On Chapbooks and Context
I'm shopping out my little chapbook of found poems titled "20" to find it a publishing home. It is a short manuscript erased from Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Once it finds a green light, I hope to put together an aquarium tour and read the poems in the darkness of fish and the deep.
In putting the chapbook together, I spent time in the library of the Poetry Foundation here in Chicago. It is a pretty remarkable room, lit by sunlight and packed with poetry books in a large, double-floored homey library. A through K on the first floor. L through Z one flight up.
Stacked chapbooks -- many yellowed -- line a wall of boxes on the first floor. I picked some out at random and leafed through them. Most were published decades ago, and, arguably, have been forgotten by all except the Foundation and me on that particular day.
What I noticed about them is that, now with age, they lacked context, a reason for being gathered together and launched on their own. Sure the sheer fact that the poet was expressing his or her work mattered, but for each one, I wondered - why this collection? Why these together at that point of time? Sometimes the title hinted at the poet's reasoning but not always. That compelled me to think about how I present my own work. The why. Why poems erased by Jules Verne now? Here is my attempt at an explanation, a wrapper of context:
“ERASURE poetry is a conversation with an existing text as well as a new event for that text. The poet excavates words from the source to create a new poem. If done with care, as I hope I have done here, the new works -- the found poems -- will stand on their own merit and speak from their own time period, apart from the original work; the poet will have released something new.”
I loved having a conversation with Jules Verne, pictured here. (Doesn't he just emanate the feeling from this photo of someone you'd like to invite for dinner and drinks?) No one evoked the early mystery of the seas as he did. No one used an exclamation point like he did! Yet, the act of working with his text released new poems from far beyond the mysteries he traversed and loaded with new contexts because of our new history since Verne's time.
I think of Annie Dillard's comment here, "In the course of composing (found) poems, the original authors’ intentions were usually first to go."
And in this cleared space, after the authors' intentions have gone, the poet working in erasure can discover her own.