What appeals to me about found poetry

One of the reasons why I love to experiment with “found poetry” is that it allows me to make an artful experience last longer.

I just finished reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” for instance, and was struck often throughout by meaningful gems I wish I could spend more time contemplating.

In the absence of a classroom full of fellow philosophers or a literature professor, I turn to found poetry, otherwise known as “erasure poetry” or “blackout poetry.”

There is no correct way of digging in, but this is how I’ve been doing it with books. (You can also find poetry in songs or in newspaper articles. Why not?)

Instructions for finding poetry:

1. Xerox copy the page of the book or the document that stopped you in your tracks.

kundera metaphors are dangerous

2. Read it over a few times. Perhaps, out loud.

3. Listen.

4. Circle with pencil the words calling out to you.

When you’re certain (or certain enough) you’ve dug out something new or relevant or useful from the beauty or wisdom already expressed by the author, smudge out the words around those in paint or black ink or, like Mary Ruefle, with white out.

5. There. You’ve found something. A poem, perhaps, or an idea or a pathway.

Something.

Like most creative writing, a first draft of a found poem might only be a writing prompt for something more significant.

At the very least, you got to spend more time with beauty or wisdom … and upcycled it into your own life.

 

 

Makes me wanna keep going

I’ll be honest: I’m still not done reading Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians.

I have about 5 or 6 more poems to go before the end. The book is sitting on my nightstand in my bedroom; next to which is my middle son who just slipped off to sleep.   My other two children are on two different IPADs watching two different age appropriate American television programs. (Go ahead: rate my parenting.)

I could finish The Pedestrians right now. I could snuggle up to the middle son in his sweat lodge and read.

But, I had a thought just now I couldn’t suppress:

Rachel Zucker makes me want to read more poetry.

But more important, she makes me want to write more poetry.

And I couldn’t just keep that to myself.

I had just finished one of the selections in the book titled “paris dream.” It’s one of 13 dream-like poems (others are titled “brooklyn dream,” “egg dream,” “daycare dream.”) Each time I read one of her “dream” poems I notice how I am simultaneously drawn into the poetry and into the dream itself; into the conscious and subconscious levels of the language. I find myself savoring Zucker’s dream in the way I sometimes delight in my own in the minutes just after I wake. I felt the urge to analyze it and was pleased.

I could keep reading Rachel Zucker’s dreams, I thought.

And while I am generally attracted to poems that are “dream-like” (Mark Strand’s work is a good example), Zucker’s dream poems compel me to dig into my own dream journal — the one I started keeping again last week after a two-year hiatus — to fashion gems out of the scribbles there. I’m trying already, but Zucker inspires me to try harder.

I fell for Zucker after reading Museum of Accidents, the themes of which are marriage, parenting children, the writing life, and a brand of existential anxiety found only in the modern first-world. The collection is a brave confessional told through the eyes of a deeply sensitive and somewhat over-thinking (some might say over-brooding) creative woman.  I connected to both the content of her poems and the way in which she expressed herself.

I found myself giggling at her often brutally honest depiction of her husband, her marriage, and their sex life; giggles reminiscent of those that spurted out when my college roommate sat on my bed Freshman year and started talking about masturbation. Translated, both set of giggles meant, “You do that, too? AND we’re allowed to talk about it?”

It was through my reading of Zucker, along with poets Eula Biss and Maggie Nelson, that I really started finding my own brave voice in my poetry; and weaving into my prose darker and more daring language and themes.

Pedestrians is just as honest as Museum of Accidents, but I find it less brutal. I don’t know if it’s me that’s changed or Zucker or both of us. In her poems in this collection, I hear a kind of acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness in her life.  Take, for instance, the way she unearths and confesses “we still love each other” in “real poem (gay men don’t snore)”

Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker

Or the tenderness and compassion she offers herself in the first sentence of “real poem (personal statement)”:

“I skim sadness like fat off the surface
of cooling soup.”

If we’re to assume the narrator is Zucker herself (and it’s difficult not to since she refers to her husband by name in this collection); I sense that it’s not that Zucker’s sorrow and longing have been replaced with gratitude; but it’s that Zucker has stumbled upon the space in which they may exist together.

And that, perhaps, along with the intimacy she invites in the dream poems, appeals to me.  Moreso, as I said above: it makes me want to read and write more poetry. And not for the sake of being heard, or for the sake of future publication or celebrity.

But because poetry is where I go about discovering the goodness in my own life,  in my own loves. It’s where I best display tenderness, compassion, and devotion, even when I am being brutally honest.

