Students in my online, 24PearlStreet “Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure and Revision” course explored erasure as a political and social justice act and then completed “Dear ,” an erasive poetry exercise, last week after reading the following assignments:
- “The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical: Erasure” by Solmaz Sharif.
- “Reaching Guantánamo” by Solmaz Sharif.
- Look at “The Race Within Erasure,” a Powerpoint presentation by Robin Coste Lewis, with special attention to her erasure, The Pickaninny Wins!
- “Will There Be More Than One Questioner?” by Nick Lantz.
- “We Redacted Everything That’s Not a Verifiably True Statement from Trump’s Time Interview About Truth” on Jezebel.
Writing Exercise: “Dear ”
- Write a letter in the persona of a loved one of someone imprisoned. Say everything this person needs to say in your initial draft.
- Print off the poem, and act the part of the censor. With a Sharpie or dark pen, strike out passages that seem to pose pertinent and specific information.
- Post the original poem and the censored version, along with a paragraph-long reflection that considers which version is more evocative, more like a poem.
The Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), a fragment of 3rd century Greek manuscript of a poem about the Labors of Heracles.
Last week I had my 24PearlStreet Erasure and Revision students burn, soak, and rip up handwritten copies of a new love poem. I called these “environmental erasures,” inspired— or, rather, after—Sappho’s surviving verses on papyrus fragments. Here are the directions:
“Love Poem Lost”
- 1. Draft a poem addressed to a (real or imagined) lost love. This can be a romantic love or a love based in friendship, someone once known or a teenage celebrity crush.
- Write out by hand or print three copies of the poem, and then perform the following acts of environmental erasure, taking pictures along the way:
– Burn: Go into a safe, open environment and hold a match or lighter up to strategic places on the page.
– Soak: Use water, wine, coffee, vinegar, or some other liquid to ruin or occlude portions of the page. (Works best on free-flowing, not ball-point, pen ink.)
– Rip: Tear up the poem into quarters. “Lose” at least two of these quarters.
- Post pictures from each act of erasure, along with paragraph-long reflection about the process. What happened to your poems in each of these environmental erasures? What was brought out? What was subverted?
My eight-week, online course for the Fine Arts Work Center’s 24PearlStreet, “Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure & Revision” starts tomorrow, Monday, March 8th.
What isn’t said in a poem is just as meaningful—just as much a craft choice—as what is said. As poets, we so often go to the page with the intention of telling our readers something; this approach, however, often positions us between the reader and the text, like a person narrating a movie in front of the projector. In this course, we will investigate the ways in which poems “write themselves” and how images, without the aid of expositional transitions, create their own narratives, after Cesare Pavese’s idea of the “image narrative.” We will discover the impact and implied meanings of white space in poems, and we will investigate the strategies of other poets in revising through redaction and compression. We will look at erasure texts-texts that have been redacted into new texts-by poets like Mary Ruefle and Robin Coste Lewis, and consider the legacies of poets, like Sappho whose work survives only in fragments. Throughout the course of the eight weeks, participants will be asked to draft at least six new poems, unwieldy and wild and uninhibited, that in subsequent weeks they will slowly revise, re-form, and compress; through these long-term revision strategies, participants will be able to introduce subtext and depth to their poems, while honing their craft and style.
Check out the course’s syllabus and calendar online.