Monday, January 4, 2010

theorizing thievery; of, composition as exploitation

I was given this assignment by my poetry workshop facilitator, Graham Foust, this past semester as our final project. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it, but I thought it was indubitably neat and has helped generate some writing over the dull winter months. He states:

The title of this exercise has in mind archaic definitions of theory ("to map") and exploit ("to mine"). Consider it a very tightly focused version of one of the MFA Program's learning outcomes. If we want you to be able to "articulate the correspondences between [your] own writing and the corpus of literature and though which primarily informs [your] own aesthetics," let's at least entertain the idea that we can begin to "correspond" with other writers at the level of grammar and syntax by investigating and recuperating Eliot's all-too-often quoted (and almost always misquoted) maxim. How--and what--can we learn from theft?
The T.S. Eliot quote to which he refers is, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."

In Graham's exercise we started by extracting the grammar and syntax of a sentence, structurally, and built our own statements with perhaps little deviations from the schema. We then moved on to some poems: one given and one of our liking. The following is my purloined booty.

The first one is from a William E. Stafford poem, Passing Remark.

Who Knows or Cares?

During meals I favor savory flavor.
During sex I like to be on my back.

During movies I often audibly and physically react.
And during concerts I prefer to dance and sing along.

My lover, a svelte gentle boy from the Midwest,
asks, “Are you aware how impossibly different we are?”

Concertedly I furrow my reactive brow and burrow into his gaze—
the lovely vulnerable sweetly prefer we play along in the game of curious irrelevance.

The next two are the poems of my choosing. The first from a book of poetry called Slow Air, by Robin Robertson. The second from Nick Flynn's Some Ether. I deliberately chose poems that I am very fond of not knowing why. I'm not sure if it was a prudent decision, but I'm not more than half displeased with what I concocted. Thoughts are appreciated.

Robin Robertson poem:


Rain, you said, is silence turned up high.
It has been raining now for days.
Even when it stops
there is still the sound
of rainwater, labouring
to find some way into the ground.

We lie in grim embrace: these
two halves trying to be whole, straining
for this break in the static,
in the white noise
that was rain falling
all day and all through the sheeted night.

Silence is rain with the sound turned down,
and I stare out now on a clear view
of something left out on the line:
a life, snagged there—
drenched, shrunken,
unrecognisably mine.

My Extraction:


An apology, she says, isn’t a backing down but a displaying of courage.
There’s been a cold front here.
For the past few days
everyone I know around
has been arming themselves
in fabric shields against the icy pound.

My mother calls me: a distant
cry that is an arm reaching out
through the receiver, holding
onto the last bit
of cold hope
that the voice on the other end will pause to finally listen.

Backing down is a type of courage and apology,
and in the frigidity the color leaves
my prickled fingers:
the numbness is oncoming—
quiet, invisible,
unavoidably in tow.

Nick Flynn poem:

Bag of Mice

I dreamt your suicide note
was scrawled in pencil on a brown paperbag,
& in the bag were six baby mice. The bag
opened into darkness,
from the top down. The mice,
huddled at the bottom, scurried the bag
across a shorn field. I stood over it
& as the burning reached each carbon letter
of what you'd written
your voice released into the night
like a song, & the mice
grew wilder.

My Extraction:

The Morning We Ended Things

I found your voice box
tattered like a flag put through battle
&, though dampened, still vibrating. The box
carries in it all the hopeless
from the night prior. The screams,
half tonal, half texture, rang and battered
into the apartment walls. I was in there, too,
& as the room filled with our anger
at what we can no longer recognize
the ceiling began to cave in
as if it were a pillow
muffling laughter.

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