Welcome poets, I’m sandwiched in between two major holidays with this prompt so first let me say a special thank you for visiting the pub today. My name is Anna Montgomery, blogging poetry at Chromapoesy, and I am continuing my series on Postmodern poetry today by encouraging you to try your hand at experimental poetry. I’ll be focusing on an excellent series of writing experiment suggestions by Bernadette Mayer, an avant-garde writer known for her innovative use of language. You can find a recording of one of her classes on experimental techniques taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa here.
Let’s start with a helpful definition of experimental art courtesy of A D Jameson from his wide ranging and informative article, What is Experimental Art?:
‘The experimental artist wants her artwork to be different from all the other artworks around her. She desires that her results be unusual, unfamiliar to the point of looking peculiar, perplexing. She may be drawing on conventions, she may be working inside one or more traditions. But her conventions and traditions are not dominant ones; they are, perhaps, older ones, or unpopular ones. Or she may be importing ideas and conventions from one medium into another, where they are not well known.
Or it may be that she has noticed an idea—a possibility—that has not been fully developed in other artworks, and therefore seeks to develop it. She exaggerates or expands that minor concept or idea (something that isn’t dominant in other works) until it overwhelms the more familiar aspects of her artwork, distorting and enstranging the entire thing. Hence Manet and Degas exaggerated the de-emphasis of line and more energetic brushstrokes that they observed in works by Velázquez, J. M. W. Turner, and Eugène Delacroix, developing that idea until they arrived at Impressionism.’
Mayer has come up with a list of useful experimental writing ideas that we’ll work from today: Writing Experiments (scroll past the journal ideas). These suggestions are designed to liberate us from our mental sets, patterns of approaching our work that can sometimes stifle our creative flow. It is useful to explore new ways of creating poetry, even if they don’t find a home in our repertoire as these methods can inject much needed new ideas and creative problem solving into our habitual patterns. Feel free to use any of her ideas or come up with one of your own. Here are a few highlights I’ve found particularly useful and inspiring:
• Begin with the etymology of a word or family of words that fascinate you, or even the etymology of your own name. This can initiate an interesting investigation of interconnections and meaning.
• Write something secret and something shared. Write both things using veiled and then direct language. Compose a poem from both points of view.
• Pull together a group of words, either randomly selected or brainstormed and then form these words only into a poem. Let the diction circumscribe the form.
• Construct a poem as if the words were three dimensional objects. Think of ways to form the poem and present it as if this were true.
• Reduce your work methodically until you feel it is deconstructed into its fundamental parts. Make these remaining, ultimately necessary words into a poem.
• And a personal favorite, her provocative suggestion to systematically derange the language!
Midwinter Day [Excerpt from a book length poem]
by Bernadette Mayer
(courtesy of the Poetry Foundation)
I write this love as all transition
As if I’m in instinctual flight,
a small lady bug
With only two black dots on its back
Climbs like a blind turtle on my pen
And begins to drink ink in the light
We’re allowed to crowd love in
Like a significant myth
resting still on paper
I remember being bitten by a spider
It was like feeling what they call
the life of the mind
Stinging my thigh like Dante
this guilty beetle
Is a frightening thing
When it shows its wings
And leaps like the story of a woman who
once in this house
Said the world was like a madhouse
cold winds blowing
And life looks like some malignant disease,
Viewed from the heights of reason
Which I don’t believe in
I know the place
Taken by tradition is like superstition
And even what they call the
Literary leaves less for love
The world is straight ice
I know backwards the grief of life like chance
if I can say that
I can say easily I know you
like the progression
From memory to what they call freedom
though it’s not reason at all
It’s an ideal like anarchism though it’s not an ideal
It’s a kind of time that has flown away from causes
Or gotten loose from them, pried loose
Or used them up, gotten away
no one knows why
There is no reason, there’s no dream
it’s not inherited
Like peace but it’s not peace
there’s no beginning
• Choose one of Mayer’s experimental techniques or create one of your own. If you’d like, you can share your methodology or process notes at the end of your poem.
• Copy the direct link to the URL and paste it, along with your name, in the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.
• Engage in community building, a primary principle here at the pub, by investigating the work of others, reading and commenting. One of the best ways to become a better poet is to read and reflect on the work of your peers. Please provide positive, constructive feedback and appreciation. It’s how we show respect for one another at the pub.
• Share your work and that of others on your social networks. Encourage other poets to join us here at the pub.