#ThePoeming… So It Begins

This October, I’m joining with 50+ poets across the country for THE POEMING–a found poetry event featuring new poems posted each day, based on the novels of Stephen King.

 

So, what is found poetry, anyway?

In the most basic sense of the words, a found poem involves taking something found in a text that exists in the world and using it for a poem. Obviously, such an endeavor can come about in many different forms. Here are some of the ways a writer might “find” a poem in a text (some of which I’ll be using for #ThePoeming over the next 30 days):

  1. The Frame – Take a bit of text exactly as it appears in a text and break it into lines.This is often a technique I use to create found poems out of text that has no literary intentions to begin with. I might take, for example, a few sentences from the instruction manual for a power drill and break them into lines. By doing this, I am essentially putting a bit of everyday text and putting it in the “frame” of a poem. Sometimes for me, this form is really about heightening different meanings hidden in the text through the use of line breaks. At other times, it’s about creating a new way of hearing our everyday language by framing it as poetry.
  2. Remix – Select words, phrases, or sentences from a text and use them in any order to create a poem. You can physically cut up the page to do a remix (though some people call that sort a “cut up”) or excerpt bits without cutting.By having defined and finite source material (a tiny word bank), I often find myself stretching meaning in ways I find pleasurable and surprising. I enjoy seeing what colors I can come up with when I’m given a limited palette. Also, I can’t just fall back on my old tricks as a writer when I write a remix. I often have to find new structures to incorporate the words I’m given.

    Some poets are very strict in the way they remix poems, using only the exact words found (as would be required in a cut-up poem). Others allow for alterations (shifts in verb tense, making a plural word singular or vice versa, repetitions or words beyond what is found in the original text).

  3. Mash-up – Select words, phrases, or sentences from two or more texts and use them in any order to create a poem. Often this works best if at least one of those texts is presented in something close to its original order.The poem above is a mash-up of Williams’ famous poem and a random line from King’s The Regulators. The humor here is most obvious when you know “This Is Just To Say” is about eating plums. By sneaking in the line from King, I’ve made the poem (at least in my mind) about eating people. The mash-up here functions as something close to parody, but a mash-up can be used to create different effects, depending on the source materials. For example, I could take the statement of the rape victim in the Brock Turner case and mash it with lines from the court proceedings or the judge’s decision to create a political poem.
  4. Erasure – Erase parts of a text to reveal a poem that can generally be read in the same order as it appeared in the original. Erasure can be presented as a black-out poem or re-typed (or both). Sometimes in blackouts, poets will create visual cues (almost like a flowchart) to suggest the flow of the poem, allowing the poet to present the poem in a somewhat different order than the original.You can find some gorgeously presented blackouts on Pinterest. Here are some pretty sloppy blackouts I wrote a while back:

    I could also retype them and present them as an erasure poem. Here’s a sample of what the one on the left might look like retyped:

    Before I Went Away

    She had never known the true name.
    There is no need for thinking, my sister.

    When it was necessary to utter lies,
    the truth allowed her to call herself

    anyone: your sister,
    his voice, his ancestry, eyes,

    a compliment, her teachers,
    their pupils, her friends,

    such words.

  5. CentoFound Poetry Review describes cento as poetry which “unite lines from other authors’ writings into a new poem. The original lines remain intact; the main intervention comes in arrangement and form.”To be honest, I’ve never felt compelled to take lines from a poem or lyric bit of prose and rework them. To me, found poetry is about finding poems in text that’s not already poetic. I enjoy blackout that uses literary texts as source material, and I enjoy poems that quote a line or two of a source poem as either a launching pad or ending point for a poem that is mostly original (see conversation poems, below).

    The idea, though, of reordering a poem to make another poem doesn’t really interest me.

  6. Conversation poems – Mix bits of found text (literary or not) with your own original lines to create a poem that moves between the two. Often poets distinguish found bits from original but putting one or the other in a different font or in italics.Mary Szybist’s “Annunciation in Nabokov and Starr,” for example, mixes lines from Nabokov’s Lolita and Kenneth Starr’s investigation of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, The Starr Report with original lines.
  7. Golden shovels – This form creates a sort of back-loaded acrostic (using words instead of letters). Basically, you select a line from a poem, isolate each word in that found line, and then use each of those words in order as the end words for each line of your poem.Terrance Hayes invented this poem with his poem “The Golden Shovel.”

    You can find more complete instructions for form here.

  8. Isolations – Select a single word or structure to “follow” throughout a body of text, isolate it, and present those isolations.For example, one of the poems I’ll be posting this month selects all the dialog from a single chapter of The Regulators. Another isolates every time a proper name is mentioned in a set of pages and presents each in order, with a few words that follow each presentation. (If the name occurred in the subject of the sentence, I would generally select the words up to the verb. If the name occurred in the predicate, I would generally select words to the period.)

    I’m also considering creating a poem that tracks a single word through the entire novel (though I haven’t done that yet, so who knows?).

