I always knew I was adopted because my mum used to tell me how she and my dad picked me because of the smile I gave them when they first laid eyes on me, that I had the advantage of being chosen. This meant I was more special than other children who just came along unchosen and whose parents just had to accept whatever they got. In my mid-teens I became curious about my birth mother and natural father and, though I was still living at home, I wrote my mum a letter asking if she had any information. She gave me some documents from the adoption agency and I discovered both my natural patents were Scottish Canadians, he a photographer and she a reporter and journalist called Carol Hoffman. I don't know his name, so I suspect he may have been married to someone else. The form from the agency, dated April, 1963, lists my name-to-be as Jamie Hoffman. From time to time I've Googled possible leads derived from the tantalisingly incomplete information contained in that piece of parchment-like paper inscribed by fountain pen, but none of my searches have led me any further in fleshing out my physical family.
My mum died four years ago, a year after the birth of my son, and both those events started me reflecting again on my origins. Looking at my son, I was struck that, aged 44, I was knowingly looking at a blood relative for the first time. Both my natural parents were sporty, both keen swimmers, and rather well-off, it seems - she was a glider pilot, he owned a yacht. Perhaps I should have inherited their physical prowess, but the wiring in my brain had other ideas. I often wonder how the weeks I spent in the cot before I was chosen affected me and if they compounded the Verfremdung effect of my circuitry.
Roy at his christening.
HOW HAS THE ADOPTION EXPERIENCE AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
I've always felt like an outsider and I suppose that's a common position for a writer to find themselves occupying.
Part of that feeling of being a boy and man apart is due to being an adopted only child of older parents, part of it to do with having a surname that sounded unusual in 60s/70s Scotland and part of it to do with having had dyspraxia all my life (unknown to me and undiagnosed for my first 42 years). I touch on these themes in the poem "Addition". Being adopted and having a slightly unusual surname no longer directly impact on my sense of identity and of fitting in but the dyspraxia constantly comes into play in subtle but destructive ways. Dyspraxia is a lifelong neurological condition which affects gross motor skills such as balancing and fine motor skills such as handwriting, drawing, painting, and whistling. I still have problems with all these activities. Occasionally, embarrassingly, the dyspraxia will impinge on my abilities as a musician. Had I known about my dyspraxia earlier, I may not have persevered with the guitar. The signs that I was somewhat disabled were plain to see. But no-one in Scotland really knew about dyspraxia 40 years ago. When I was around nine or ten, my whole class was taken on school trip to have a go at ski-ing on an artifical ski slope. The whole class, that is, except me. I was quietly informed that my lack of co-ordination would be dangerous to myself and others on the ski slope. No doubt this was true. The unfortunate result , though, was that I was sidelined, both literally, and in my relationship with other pupils.
My awkwardness gave the school bullies a pretext to pick on me, I guess. One time I came home for my lunch covered in spit – a punishment, one of my assailants admitted later, meted out simply because word had got round that I was adopted. How dare I be different?! Was it really that simple a reaction? Did every adopted kid go through this ritual? Or did my various "differences" add up to mark me out as someone to gob on? Another time, after a history lesson, I got punched in the stomach by another pupil who, assuming my surname was German told me my granddad had killed his granddad during the First World War. Ironically, Hoffman would have sounded even more German.
I'm interested in what being a Hoffman might have entailed (or being whatever my dad's name may have been - perhaps Morrison or something resolutely Scottish), but I am very proud to be an addition to the Moller family.
I don't want to give the impression miserable at school. My parents were very supportive - I couldn't have wished to be chosen by a kinder couple - and I made friends that I'm still in touch with. When I wasn't being bullied or finding subjects such as physical education and technical drawing unfathomably awkward, I enjoyed myself, but there was always a sense of darkness and frustration lurking in the background. Why could I not really fit in? I was forever being called gay, not on account of being especially effeminate but because it was a shorthand way to rationalise and quantify my otherness. The bullying was episodic and usually occurred when none of my allies were around, but it was ongoing. One particular unasked-for adversary was in my class from the age of 5 to 16 and he was a constant reminder that, even as I enjoyed my first kiss with a girl at a party and my first proper taste of alcohol, I was still his personal nemesis, as if I'd never grown out of short trousers. The incident in the pond at the flash party which I describe in the poem took place a year after I'd left school. I had returned home to Edinburgh for Easter (I think) during my first year at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. Absence hadn't changed a thing. I was still marked out as someone to be bullied at almost 19. ("Feartie" is Scottish for scared, by the way).
On each subsequent new course and in each fresh job, I hoped I could belong, but I was still earmarked for workplace bullying well into my thirties—the last time by a girl eighteen years my junior. I often felt like I still had a Please Kick Me sign Sellotaped to my spitttle-saturated school blazer.
Without wishing to turn my work into a diary of self-pity and introversion, now that I have returned to writing poetry, I find myself looking back from the grand age of 50 on the recurring themes and patterns of my life.
In so doing, the issues of adoption, bullying and dyspraxia seem to fuse to form a common thread. It's not something I choose to dwell on or that I knowingly employ in the majority of my poetry. Like most writers, I like to observe and adopt personae. Occasionally, though, I will address my past directly and "Addition" is such a poem.
PLEASE SHARE A SAMPLE POEM(S) ADDRESSING (IN PART) ADOPTION:
he should have known to stay away,
not tag along on a third-hand word
of a bold Botanic break-in.
Fully-clothed, he tumbles past
languid lillies and fabulous fish;
the one boy booted in the pond
by a hidden hothouse Flashman...
He should have understood himself
as marked for special treatment
the day they pissed his pacamac
down the poolside toilet,
the awkward lad with the foreign name
that earned him a punch in the belly
in the corridor after History,
Great War reverberations:
“Your granddad killed my granddad.”
No, no, the name is Danish,
no emblem of his own blood...
A signal sent, Arithmetic
chalks up another lesson;
a sum of spit, pure DNA,
barrages his blazer.
Later, sheepish feedback:
"They telt us you were adopted.”
Aye, and maybe you could add
a feartie gayboy German.
ABOUT THE POET
Roy Moller was born in Edinburgh and has lived in Scotland all his life. While attending Strathclyde University he was joint winner of the Keith Wright Poetry Competition. After graduating, Roy concentrated his creative endeavours on music. He was recently described on BBC 6Music as “Scotland’s best-kept secret” by DJ Marc Riley, for whom Roy has played sessions in his own right and as a member of Scottish supergroup Jesus, Baby! Roy has also collaborated with Stevie Jackson on several Belle & Sebastian songs and the guitarist’s solo material. He has appeared onstage with Jackson on several occasions. Involvement with the Edinburgh-based poetry/music/animation fusion Neu! Reekie! has encouraged Moller back to poetry and his poems have recently appeared in All Our Hopes And Dreams and Zest Lit and in two publications by Appletree Writers.