You Probably Think This Song is About You
Written by: Kate Camp
Te Herenga Waka University Press
Reviewed by: Margaret Austin
In case you didn’t know it, the difference between an autobiography and a memoir is that whereas an autobiography delivers the reader a chronological, strictly factual, and detailed account of your life (yawn?), a memoir is much more selective. It rearranges content, and it can become reflectively fanciful.
Poet Kate Camp’s You Probably Think This Song is About You decidedly falls into the second category. Camp, in writing as in life, has taken on her mother’s mantra: “Never apologise, never explain”. Does that attitude demonstrate courage or defiance? One or the other, or maybe a bit of both, accounts for this warts-and-all story of a life.
From years of wetting herself, to smoking cigarettes and dope, to binge drinking, to attaching herself to drug dealing, sometimes violent boyfriends – Camp paints an unedifying picture. And sure enough, there’s no accompanying explanation for why a girl from Khandallah would for so many years – and for half a book – indulge in such heedless hedonism.
If there’s a price though, she’s paid it. A couple of bizarre accidents, plus grisly sounding, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to get pregnant through IVF, lead her to reflect. Though I’m at a loss to understand her dismay at her inability to conceive – is this liberated thinking? At about this time, too, Camp meets future partner Paul, whose treatment of her is exemplary. “Paul comes out of this story very well” is an understatement – the man is a modern saint.
Camp’s analysis of Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life is thought provoking. It examines the conundrum of a book on self-healing that contains questionable suggestions about self-responsibility – an apt comment on Camp’s own life?
But some of Hay’s affirmations worked! Chiefly: “I always find time for my own creative work” has surely been useful, ultimately giving rise to her life as a poet. I’m glad there is an acknowledgements section – we get Camp’s gratitude to those who have contributed to make her life what it was – and is.