Thursday, 28 November 2013

Poetry Experiment: Substitution

09:38:00 Posted by Lara Clayton , , , , , 4 comments
When you can’t find the words or the words can’t find you; when you don’t want to write or writing doesn’t want you; when you know it is more than a spell of writer’s block…

Sometimes, writing exercises just aren’t enough to bring you back. They ask too much, don’t give enough. They tend to come with an expectation: the poet is willing rather than resistant.

So, what do you do when you can’t write poetry and writing exercises just produce more blank pages?

It is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, and which I still have no definitive answer to. Yet my mind continues to ask it, so perhaps it would be premature and lazy to give up on searching for a way back.

In my search I’ve been reading Charles Bernstein’s 66 Writing Experiments and thought I’d share experiment 11 and the subsequent result of said experiment.

The Experiment

11. Substitution (2): "7 up or down." Take a poem or other, possibly well-known, text and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index word in the dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement. (Cf.: Lee Ann Brown's "Pledge" or Clark Coolidge and Larry Fagin, On the Pumice of Morons.)

The Results

Fragment created by using Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Living’

The fin whale in leaf mould and grapple
so green-eyed it seeps
dystrophic summertime.

The wind chimes blotted out, the leatherback
shoaling in the sump,
dystrophic daydream.

Fragment created by using Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mirror’

I amalgamate silverfish and evolution. I haver niveous precision.
Whatever I seduce I swamp imminently.

Thank you for reading.



Colin Davies said...

There's a game that does something similar where you take movie, book and TV titles and change one of the words for a sexual swear word or the word Pie.

Pie Wars, Lord of the Pies, Back to the Pie.

You get the idea. I think this is a very good way of unlocking the mind.

When I have moments of blackness I start writing song lyrics from memory. That seems to work for me.

Nice post.

Ashley R Lister said...

Thanks for this. I'm going to be stuck on the Charles Bernstein page for the remainder of this year and most of the next.

Great post,


vicky ellis said...

When I read the exercise I wondered how you'd come up with anything that made sense but actually these fragments work beautifully. My favourite phrase is:

Whatever I seduce I swamp

Gorgeous language.

I agree that the Bernstein page is a terrific resource. Thanks for that!

I reckon that as long as you are occasionally breaking through the block, fighting it, you are winning.

vicky ellis said...

Oh, and thank you for niveous - consider it stolen ;)