Friday, January 3, 2014

Eliot and Coleridge: Mash Up and Erasure

On Wednesday, after I wrote this post about my experimenting with mashing Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" and Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," I decided I wanted to experiment with erasure.

I've been following Dave Bonta's experiment with erasing the journal entries of Samuel Pepys.  At first, to be honest, they puzzled me.  I didn't like the poems that resulted as well as I liked the poems he had been writing about tools or the banjo.  I wanted him to return to writing original poems.  But over time, the erasure poems intrigued me more and more.

So, on Wednesday, I turned to his blog for guidance.  I read this blog post of his, and decided to give it a try.

Below are the two poems, two lines at a time, from the end of both poems.  I started with Coleridge.  Below you can see the original words and what I chose to keep. A note:   I've got spaces in there between lines that I can't get rid of.  And then, below this, you'll see the lines I kept written in a more standard poem form.
For he on honey-dew hath fed
drunk the milk of Paradise

With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here,
in the old dispensation

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us,
like Death, our death.

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,

This set down
This: were we led all that way for

Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down

Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I
revive within me

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory

It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!


The milk of Paradise

With an alien people clutching their gods.
Weave a circle
in the old dispensation
this Birth
Hard and bitter agony for us,

music loud and long
symphony and song,
revive within me
a miracle of rare device,


What have I learned from this experiment?  I'm still unsure.  But it was fun, and it will be interesting to see if they lead to other interesting poems as they percolate in my brain.

In my goal to write more poems this year, do I count these experiments as poems?  Not really.

I decided to try to write a new poem, which I did, a poem I probably wouldn't have had, if I hadn't spent time playing with "Journey of the Magi" and "Kubla Khan," plus a reading of Eliot's "The Hollow Men" for good measure and a nod to Prufrock.


The old dispensation cannot save
you now.  Hard and bitter agony.
Eat stones for breakfast,
crack your teeth before sunrise,
it makes no difference.
Suckle the camels who cannot eat cactus,
wait for the silken girls with their sherbert,
no one will sing to you.

You must listen for a different song.
Plug your ears against the angel chorus.
Put away the mandolin and fiddle.
Listen for the stars' quiet plainsong.
Follow the single note.

Leave death's twilight kingdom.
Enter the deep midnight,
a land you hoped
would be a temporary sojourn.
Learn the new landscape with only
your fingertips for navigation.

Is any of it good?  The older I get, the more I shrug.  I'll let others decide.  Does it have potential?  Sure.  Every piece of writing has potential.  Will it live up to its potential?  Stay tuned!

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