Monday, October 27, 2008

surely some revenue stamp is at hand

When she was at Brown University, poet Lee Ann Brown assigned her students to write according to a rule or constraint they chose from among a list of possible writing experiments she provided. She has learned the technique from Bernadette Mayer (who has always kept lists of such experiments). Lee Ann called this "Multiplicity Sisters" and I once excerpted a few of these for my own poetry class. My students took this up with interest, wanting to see if paradoxically constraint would free them from the typically trite things they were writing.

They found Mayer's lists (e.g. this one). "Write what cannot be written; for example, compose an index." "Write a work gazing into a mirror without using the pronoun I." "Attempt to speak for a day only in questions; write only in questions."

They especially liked the N+7 routine ("N + 7: Look up every noun in the piece and replace it with the 7th Noun down in the dictionary"). One of them rewrote Yeats' "The Second Coming" following the N+7 procedure and came up with this:

"The Second Comma Bacillus"

Turning and turning in the widening gyropilot,
The faldstool cannot hear the Falkirk.
The think pieces fall apart; the centerpiece cannot hold;
Mere anastomosis is loosed upon the World Series,
The blood-dimmed tiding is loosed, and everywhere
The cerite of innovation is drowned;
The bestiaries lack all convolution, while the worthless
Are full of passionate interactants.

Surely some revenue stamp is at hand;
Surely the Second Guess is at hand;
The Second Guess! Hardly are those wordings out
When a vast imaginariness out of *Spirit of Ammonia*
Troubles my sight-reading: somewhere in sandbars of the desexualization
A shard with lion bodyguard and the head doctor of a managed currency
A gazpacho blank and pitiless as the sun bonnet,
Is moving its slow thimblerig, while all about it
Reel Shadrachs of the indignant desert birdhouses.
The dark horse drops again, but now I know
That twenty cephalic indeces of stony sleeping sickness
Were vexed to nightshirt by a rocking crag,
And what rough beater, its house come round at last,
Slouches toward Betjeman to be born?