Skip to content

Plundering and Pondering

We can do any subject or style or form for poetry. You cannot step out of the binary of including or excluding some things as by-product of speech or silence regardless of how you communicate, in text, sound. Why keep? Why lose? Why? To what effect? The word has justify itself as being keepable. Each word informs what subsequent words can be.

We are always responding to something, processing something from out there, synthesizing into something deliberately meaningful or deliberately avoiding pattern. With plunderverse you’re more conscious of the process of what you exclude or include than you might normally. That’s a healthy sort of awareness to add to your general way of being in the world.

When you’re plundering a set text you’re following the text and limiting yourself to a narrower set of givens than usual, but then, there’s still your editorial hand or maybe, especially the editorial hand. The conduit and contained can melt together.

When we were doing the Pooka Press pub crawl, one of the writing exercises was to do a black out text of a randomly-given page from The Walrus. I like the idea of blackout texts, maybe because the source and end product are so close together. It’s like a literary equivalent of roadside vegetable stand. There’s a close access and transparency. The sides in dialogue can kind of see each other for a fleeting second.

How much difference there is in what you take away became obvious. The selection of the particular hand made a large difference. Sandra somehow rendered something boiled down to her voice and tone. Nothing terribly interesting resolved itself out of removing most of the words from my sheet. But then as Mother Teresa said we are each given the same 24 hours each day to do something with. We have the same materials of time and breath. It’s not the starter materials that makes the biggest difference.

There’s something to be said for not choosing but counting off and working with what portions remain. The editorial hand spends more time attending to the material being looked at and not expressing self thru the material. This makes it more a form of perception and meditation than expression and projection. Which would make a better product? The cooked version for consumption because the non-cooked version has its interest in the process of doing, not the end result. Is it worth sharing the tailings and trimmings of process? It would depend on your goals and audience. These fragments in isolation may not be as meaningful without having the whole as context. If I say 5 people have umbrellas, there’s no significance without knowing, how many people there are, how many umbrellas are usual and if it is raining. 5 in isolation is a trinket.

In any given sample there’s an infinite possibility when you can add what you like but just include those elements. If you add the constraint of only use the source text with the words in the original order, it brings the options down somewhat, but not by much. You can still within that constraint say just about anything.

The Geist Erasure contest has been extended to July 15th, no doubt due to the postal service lock out. I made 4 dozen runs at the thing but don’t like any of them. Guess I have another couple weeks to see if I can make something presentable from Susanna Moodie’s text.

By erasing you’re adding. As Betts said “I’ve been thinking of the plunder process as an inverted palimpsest — writing by adding deletions to the original.”

If I’m not mistaken I’ve heard Gregory Betts read from his plunderverse of 150 readings of Sonnet 150 of Shakespeare 3 times. I didn’t think I’d be surprised by the text in book form in The Others Raisd in Me and yet there is something else about the way it it put together, interspersed with quotes from a 16th century nun to Gertrude Stein. There is a chapter of graphics of progressive vowel charts. In a spoken reading there could be no hint of that. And a group of poems coming at you is different pace than self-directed reading where you can stop and stay at a gem like this:

29. Swan song


What a satisfying perfect little poem. Does it matter the process it is derived out of? Would it evolve without starting with the same materials? Possibly.

When it is a poem that small each word is a structural member. It should be the case with a long poem as well. Open a poem on any phrase and you don’t hit rot but taut.

Some poems are so rigorously built that any part has the integrity of the whole. Take a line, a phrase, forward or backwards and it doesn’t fall apart. The cadence or choice vocabulary is still representative of the whole.

In the reversed, in-fill plunderverse that I did in been shed bore I found some poems are simple tricks of phrase inversions to sound fresh but really aren’t edgy or considered and conceived of as rethinking or deeply thinking. They unravel into pedantic if read in reverse. When I found a poem that impressed me backwards and forwards literally I took a phrase from each line and then reversed the order of lines and then, like a glosa in a way, writing towards the next phrase.

carolyn Smart Julia McCarthy
Julia McCarthy with Return from Erebus (Brick, 2010) and Carolyn Smart with Hooked (Brick, 2009) were feature readers at Tree June 28th.