    This form creates a sort of “condensed” experience of the text. It also, in some ways, suggests a sort of literary analysis of the text.

  9. Found + form – Use any variety of found poem to create a work in form. For example, a remix sestina or an erasure ghazal.These are hard. The only ones I’ve tried have been remix haiku.

What other forms am I missing? Add your comments below.

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What the Frick is Norm MacDonald Up To? Big Pete and the 82 Tweets

Norm MacDonald took to Twitter this weekend and posted a story (or maybe two stories?) in a whopping 82 tweets–most coming in rapid fire.

Reactions have varied from “pure genius” to “the Faulkner of Twitter” (hurled as an insult) to “textbook… on how to get unfollowed” to “I want to have your children.” (Okay, no one actually offered procreative services, but there was a good bit of lusty slobbering going on.)

Some of the livelier reactions are included at the end of this post. But first — so you can decide for yourself if this is a new form of flash fiction, an Andy Kaufman-like punk, or something entirely its own — I offer here Norm’s 82 tweets. (You’re welcome!)

AND THEN:

THE END?

To me, the coolest part is seeing people responding to bits of the story as it unfolded.

All in all, the reaction was mixed:

Which leads to my ultimate theory, that Norm MacDonald’s spirit animal is the honey badger.

How To Write Fiction: A Guide for Poets

I was a poet to begin with.

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And as a poet, I wrote slooooooooowly. Sometimes painfully so. I might spend an entire day, or week, or even month following the rise and fall of a line to its inevitable end.

To paraphrase Fred Chappell (another poet turned novelist), a good day’s work for a poet is to cross out the two lines he wrote the day before.

For someone like me in the habit of examining the universe two lines at a time, the idea of writing a novel—page after page after page, day after day after day—seemed daunting, to put it mildly.

You mean I have to write WHOLE PARAGRAPHS AT A TIME?

thatsimpossible

So, how did I get my poetry-wired brain from Point A (poem) to Point B (novel)?

Well, for starters, it took about a gazillion hours, numerous failed attempts, and the support from and commitment to my friend and coauthor Madelyn Rosenberg (shown here gleefully tormenting a toe-sock doll).

stmad

Most importantly, though, I had to let go of many of my deeply ingrained ideas about the writing process.

One. I could no longer write without “tuning in” consciously, the way I sometimes did when I wrote poetry.

It didn’t take me long to realize that strange, unacceptable things happened when I let my subconscious mind take over in fiction. I would sit down with the intention to write a romance novel, turn off my consciousness, and wake up a half hour later to find an intricate description of an old woman’s detached lung throbbing in the wildrose shrub outside an abandoned trailer’s front stoop.

what

Two. I could no longer count reading time as writing time.

Here’s how I work when writing a poem. I write a first line. I rewrite it. I write it again. Then I read it. Over. And over. And over until…………………………………………I’m ready to write the next line. Then I rewrite that line. Then I rewrite it again. Then I read it with the first line. Over. And over. And over until…………………………………………..I’m ready to write the third line. Which I rewrite and read and rewrite and read until…………….. I fall asleep in a puddle of drool.

Again, it’s pretty obvious this method is for crap when it comes to writing anything longer than a haiku. As I transitioned to writing fiction, I had to get comfortable with the idea that re-reading the entire manuscript from the beginning every time I sat down to work was not a practical option.

When desperate, I might use that method for paragraphs, pages, even chapters. But otherwise, it was onward! No looking back!

KeepGoing

(Thanks for the inspiration, hat girl.)

Three. I had to get my butt in the chair and type something, whether I thought I had anything to say or not.

I’m going to let Neil Gaiman field this one for me, because he said it perfectly:

If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.”

NeilGaimen

(Neil Gaiman. Tasty!)

And yet, even as I had to shake loose numerous impractical poetic notions when I turned to fiction, there were a few concepts which, right or wrong, stuck with me as I wrote DREAM BOY with Madelyn—and they remain now as I write my current work-in-progress.

Of these, the most crucial is perhaps this:

There are certain moments when only the exact word will do.

Yes, I know we’re supposed to spew out that first draft. Get the words down and worry about making them perfect once we have a beginning, middle and end.

Fiction-brain gets that process. I’m able to do that at least 93% of the time. For the other 7%, though, the poet in me is convinced that writing any old thing is a great idea…

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There are moments in writing when I need an exact word, dammit.

Its rightness is the bridge between what came before and everything that might come after. Its rightness is what makes the work, at least for that millisecond, worthwhile. Because for that millisecond, it’s not all about word count. It’s about following the right word to its best destination. It’s about accepting language for the gift that it is. In short, it’s what makes writing fun.

WhatsItAllFor

Even if I end up cutting the entire scene at some later date, I need that moment to keep me going. Without it, there is no joy in Mudville. Without it, what am I doing this for?

[Note: this post previously appeared on OneFour KidLit.]