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Posts Tagged ‘found poetry’

Well, THAT happened!

Thirty days, thirty poems extracted from “The Stories of John Cheever” as part of the Pulitzer Remix Project. As we hit the final few days it seemed to me as if we all taking a final sprint for home. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of my fellow remixers might have been holding back their one final poem as a sort of send-off. For my part, I knew going in I wanted the last poem to be one of Cheever’s most famous: “The Enormous Radio.”

Here’s how the month ended for me.

April 27: hushed sect

To be honest, the was the sloppiest of all my poems. For the project I preferred to work from photocopies that could travel with me, that I could pick up and toy with while commuting or wherever I happened to have a few moments’ free time. For this particular poem I worked at home, straight from the book, trying to be as spontaneous as possible. I had edited and saved but failed to post this on the day it was due, only realizing it was still in “draft’ form the next day. As for the poem itself, I was intrigued by the portrait that emerged early on and felt determined to make the end line up.

April 28: Oy, Death

This is, I think, the very first found poem I completed back in January. I was looking for patterns in language to play with, repetition that I could bounce off of, and when “over” and its multiple meanings came into play I knew I had found what I was looking for. I had three different ways of formatting the poem in mind before finally deciding on a very measured approach.

April 29: the blow

Outside of dialog, Cheever wrote very little first-person narratives, so when I landed on his (and my) opening line I knew I had to use it. And when you look at that blunt line you realize there’s no flowery prose that you can hide behind; what follows must be equally terse. Again, I take no credit for Cheever’s dark demons.

April 30: hearts unmoored

I walked away from and came back to “The Enormous Radio” several times because I wasn’t able to make found poetic sense of it. Each time I thought I’d found something I could build on, only to have it diverge into a yellow wood and leave me at the fork. Then I realized the two-part structure, the first with its emotions and the second with its repercussions. The word “it” became pivotal and where I had been shying away from the word “love” throughout I realized I had to use it here. In the end it becomes a farewell to the project, a tribute to all who ventured along this journey, and a sad commentary about Cheever himself.

Where I had my fears about committing to so huge a project going in, I’m happy to see those fears we unfound… okay, I freaked out a little half way through. I had some gaps and doubts that I could keep pulling out poems of a decent quality. I was buoyed along by fellow remixers in the comments who, when i was sure I had just posted the worst dreck imaginable, were able to find glimmering facets I hadn’t even noticed. Though I wasn’t part of the facebook group I really felt like we were a solid clan, working the edges of our found efforts from ragged to crystalline. I’m proud to have been a part of such a huge and committed bunch of participants and to whatever comes next.

A chapbook maybe?

So here we are, post-National Poetry Month (or ponapomo, if you will) and as much as I’d like to keep going I do have some other pressing writerly deadlines and project to finish. I hope you’ll take the time to visit not only my links but to check out some of the other 2400+ poems at the Pulitzer Remix site and see what I’ve been talking about.

And in the kidlitosphere, Poetry Friday continues, hosted this week by Elizabeth Steinglass. Plenty of goodness there, probably none of it based on the work of John Cheever.

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With the light at the end of the tunnel in sight, it feels like this month has gone on far longer than it has. It probably has something to do with me working on these poems for the Pulitzer Remix as far back as mid-January, so three solid months of focus is at play here. No excuses; writing is hard work, even the simplest, goofiest of found poems can be unusually taxing. Not taxing in a bad way (is there such a thing as good taxing?) but simply…

Well, work.

I am beginning to see interesting patterns in Cheever’s work, little quirks of mechanics that have had a tendency to force a certain voice to appear in the poems. He isn’t fond of first-person, nor is he fond of conjunctions, and he is awfully fond of showing off his vocabulary. His themes of suburban unhappiness and the desire of his characters to simply get away speak volumes about the author more than they do about the characters. Some days, some poems, it was a real chore to deliberately not let his darkness through, to create alternate worlds and narratives that serve as antidote to The Stories of John Cheever.

Here we go with this week’s roundup of found poems.

April 20: the type
Like a foodie insisting on using every part of the animal, I considered every printed page possible fodder for a poem, and this one came from the colophon. The subtle rhyme of “designed” and “bind” was only discovered after the fact. I probably shouldn’t admit that, it makes me sound so much smarter otherwise.

April 21: mondo-ku
Originally titled “haiku” because I couldn’t find an anagram with a unifying theme, these four little ku were constructed in this order, with their lines consecutive within the text. One of those exercises where I hoped I could show a variety of styles and themes contained within a single story.

April 22: s/w/him
A second poem created from the interweaving of pages from two separate stories, with a title that means something to me but I don’t know how it tracks with readers. Anyway, Cheever’s dark world wins out in this one.