As they read I did some real-time plunderverse as a new route to listening. For a portion of each reading I sampled every 5th word, writing it down (although I sometimes didn’t count my 1, 2, 3, 4 fast enough but restarted count at next word).

The real-time sampling of Hooked was more complex since she’s a faster reader than McCarthy and more of an actress giving a dramatic reader, changing accents so I got distracted by hearing the story unfold. The segment went like this:


Does sampling keep the intent and thrust of the original and if this were then to be made into a spin-off, should it be stitched to lace back to the original or does it spin-off more in the space rock sense, never to return anyway, its own entity?

In interview Smart said these long poems come out of and after doing prose poem bits in the previous project a memoir and research on 7 historical women, (including Unity Mitford and a number of other mentally unwell/dysfunctional/tragic women). Mitford was a Hitler-groupee who eventually became his confidante. Speculating on psychology in historical fiction always makes me uneasy, even given that all that we perceive is a fiction, illusion. She gives a compelling portrait of the hopped up idealism of the girl who wanted to distinguish herself by rebelling and become a British Nazi. There’s an odd mix of youthful innocence and Mitford’s sociopathic carefreeness.

McCarthy’s poem on blue became:
….reach….the….and….reach….always….[illegible] ….river….river….one….watermarked….time

Interestingly, it is still musical. It still has a sound like poetry even when chopped apart. It’s like a starfish.

The real-time sampling exercise was rather like the reversed, in-fill plunderverse [rip seems like a wrong acronym] where sampling any part of a poem shows the whole. If I took a phrase from each line of the source text, reversed the order of the samples there was still something there which sparked or sparkled

As I did the stenography it forced a pace of paying attention that didn’t allow me to dwell on any given phrase nor the cadence nor the content, just counting and trying to keep up with transcribing. I thought on the outset that it would mean I would miss things but inside this pace the mind latched onto phrases she said that made me sit up and hear, such as crows polishing the armour of their eyes. What an interesting, dense image. Eyes as guarded. Eyes as armour. Crow eyes as silvered in reflection. Crows as guards or knights. A crow as a dark knight. It unpacks in all kind of interesting directions.

She continued to, Their eyes blind as poplar leaves in the sun. Maybe that’s been said before although I can’t call up a reference offhand, in the context it is a leap that is surprising and fitting. That comparison to leaves as eyes connects to the flatness of armour over the eyes and crosses over well to the shapes of poplar leaves and their silver backs. There’s a symmetry in color and shape even though the objects and associations leap.

Crows as those who watch and those who sit in trees to the trees which are blind. It begs the question of what is not being seen. What is outside the poem, deliberately omitted but can be drawn in the negative spaces.

If you tell me that poems are about nature and myth and large vocabulary and the mystic profound and I creak and my drawbridge clanks shut. All these things I associate with not paying attention but glossing over in a created world. But her poetry was described as such yet she pays attention.

In her introduction there was mention of (and I paraphrase) thinking that living in the middle of no where might propel one into shutting out the world but instead she found over the last 13 years that being away from the high-need social world that it allowed her to open up, process and perceive instead.

What’s worth calling “poetic”? Quiet, pretty. Ugly to call out. Petty to get off chest. Playful that doesn’t fit in ordinary conversation. Things too dark for patter. The joy of solitude. Long-winded treaties that even the most indulgent company wouldn’t indulge the curlicues of. Poetry can be those marginal things or the oblique that doesn’t fit the template of said to a particular point.

Is poetry not all lived experience and perception, not just your own lifetime, but stories around you and entering as McCarthy did even the point of view of insects?

I had no cash to get the book at this time but I caught this: all my legs collapsed, a funeral pyre beneath me, oh terrible and final moult beneath the leaf.

The next Tree is all open-mic with a topic to write about and prizes to be won, books and details to be released at the site between now and July 12th.

No related posts.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Comment Feed

No Responses (yet)

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.