My Dearest Terry,
Well Lovey, thank you for inviting me to play. I have participated in many fevered writing sessions before, and have even extracted a few surprising lines for poems. This process was a little different, but the surprise factor was still there. I found it like being given a particular palette of colors to start with, and seeing what image would be born. Like any poetic form the “rules” are what bring on the brainstorm for me, digging deep for the meaning I am after; this bring its own surprise. The freedom to choose any prompt, the freedom to write anything during the fevered writing, and the freedom to reorganize the words in any sequence made dis•articulations an adventure that took me to a poem I didn’t know was waiting for me. Bring it on!
It seems counterintuitive, but receiving a word bank from a collaborator reveals perhaps as much about yourself as it does your accomplice. For me, I kept looking at the list I gleaned from Terry’s fevered writings, desperately trying to find the words “down” and “from,” prepositions (I think I’m drawn to down as preposition more than as adverb and hardly ever as noun) characteristic of the motions my poems tend to consider. But she gave me “out,” which, like down, is mad flavorful as a preposition. The disarticulations project reminds me of the sampling work of J Dilla and license to chop and reconfigure another poet’s writing was a pleasure. I won’t risk an attempt to analyze Terry via the words provided, except that one of my favorite alphabetically sequential pairs is “weirdly Western” followed closely by “Vulgar wad,” while the quartet of “tiptoe to toasty tongues” is messing with my life right now. Even as recomposed by the sort function of Microsoft Word, these combos seem to me imagined by the same writer who turned my fevers into “Janky Mojo.” What a generous writer; what a generative experiment!
It was an interesting exercise. The fevered writing in response to Terry’s found quotes I approached as a timed stream of consciousness experiment. For the writing of the poems from Terry’s fevered writing in response to my found quotes, I decided to choose words in the order they were written. This was a method that provided some sense of “form” that intuitively I felt this exercise would benefit from, and I think it did. I also decided not to alter the words in Terry’s fevered writing (to not change the tense or make nouns into verbs etc.); this rule I sensed would support the imagination in choosing the right word for it’s originality and the structure of the meaning of the poem. It was fun and a great exercise in focusing attention on language, and for me, structuring meaning in a poem.
I wasn’t a stranger to the disarticulations process. I’ve sometimes played along when prompts have been posted, and I occasionally look at older entries on the blog when I wanted to start a poem from someplace outside myself. But this time was much more intense. We had a theme to honor. And a place, too—Descanso Gardens. I sat with lists of words, staring at them for long stretches and willing some image of my own to come to mind. I felt a start of deep recognition when Terry posted her free writing here, because I have turned each of those words over and over and over, sometimes willing them to be something else, the perfect word I couldn’t have.
I moved Terry’s words around, fruitlessly it seemed, until my mind let go and delivered “bird float” and “tree song,” and then the words were mine. The poem was there in the unclenching, and later in allowing myself to let words and couplets go instead of insisting they stay. This was a difficult, beautiful experience, made all the better by drawing inspiration from the gardens. And the next piece I wrote, with an infinite choice of words, was particularly delicious. I love constraint, and oh how I love releasing myself from it
So grateful to Terry for suggesting that we work on this together!
Olga Garcia Echeverria was our collaborating poet for July. She was so gracious to give this project a shout out in this article on La Bloga:
She offered these further reflections:
When I got to the “disarticulation” part of the process I was puzzled by how exactly to reconstruct. I tried just drawing words from your fevered writings onto a note pad, but that wasn’t working. I fantasized about breaking up the words in categories (by parts of speech) like I had seen in an example you sent me, but that didn’t happen. Finally, I enlarged the font of your fevered writings, double spaced, printed out, and then started to cut and cut. I ended up with strips. I was reminiscent of ESL sentence strips or magnet poetry. Then it was so much fun! It was like the puzzle on my kitchen table that I kept playing with.
This collaborative writing exercise was quite a journey. I liked that I didn’t really know where I was going. Most challenging was the act of sitting with someone else’s words and trying to inject my own poetic voice and vision into the disarticulated mix. I played a lot during the past couple of weeks and put together several drafts of different poems, but in the end, the image that kept tugging at me was that of a purple-colored woman, bellowing through time. I didn’t know who she was at first, but at some point in the writing process, I realized that the story of Sandra Bland was weighing heavy on my mind and heart, and that fragments of her were bleeding into the poem I was piecing together. This disarticulated poem is for her.
Thoughts on the Disarticulation Process
Over the years, the one thing that I have never been able to prepare for while setting out on a writing project is the element of life, the surprises it brings upon you, the chaos/sadness/joy that comes unexpectedly. It affects the way I work, what I wanted to say, how much time I have to say it. And it was no different this time. While in the middle of this project, so many Life things occurred that took my time and energy and focus away. All these things are challenges in themselves, but having to write, to speak, with words dictated by someone else’s prompt, then ultimately, using only a limited amount of words that have been given to you by someone else, really frustrated me. Which led to the questions—What are words? Who do they belong to? What does it mean to be constrained? Do words equal privilege? Do words equal identity? And ultimately, who am I speaking for when we are assigning sequences to shared vocabulary?
Disarticulation form is one of the codes for creating poetry. As the prompt enters your critical thought process, the fevered writing becomes some other entity, the responses from the other writer you receive become an elaboration on that code for creating. This is a vice-versa process that allows one to examine someone other than themselves and pull resources for a poem. It allowed me to look at other writings from myself and jumpstart new ideas about poetry and form. Moreover Disarticulation inspired me about the pedagogy of poetry.
I really enjoyed the process of Disarticulations. Over the years I have used both the collage method and cut up technique for writing poems many times. This exercise reminded me of that. Some of the phrases from Terry’s fevered writing were so poignant that I used them close to verbatim in different parts of my poem. I looked for aligning themes and also tried to de-familiarize the meaning by putting different clauses together in a different order. Some of the lines had words that were rearranged from Terry’s word bank. Originally I composed a longer poem and then decided to cut some of it. I began by trying to use all of the words and came up with a poem that was close to 50 lines long. I then decided to trim about 7 or 8 lines to make it crisper. In many ways this exercise is comparable to putting together a puzzle. I enjoyed the challenge and would gladly do it again. — Mike Sonksen