Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Poetry mashups with Pearl

I have really not had enough time lately to work on writing my own stuff, but over the last couple of weeks I've felt those little twinges again: lines I want to write down, stories nudging to be told, and that sense that somewhere, at some point, my "new" poems are waiting for me to open the right door for them.

Between that nagging urge to write stuff, and the fact that I've been working at home, and so for the last three days I've not really seen anyone else, I decided I had to pick myself up and go to the workshop at the Tree Reading Series tonight. So I did.

The workshop was being run by Pearl Pirie, who's coordinated the Tree Seeds workshops for a while now. I've been to other workshops with her, and one thing I really like about how she does them is that she gets you to play. It's sometimes hard to get a group of poets (particularly older poets, or poets who are firmly rooted in older traditions and styles) to play: this workshop had a couple of people who were initially pretty uncomfortable with taking apart and reassembling their poems. As though they'd break the original poems by messing around with them. But she's so easygoing about it that most of them ended up giving it a good solid try, and being surprised, I think, with the results.

What she had us do was take two of our poems and break them down the middle, by splitting each line into two grammatical parts, more or less at will. Then we spliced the first half of each line on poem #1 with the second half of each line of poem #2, ignoring whether it made sense or not. Then we took the strange Frankenstein's monster we'd just made and looked it over for interesting images, startling juxtapositions, things that worked when spliced together in a way that our conscious mind wouldn't have come up with. It's not that what we were making was in any way a finished product: it was a new starting place, or places, from two old poems.

I found it kind of satisfying just copying out the broken halves of the lines. Meditative. Sometimes a line or two, next to each other, would sound good or give me an interesting image in itself, but I'd leave it to come back to and keep copying. It was like digging new ideas out. I drew a line down the middle of the page and copied the first halves, then the second halves, and reading just the first-half side I'd see patterns and juxtapositions:
dinosaur heads
of construction
and the day
into a finished puzzle box
my body
the passing bus
of the streetlights
and go
Then as I started filling in the spliced second half, the lines that were created started to surprise me. Even make me laugh. This chunk in particular stood out for me (I did have to switch a couple of pairs of lines for each other and change some subject-verb agreements, and drop out a couple of useless line-segments to get this - yeah, I know, I meant to just type in what I had on my scribbled-up page, but pesky little Ego won't let me do that without just a little teeny bit of polishing. Minimal, at best):
the rain started
ratcheting and broken
dust-dazzling the summer earth
and the orange pylons, wet underfoot
while I take
the gravel-crunch vinyl
for the loop track from stillness to downpour
& the burr of my chain at the change.
Glance back, past the bottles
in our throats
and tank treads. I told you the names
all huge-bulked, weighted; you said you weren't
my balance, the green thing
snaps itself with Canadian flora
my brakes and pedals like a poem,
the wheeling sun. You didn't mind
the blink and glow; it was warm, falling.

Sure. It doesn't make any sense, and it's not a poem yet, and I'm not entirely sure I have a clue what it's about or going to be about, but there are lines I like in it. And a feeling I like in it. And lord knows it's unlike anything else I've written lately. And that in itself is totally worth the trip downtown.

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