In his essay “The Little Venus of the Eskimos”, Charles Simic describes the way he comes to a poem by foraging his biblio-ecology. I found myself playing with his method this afternoon, a perfect way for book-lovers to get lost between the pages of the read and unwritten. To quote Simic:
“My entire practice…consists of submitting to chance only to cheat it… I, for example, may pull a book from my bookshelf and, opening it anywhere, take out a word, or a phrase. Then, to find another bit of language to go along with my first find, I may grab another book or peek into one of my notebooks and get something like this:"
he rips some papers
a child’s heart
the mouse has a nest
my mother’s mourning dress
After the words are written down, Simic allows them to “play off each other.” The result being something like this:
Someone rips a telephone book in half.
The mouse has a nest in the concert piano.
In a forest of whispers,
A child’s heart,
The mother’s mourning dress.
What looks like a poem might still be subjected to chance, an additional scattering and refocusing. He mentions collaborating with James Tate on some poems by taking a word or phrase and turning themselves into Paul Auster's "pinball machine of associations."
The word "match" and the word "jail" would become "matchstick jail". They'd keep playing and then stop to survey what they had. Then they'd revise, free-associate again, and discover an unexpected poem emerging. Simic describes the process as alternating between feeling like the same person as Tate, or feeling like the poet, or feeling like the critic with no clear pattern or reason for feeling any of it. I love the experience inherent in the writing of a collaborative poem like this.
For more of the marvelous and overtly anti-nationalistic, read Charles Simic's The Life of Images: Selected Prose.