 

 

Book Review: Dear Luke, We Need to Talk

Book Details

Title: Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences
Author: John Moe
Publisher: Three Rivers Press

 


Review

It was in one of my favorite online magazines, Fast CoCreate (a Fast Company publication) that I first heard about John Moe’s anthology of satiric correspondences which fictionally  “exposed” the behind-the-scenes letters and diary entries of some of  pop culture’s most famous characters and relationships, including the title characters’, Darth Vader and his son, Luke. I am a big fan of satire and pop culture, and as a writer was curious to see in which direction Moe, a regular contributor to McSweeney’s would take this. I imagined a mix of fan fiction and Dear Abby. I was excited for the book.

dear lukeSo I jumped on the opportunity to read it when Books for Bloggers made it available to me in exchange for an honest review. Unfortunately, though, I think this book was better off a collection of articles than an anthology of more than 50 imagined conversations and correspondences, most of which went on too long. My overall reaction to the book is that the ideas were funnier than the selections themselves; or that the selections would start off funny, but then went on too long.

For instance, I liked the idea of psychoanalyzing Bruce, the shark from Jaws as the author does in the second piece in Dear Luke, but tired of the concept after 3 or 4 journal entries (it continued for a total of eight). The list of “Jay Z’s 99 Problems” was funny, too, but again went on too long. (David Letterman stuck with a top 10 for a reason; Moe takes his list to 99. Is there a pop culture reference I’m missing? Probably.)

As I mentioned, there were spots in the book which I laughed out loud: Moe is a funny writer! Most of his ideas were really clever; it’s just that the execution could have benefited from a more serious editing job, especially for length. The best selections in the collection were the shorter ones, such as the “welp” listings of fictitious restaurants, including the Cheers bar, the Regal Beagle (which made me giggle just to see its inclusion), and Moe’s Tavern. Similarly, I laughed out loud at the concept alone of Gunther writing a letter to Rachel on the coffee shop chalkboard. But the letter itself (spoiler alert) is funny, too! Gunther explains to Rachel that she and her “friends” are all ghosts; dead after drowning in the fountain from the opening credits.  He writes to her in chalk because, “as everyone knows, that’s the only thing that can get a ghost’s attention.” (I always though ghosts preferred writing in the fog of mirrors.)

If I were to highlight the selection that worked best in terms of length, ingenuity and wit it would be “Exchange Between Neal Hefti, Creator of the Batman TV Theme Song, and the Show’s Producer” in which there is a correspondence that eventually leads to the explanation of why the theme song to the television show had no lyrics except for “Na na na na na na na na na Batman!”  During that one, I laughed out loud a bunch of times.

I’m bummed to give this book less than a stellar review because Moe deserves accolades for his creativity and success in execution in many of the selections. But I think the publisher might have been a little too over zealous in expecting readers to push through to the end of this collection.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

The Unlikely Path to Inner Peace

I just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a story of a man who sets out on a journey, both metaphorical and literal, in search of inner peace and acceptance. A friend, after hearing about “the boxed set series” project I’m working on, recommended the novel as a complementary “research tool.”

It was a good suggestion.

Harold is in his mid-sixties when he receives a letter from a former colleague – a terminally ill woman with whom we understand from the beginning he has unfinished business. On his way to the post office, to drop off a return letter to the woman, he instead decides to deliver the message himself, by journeying on foot across England.

In addition to the truisms delivered throughout the book – wisdom worthy of highlighters and stars in the margins – I walked away with a sense of hope … and of more time. After all, if I am facing and acknowledging my past now at 39, I’m a few steps ahead of Harold, aren’t I? Doesn’t this mean I might actually find my inner peace SOON?

I smile even as I write the words. I know how silly this mindset is – how contrary it is to the intention of finding inner peace.

“Finding it” requires work.  “Soon” implies a deadline. Neither of which allows for the relief that I associate with inner peace. Did I learn nothing from Harold Fry? My imaginary book club asks me right now.

What I did learn from Harold is that we always think we are wiser than we are; that “now” we finally get “it.” And this is where we trip up.

At least, this is where I trip up.

So often, I cringe at or even attack my younger self, as if I am oh-so-much-wiser now than I was then. (I’m not.)

As if I am not making the exact same mistakes now that I did then — just with different supporting characters, and saggier boobs. (I am.)

What if the way to inner peace actually is acknowledging we will never truly be wise? Just more aware. Just more willing to learn from our past and from our present. Just more compassionate of ourselves and others when we trip up (again and again and again).

And what if the work to do was actually not such hard work? What if the assignment was to simply be more open to not knowing.

Not knowing the way to inner peace; and saying, “cool.”

Allowing for the possibility of finding it in unexpected places, faces, and moments.

***

I imagine a fat, happy Buddha smiling at me and nodding.

“Yes, my young padawan, that is Buddhism 101.”

What can I say? I’m a slow learner.

Very, very unwise, indeed.