So Geist magazine right here in Vancouver is hosting a poetry contest. I've never entered a poetry contest. I rarely write poems—not because I don't like poetry, but because they are so damn hard to write well. So why did I enter this one? Well, first, for an entry fee of $20, they throw in a year's subscription to the print version of Geist, and it's a fine magazine. But also—and here's the clincher—the premise looked like a lot of fun. Basically, they provide a chunk of prose (in this case, an exerpt from the novel How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti) and you set about it with a metaphorical eraser, not so much rearranging the text as whittling it down to something essential. You can drop letters and join the remnants of words to make new words, but you can't move things out of sequence. In a way, this is the closest writers get to that near-cliché of discovering the form within the block of marble... although this particular block has itself been wonderfully sculpted.
So I started it (follow the link above if you want to see the original prose), got frustrated early, almost gave up, but then something started to emerge. I'm not sure whether it's good, but I did find that it became very emotional for me, at first elliptical, then sad, but later not so sad. I was surprised by the power of it—the technique not my attempt. And I wonder if something along these lines could be incorporated into a therapeutic approach.
Anyway, here is my attempt. It gets stronger as I grow into the procedure. I think the secret was to not read the original prose for sense, so as to avoid images forming early. It's titled "Can't Ouch".
I can't interest a mouse.
You doctor fire, win singing. I do too.
Come over to our nation before I stop.
Paint. Record. Feel.
Should I wonder? Help a celebrity?
No, actual hope is simple, one example of everything.
I don’t part, I don’t want.
Every heart—I am them.
My head an image, unstartling, magnetic.
It is the quality of fame one is after here, without any of its qualities.
I shoulder my friends. An illusion, like me.
I appear to be, I appear to be, to be who I am.
A speck of dirt, alone in my contempt, my fucking… contempt.
Low-job artist, nine cents, tops.
I cannot gag, can't ouch our throat.
I breathe roughly, sucking to kiss.
Side jobs, though, rough with being girl, just rough with it. Sore with mass. Lustre time to a genius.
One good woman. Weave to man, am a golden idea mode for my mind.
Laugh when they won’t say what they mean.
Study them forever. Thinking: Christ, you're living in heaven.
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