I did an interesting little job on Wednesday evening, over at the Irwell writers' group in Bury. They are a lovely bunch of very down to earth people who have no real interest in the usual arguments and intelectual disputatiousness of the poetry world (much of which amounts to a bunch of theologians arguing over angels on pinheads.) They just write.
Beforehand, I asked them all to bring a pair of scissors (then promptly forgot mine...) because I wanted them to write something and then cut it up. I give them a line from a South African newspaper I just happened to have a copy of, then said they could also choose a line at random from the paper as well, but they had to write in verses.
After they'd cut up their verses, they had to rearrange them, preferably in as random a way as they could. I've used this technique for my own poems several times now, and I used it for a poem that I'd brought along with me. It worked really well; people who usually rhymed ended up with something stranger than they'd usually go for, and there were some wonderfully suggestive open-ended poems that came out of the exercise.
The other exercise was to take a poem entirely from the South African newspaper, taking lines out that seemed to fit into something poetic.
These techniques might sound terribly avant garde to some, but I think they can be great generators of the unexpected. I gave them my theory of why the arts in the 20th century changed quite as suddenly as they did. It's my "Boredom Theory": that Picasso thought up Cubism because he was bored of doing it the usual way. The same with TS Eliot, Ezra Pund and WS Williams. I think it's as good a reason as any.
Other news: I read a portion of Nancy Cunard's Paralax in the Oxford Anthology of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry the other day. I thought it was an interesting curio, and shows that modernism in England wasn't just TS Eliot; but I can't say I was impressed enough to look out the whole poem. But I'm glad I read it; it gives a fuller picture of modernism, and makes me aware that there is more interesting stuff out there in English poetry than simply Edward Thomas and Thomas Hardy.
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