I use a lot of print in my collage art work – I like the way it looks, with the nice geometry it lends to a composition. And then there is the mysterious effect of phrases and sentences cut off in the middle – not meant to be read, but you can’t help it. And then, off you go on a tangent, thinking of all kinds of things…
I was working on some mixed media work last fall, and I had pages from several books on my work table (I have had to overcome the idea that cutting up a book is a bad thing, not when that book is on the free shelves at the library – one step from the trash). My eye fell on a phrase. I cut it out. On another page, another phrase almost seemed to highlight itself. I cut it out and put it with the first. Another page, and another couple of words seemed to fit in with the others. Very quickly, a poem assembled itself.
I was struck by how similar the process was to my collage work – I don’t usually have an aim in mind when I start to work, but just get out my papers and paints and see what develops, and follow it as it goes along. This writing process was just like making a collage to me – assembling words that started off somewhere else and then came together to make a different composition. I was just entranced by this process and have been very happy to add this method of working to my poetry writing.
I don’t look for specific words or phrases. I take torn out pages from various books, I run my eye over them, and something catches my attention. I cut it out, repeat my examination, and get a few more phrases or sentences. I start to arrange them, and keep looking. Maybe at the end I’ll look for some specific words, but they are usually articles or pronouns. I don’t try to force the meaning, but let it develop.
I like this method. It’s contemplative and focused. My mind is calm. I don’t think it’s much different from writing words that come into my mind from my thoughts – these ideas just start from another source and have to be arranged in the same way. It’s made me more aware of how my mind is working when I write poetry and it has emphasized the importance of letting ideas grow in their own way.
After I am satisfied with the poem, I paste it into a copy book (I have painted the pages to make it easier to read). Here’s a collage poem and the corresponding page in the book.
he never spoke of
the reason why he had left
Not entirely straightforward surroundings
The narrow tightening prison
of the thoughts of other people
conflict and emotion
people had been only
too willing to oblige
but simply never did so.