April 23: Stilettos
Knives or shoes? A personal favorite, mostly because I liked having the interrupting format. And the last lines. Oh, hell, it was a lot of fun all around.

April 24: Tableau
My first ever attempt at a pantoum, with its unusual patterns of repetition. After seeing others in the Pulitzer Remix use this form I was determined to give it a go when the moment presented itself. This story was the first where entire lines jumped out at me. The fact that I was able to lay them down in the order in which they appeared in the text was pure luck. Not as subtle as some pantoum I’ve seen, but I’m happy with the results.

April 25: arroyo
I wanted something short, but heavy and suggestive with meaning. I limited myself to two pages, wrote a much long poem, and then whittled away at it until it was merely a whiff of itself. That mysterious promise at the end – even I what to know what it was!

April 26: Err
To err is human, but as these distorted images collected I discovered perhaps human error has been rather destructive. I jokingly refer to this as my “climate change poem” and if I’d been thinking I’d have posted it on Earth Day. This poem also has some very strong resonance with one of the first found poems I ever wrote near 30 years ago. I wish I still had that poem about dog college…

Next week, the final roundup, including my found poem taking from one of Cheever’s best-known stories, “The Enormous Radio,” which managed to make itself the perfect summation of Cheever, his stories, and the poems his stories inspired.

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Welcome to my third roundup of my participation in the Pulitzer Remix project, wherein 85 poets are turning Pulitzer Prize-winning works of fiction into found poems. Daily.

As with adopting any habit, getting to and through the three-week mark is the hardest. Writing daily isn’t a problem, but pushing to get through the third week’s worth of poems is/was a bit of a struggle. Actually, in anticipation, I had written the first, second and fourth week’s worth of poems for the project prior to the beginning of the month, because I wanted to save this third week as a sort of additional challenge. Call it “deadline found poetry” if you will.

I picked a hell of a week to make things harder for myself.

I won’t pretend that living in Boston this week hasn’t been oddly unsettling. I’m fine, my family is fine, my friends and co-workers are fine, but I know this isn’t a universal truth. It’s also a qualified “fine” because I know that sometimes traumatic events have a way of worming their way inside our heads to deliver unexpected or unconscious consequences.

Would it change the timber or tone of my found poems?

April 13: methane melee
Okay, I promised with the limerick in the first week that potty humor was bound to return. But I swear, I don’t go looking for these things! And once I was finished the title was, and most of these anagrams have been, a happy treat of coincidence.

April 14: Neu Noir
My tip-o-the-hat to Bukowski. There is a story about me as a teen having a conversation with a wino on the street back in 1979 who I swear was Bukowski before I knew who Bukowski was. Honest. A face like his wasn’t hard to forget. Anyway, as the poem started coming together I suddenly felt like perhaps, just perhaps, Buke was raising a bottle of rotgut from the beyond and saying “Eh, nice try, kid.”

April 15: Warm People
Hunting through the original story I wasn’t coming up with anything cohesive. Everything seemed so disjointed and in lumps. Finally the word “happy” jumped out at me and I started making connections with different clumps as miniature portraits. I also realized how miserable Cheever must have been, so many of his characters seem driven by sadness and compromise.  Write what you know?

April 16: matinee
And here we are, the day after the bombing, and I’m in Rome. I wanted something simple, and simple I got. It’s best to conjure up an Italian Neo-realist movie before you start reading this one for the full effect.

April 17: whim-sea
This was an “assignment” to take two stories with connected themes – “The Swimmer” and “The Ocean” – and blend them to see what came up. This roiling result came from the first pages of each story. It wound up darker than it seemed while I was culling words and phrases initially. See my “about me” page for the personal significance of swimming pools.

April 18: old toy fever
Where the heck did this come from? I was playing with structure and didn’t even see the possibilities of parallel narrative with a shared “sigh” between them. I’m leaving it stand for now, but if I decide to do anything with this poem in terms of future publication I will probably reformat it. Your thoughts?

April 19: Euclid’s Dry Cleaning
In the original story a sign on a truck (which became the title) prompts the protagonist to ponder his life as a geometric fantasy. I was much more interested in Euclid, and what would it be like if he were a dry clearer in our modern world. Or at least in Cheever’s world. Cheever didn’t make it easy, but he never made it easy for his characters. Still, I think I managed to make it work. At least Euclid sleeps well.

It’s a bit of a long home stretch for the rest of the month, but I have the last three days already set so there’s just this coming week to sort through and decide which things are working and which just don’t make the cut.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of other poetry out there. Why, just look at the Poetry Friday postings over at Live Your Poem. Irene’s got the roundup from the kidlitosphere.

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Well, the Pulitzer Remix is humming along and there’s just so much great stuff everyone is producing that I’m finding it hard to even skim through them all! It’s possible I’ll wind up spending the rest of this year casually reading all the participants’ submissions because I’m sure I’m missing real gems.

