First draft of a poem
Felix Culpa by Jeremy Gavron
The ‘snow days’ came at a good time for me. I holed up with a plastic wallet of texts culled from novels and magazines, and set to work cutting them up and making my cubomania collages.
I suspect we become more risk-averse the older we get (as do crows apparently). The process of creating collage poems, for me, puts me more on the edge than when I sit down to write a conventional poem. I’m out of my comfort zone and outside the certainties of language. I have to deal with what the collision of texts throws back at me. Also, there’s less room for the ego to wield its influence. In Saturday’s Guardian Review, Colin Barrett says: ‘Collage works best when it works all at once, which is why it meets most of its success in the visual arts and music … In writing, poetry is where collage recurs most frequently, at least partly because poems are short and generally not dependent on the elaboration of plot in order to succeed’. Barrett is reviewing Felix Culpa by Jeremy Gavron (Scribe), a collage novel that uses lines lifted from around 100 other novels. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it, but here’s an extract from a longer piece Barrett quotes:
‘Still going into the prison, reading the men’s
writings , listening to their talk.
Fascinating facts and tales from the poky.
Pale wall of dreams.’
I loved the beauty of this juxtaposition, but I’m also in awe of the ambition, and the risk, because surely it is a risk to embark on a project where the writing depends on lines from 100 other novels.
A poem is smaller, more manageable, and as Barrett says, it generally doesn’t have to do the work of plotting like prose. So, I’m in a fortunate position with poetry because it’s a freer form. I’m trying to go with this freedom, to go where the texts lead me. I’ve done some more traditional cut ups as well as the cubomania texts, which is to say, I’ve produced collages where the lines and phrases have lots of space between them, but these didn’t provide the same points of collision that the cubomania texts do. I’m being less strict with how much I add (when I first started experimenting with this technique I was producing strictly ‘found’ poems whereas now I allow myself to add to phrases and lines). However, I’m trying not to censor or edit the work too much either, for example:
I monitor my metabolism
I measure my mental illness
christen my housewife and keep her decidedly
in the third person
If I was writing this more conventionally, I think I’d try and justify this stanza, and in essence explain it away in the next verse. As it is, I have to let it stand because the nature of the collage means other lines are vying for my attention so I have to move on. It creates some interesting turns in the poem.
Will these poems find readers? Well, maybe not a mainstream poetry audience, but I am trying not to let that get in the way.
Next week, I’m going to see John Cooper Clarke in Barnsley – I’ve seen him umpteen times but I’m just as excited as when I went to see him the first time. Is he experimental? Maybe not, but he’s a risk-taker, certainly.
I’m also looking forward to the forthcoming R4 broadcast, The Advance Guard of the Avant Garde, on 10th March. There’s a lot of experimental fiction (as well as poetry) that I feel ignorant of, so hopefully this programme will fill in some gaps!