This morning, I was struck by Dave Bonta's poem, "Trump." But it's not just any poem. For years now, Bonta has been erasing his way through the diary of Samuel Pepys and sharing each poem on his website Via Negativa. He uses each diary entry, even the boring ones.
At first, I thought that I preferred Bonta's original poems, but then I came to be fascinated by his process. If you go to the site, you'll see that he leaves the journal entry in gray print, and in black, you can see the words that become his poem. Some days he puts together parts of words to make new words. For more on his process, see this post.
In "Trump," I was intrigued by the way that this diary from over 400 years ago can be made into poems that address the issues of our current day. And I was also intrigued by the way that the poem makes its point subtly, in a world where so much writing about politics shimmers/explodes with rage. And of course, I am aware of the other meanings of the word "trump," which might mean that this poem isn't about the person at all.
I have tried an erasure poem of my own (see this post), but honestly, I haven't played with this technique much. When I did my erasure poem, I worked from the beginnings of both poems.
If I played with this form again, I'd follow Dave's advice from an August Facebook post: "I realized last night as I was working on my erasure poem for the day that I do have one piece of advice for anyone interested in trying this most recondite of forms: Start at the end. Find your last or next-to-last words, and move backwards from there. That’s the way I do it at least 75 percent of the time."
In this advice, I recognize the wisdom that I give my students about revising and proofreading their essays: go to the end of your essay, and read from the last word to the first. Read it out loud. That way, you can trick your brain into seeing what's actually there, not what you thought you wrote.
I suspect the same principle would be at work when one creates an erasure poem by working from the end back to the beginning--you look at the words as they are, with their full potential, not the words as the original source has them put together.
I've been looking for ways to rejuvenate my writing, to energize me. Let me remember that I want to play with the erasure approach; it might be a better use of free moments in the day than some of my usual time wasters.
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