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?
The Warren County Cultural & Heritage Commission asked me to teach as a part of their Teen Arts day. Although post-blizzard school delays prevented us from taking full advantage of my two planned workshops, the exercises and lesson plans I prepared for the day are collected here for other educators’ use.
9:30–11:00 AM: Beyond Rhyme: Poetry’s Music
How do we make our poems “flow”? How many word fireworks can we set off in a single line of poetry? In this workshop, we will explore the sounds and rhythms of free-verse poetry by listening to poems, trying out new techniques, and writing our own new poems.
- Who are you?
- What school do you go to?
- Why did you take this class?
- What’s your favorite word?
- What is poetry?
- What makes poetry poetry?
- What makes poems sound good? How do they “flow”?
- Some vocab: rhyme, cadence, assonance, consonance, alliteration, anaphora
- Reading and Discussion of Sounds:
- Writing Exercise:
- Free write a poem on any subject. For every noun you use, you must select one that has at least one sound similar to the previous adjective, verb, or noun. Example, from “Inversnaid”: “This darksome burn, horseback brown.” The noun “burn” borrows the sound of r- in “darksome,” as does the noun “brown” from “horseback.” Additionally, the latter noun also borrows the b sound from “back.”
11:30 AM–1:00 PM: Speech Bubbles: Poetry 10 Ways
Ever heard the phrase, “The medium is the message”? In this poetry workshop, we’ll try our hand at writing poems using different mediums-posterboard, postcards, typewriters, and on our toes-to see if we can appeal to different parts of our brains and become more creative.
- Who are you?
- What school do you go to?
- Why did you take this class?
- How (and on what) do you usually write?
- Writing Exercise: Poetry 10 Ways
- Station 1: Writing by Hand. Freewrite a poem of at least 4 lines on unlined paper.
- Station 2/3: Landscape/Portrait. Freewrite a poem on the index card laid out horizontally, and then rewrite it on another index card laid out vertically.
- Station 4: Big Concerns. Using a pastel, freewrite a poem on a piece of posterboard. Try to “size up” your handwriting to the size of the paper.
- Station 5: Boxing It In. Using the colored pens, I’d like for you to take one of your poems written at a previous station and underline the most important five words in that poem. In another color, I’d like for you circle all the nouns. In another color, I’d like for you to put a square around all the verbs. In another color, I’d like for you to put an X through at least three unnecessary words in the poem.
- Station 6: The Snake Eating Its Tail. At this station, you will partner with another student. Rewrite one of your previously drafted poems in pencil on a piece of paper. Swap poems with your partner, and then erase 5 to 7 words from your partner’s poem.
- Station 7: Address. Select a friend or a family member to whom you have a lot to say. Write a poem to them on the provided cards.
- Station 8: Cut! Copy out one of the poems you brought in previously. Use the scissors to cut it in half.
- Station 9: Walk It Off. Go out into the hall. You will compose a poem in your head while you walk to the end of the hall and back. Try to come up with one word per step. Record yourself (using your phone or mine) speaking aloud the poem.
- Station 10: Type It Up. Come to this computer workstation and type up one version of one of the poems you have written today in this Google doc. Your only parameter here is that you must introduce new line breaks.
Station 1: Writing By Hand
Station 2/3: Landscape/Portrait
Station 4: Big Concerns
Station 5: Boxing It In
Station 6: The Snake Eating Its Tail
Sation 7: Address
Station 8: Cut!
Station 9: Walk It Off
Station 10: Type It Up
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.