means human."

And what does that "being human" mean?  It's us, warts and all.  It's us: complex, difficult, imperfect, amazingly astonishing creatures.  It's the beauty of a flower and the spikes of a thistle. 

But it took a poem to drive the point home.  It's about Scotland's national flower: the thistle.  Written by poet Sally Evans as a come back to Australian poet Les Murray's comment that he couldn't find any thistles in Scotland.

I loved the poem - especially the last two lines.  They sum up the power of authentic writing to me.

Here it is:

Real Thistles

You'd have found your thistles
on motorway shoulders, in the cracks
beside barns, in small time gardens
and other town yards, and you'd have
known them from our yarns,
stamped in gold on book spines.

Cracked into crystal whisky-
tumblers they soothe the inebriated
ditches, or still adorn allotments'
protesting potato trenches,
or crouch rough beside rivers.
They are banished from farms.

Fact: they are a notifiable
invasive weed: if your neighbour
lets thistle seed, you can cop him.
He must poison them or dig them up.
But they flower unstoppably in our minds,
defiant beauty in unkempt lands.

Real Thistles is written by poet Sally Evans and comes from her collection Bewick Walks to Scotland (Arrowhead Press)
I found the poem through the Herald's daily poem (also now available via their poetry blog)
The totally stunning thistle photo is from tricky on Flickr.
The quote on authenticity is from David Boyle's book on Authenticity
This piece is part of the September-long series exploring what it means to write with authenticity

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count


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Even thistles have a good side. They are the main
food of some type of butterfly caterpillers, and
artichokes are a type of thistle.

Sometimes you just have to change your point of view.

Joann, thanks for your comment. You're right about the importance of shifting our frame, our point of view. It often opens up new possibilities.

I wonder how we can apply this to our writing - does changing our view of ourselves, spikes and thistles and weeds and all - does that allow us to write with more power and confidence?


I hope so! I'm a computer scientist and so I've been trained (or at least they tried) to write in a very dry, scholarly manner. I'm starting a blog now on beading. A change of reference might loosen up my writing a bit. I'm now trying to write as I speak. I hope it's more accessible that the "tech-nese" LOL

Hi Joann

I'm sure the change of topic will help you to find your own style - especially if it's something that you're really 'into'. And blogging is a perfect medium for writing in conversational style :-)

Let us know how you get on - and you can always add your blog site address to your comments if you want us to come and visit :-)


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