Of course, I’d love it if you discovered my gems first. Here’s what I’ve posted since last Friday, with notes about the poem’s origin or construction following the link.

April 6: The Babe of Clancy Tower
Yup, I went with a bawdy limerick. It was impossible to resist. The original story’s main character was a crusty old Irishman from County Limerick, so I just had to try! But in hunting out rhyming words I found that I had to shift the focus. The results are, well, what came together. (This will not be the last time bathroom humor appears in my found poems).

April 7: Halt
This one I think of as my dystopian poem. The source was a dark suburban tale that felt like Cheever exorcising some sort of inner demons. What I found within that were two clans of people engaged in some power struggle.

April 8: Cafe Rep
This was taken from the Preface to the collection, and as I was reading through it I wanted something that felt like a tone poem about Cheever’s New York. The duality of it – the “public” embedded within the “private” – surprised me when it was finished because I didn’t see it at first. One commenter called it “cinematic” and that probably best describes how it felt at the time I culled it.

April 9: untruths
One of the exercises I tried was to pick a page at random and limit myself to what was on the page. Page 341 being 90% dialog pretty much forced my hand: I had to find some new or different meaning in what was on the page. This mini play turned a domestic dispute into an absurdist farce.

April 10: geld
Another single-page-limited poem, and this one came together only after I started playing around with the original title. “The Pot of Gold” contains the word “geld” which is an old English word for “tax” and a German word for money. It’s also the root word for “gelding,” as in, to castrate a horse. Suddenly I saw the possibility of a poem set in the bedroom of a play by Moliere…

April 11: Withholding
Cheever used the word “cupidity” twice within two consecutive sentences, and I had to look it up because I’d never encountered it before. Excessive desire; greed, avarice. Huh. I was going to find a way to use the word when I then found Jupiter and realized I needed to extract Cupid and see what happened.

April 12: idle taste
Perhaps the most “poetic” of my found poems, simply because I wanted to find the best imagery to match the “dream.” I struggled for a long time trying to make a smoother transition between the wave and the mountain, then decided that in most dreams such transitions don’t exist.

This coming week, this is going to be a bit rough. In the past for National Poetry Month, while putting myself on a schedule to write three-plus haiku a day I found that there comes a point where the brain just starts to rebel. Things start to feel forced. Or at least they did for me. As I pushed along to get over the hump it started taking longer and longer to “see” poems within the text, and I started having doubts I could finish what I started.

How’d I do? check back next Friday and see!

In the meantime, Poetry Friday is happening elsewhere on the interwebs. Many fine people writing and sharing wonderful stuff. Check out the roundup over at Random Noodling.

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Because I’m writing. Or rather, I’m rearranging.

Not editing, mind you, and they’re not even my own words. And to top it all off I’m not even getting paid for it.

To the right there you’ll notice a little badge for a thing called the Pulitzer Remix. For the entire month of April, National Poetry Month, the Pulitzer Remix project will post a new poem daily from 82 poets who have “found” poems within each of the 82 books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

I know the collective noun for poems is (mundanely) an anthology, and that the collective noun for poets can be an attic, mezzanine, cellar, anteroom, a scansion, break, stanza, break, deign, mope, peppering, ego, havoc, madness, rejection, and so on, but this… the Pulitzer Remix seems to require a new collective.

An extraction, perhaps?

Found poems are exactly what they sound like, poems found within some other context. Shopping lists, stacks of book titles, a note found on the ground can all hold poetic nuance, but also in larger bodies of text like books or magazine articles words and phrases can be culled to create new and previously (by their original author’s) unimagined meaning. It’s within the realm of this last context that the Pulitzer Remix operates. Each poet has one novel as their Urtext from which they can apply any number of rules and choices in which to create new poetry. The challenge is to ferret out the new and unexpected from the old, not entirely unlike musical sampling where a beat or a motif creates a new framework for new music, bringing the old to new ears.

While it sounds new (and perhaps sacrilegious) to maim and mangle the carefully chosen works of literature the concept isn’t far from what artist Tristan Tzara once described as a recipe for creating a Dadaist poem nearly a century ago.

Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
The poem will be like you.
And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

The poem will be like you. Because no one else would have made the same conscious choices, or could have produced the same exact results, not without a great deal of trial and effort. The found poem, like the Dadaist poem, exists as the hard truth within the joke that goes “I have all the great works of literature in this one single book!” wherein the teller brandishes a dictionary. Perhaps that is the ultimate challenge for the found poet, to create a new work from the dictionary that uses as many words contained in the dictionary without repeating a single one.

And so, in a few short weeks I, along with an extraction of 81 other poets, will begin a massive excursion into the rearrangement of American literature. I will post snippets and links throughout April.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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