Found poetry is kind of like a zombie: both inert and very much alive, something pre-formed that has been electrified with new and possibly disturbing energy. Seems perfect for Spooky Season: there’s plenty to fear, these days, on top of your routine vampires and ghouls and black cats. Who needs horror movies in October 2020 when a fascist pumpkin has a shot at a second term as President of the United States, when the pumpkin endorses sheet-wearing white supremacists, when a sinister pandemic passes over the globe like smoke?
Diving into the creepy shit when our days are this dark might seem foolish, but sometimes you have to do your shadow work in order to prepare, one day, for the light to come in.
I’m super excited to be participating in THE POEMING this month! Over on my Poeming-approved Tumblr for this project, PopPoeming, I’ll be writing one found poem every day using Charlaine Harris’ Living Dead in Dallas as a source text.
This intersection of poetry and popular culture is particularly rife, here, which is why I wanted to take a minute to write about it. Not only are poets involved in this project using a popular novel as their source text, but they’re also openly engaging the hit television show, True Blood, that was based on that novel series, as well.
Until I started this project, I’d never once even peeked at one of Harris’ novels, though I am a huge fan of True Blood (2008 – 2015), the blood-drenched, sex-obsessed HBO show Alan Ball of Six Feet Under fame adapted from Harris’ books. I chose the second book in Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series because I’ve spent a lot of time in Dallas—having spent seven years living in North Texas—and I thought it might give me an occasion to look backward (and what’s scarier than that?) in a productive way.
All the poems we create for this project are found poems. And found poetry, which encompasses forms like cento and erasure, has always seemed to me to be an extremely fertile avenue for introducing poetry to unfamiliar audiences, involving students who are skeptical of poetry or more interested in visual media or even tech (FLARF, anyone?) Using extant material is an excellent springboard for creativity and has the added benefit of moving from something known and familiar (a page in a paperback vampire mystery novel) into something unknown and weird (a short, mysterious poem that is emerging out of literal dirt that covers the page).
The philosophy and practice of erasure have been interests of mine for some time: I had a chance to interview viral erasure poet Isobel O’Hare a few years ago, and three of my erasures are featured in University of Hell Press’Erase the Patriarchy anthology (out this year) that O’Hare edited. This October, it’s been wonderful to have the friction of other poets working with similar source texts at the same time, and having limited options corrals my creative energy in a meaningful way at a time when I feel emotionally and psychologically scattered (pandemic brain).
Rather than beginning with the infinite choice of any word, a poet composing a found poem narrows down her options to the words available in a source text. Then, she can consider the connotations of the text itself. This, for me, is a fascinating dimension of The Poeming V: The Hex of Harris, or so this season’s project is called. Living Dead in Dallas routinely disappoints me with its sidelong glances at racism, sexism, ableism, bigotry, and more. And by using erasure and other found techniques, I’m afforded a chance to wonder about other meanings that might literally lie in the text.
Alan Ball transformed the Sookie Stackhouse stories into something more inclusive and meaningful than Harris’ fluffy book series (she’s referred to the brilliant show as “Alan’s thing” in interviews). Similarly, part of my project is to try to elevate the text above some of its baser instincts. On screen, the divine Anna Paquin gives Sookie’s character even more bite (god, I’m so sorry) than she has in the books, but thus far one of my interest has been in excavating an even sharper, more dangerous female subjectivity that also avoids the sexist and small-minded tendencies the books sometimes lapse into.
The news cycle these days is brutal, and making things is one way that I’ve managed to cope. Some of the techniques I’m using also afford me an opportunity to use my hands and “craft” them into existence. If you’re in need of a similar distraction, grab a salacious magazine and a Sharpie and try erasure or other found poetry techniques for yourself. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, follow along with my Tumblr this month to read some weird, bloody poems. It feels like a great time to try to imagine making something wonderful and unexpected from the status quo.
All erasures sourced from Harris, Charlaine. Living Dead in Dallas. Ace Books, 2002
I’m looking forward to continuing to write and think about these topics in future posts, and I’d love to hear from you. As always, feel free to comment! I would be delighted to have a discussion. You can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram or check out my website.
If you know anyone who might be interested in the kind of topics I’ve been writing about here, let them know or forward them a link! Thanks for reading.