Weaving and Erasure
So far this winter I've written a sonnet for inclusion in a limited edition artist's book to be published in August (more on that as details become available), I've been writing and mailing out one postcard poem every week as part of a year-long poetry postcard project, I've been reading and approving proofs and cover design for my forthcoming third poetry collection due out in March/April with CavanKerry Press (lots more on that later!) And, on a day-to-day basis, I've been both weaving and creating erasure poems. For anyone who's not familiar with erasure: take a page of text, cross out, black out, white out, or otherwise obliterate the words you don't want. What remains is your poem! That's a simple definition of erasure. Weaving: wrap a strand of yarn vertically (warp) and work a second strand horizontally (weft) in and out (weave) of the vertical pieces. If erasure is the act of vanishing material, weaving is the magic of creating material out of seeming thin air.
I have written single erasures using various texts in the past and have led others, usually beginner-poets in the act of erasure. It's a non-threatening, fun way to experience poetry for the first time. Erasure is a little bit deceiving. Many poetry purists look with disfavor on erasure as some kind of parlor game, not real writing. Which couldn't be further from the truth. Imagine straightforward poetry writing: you have an idea (or not) and can choose from the entire English language to create your poem. A sonnet: you can choose from the entire English language but must confine your creativity to 14 lines of ten syllables each, preferably with end-words that follow a rhyme(ish) scheme. Now take the erasure: your poem can be one line to infinity but must use only the words within a specific text. Tell me that isn't writing!
My erasure project has involved creating an erasure poem for each page of the long short-story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Story beloved of women's lit. programs, it is, in short, the tale of a woman oppressed by the role of wife and mother in the early 1900s. Told to rest in a dark room by her physician husband when all she wants to do is live, think and write, she goes colorfully insane. For my own erasures, I chose to reorder any words and phrases I wanted to use on a page, rather than taking each word in the order it appears. Any word on a page is game for my purposes. This means that I didn't and can't create a visual record of the project in physical blackout poems. This also necessitated that I compose quite a bit in my head because I wasn't blacking-out words as I went and I only began typing when I had a hook or promising direction. Here are two examples of poems I 'pulled' from the text and their origin pages.
I didn’t realize for a long time
what the thing was
now I’m sure
it is a woman I was.
I watch it by night:
moonlight, candlelight, lamplight.
There is a woman
behind my quiet. He started the habit
of making me lie,
subdued. I mean,
I sleep all I can. But, you see,
I’m convinced I don’t sleep.
I’m getting a little afraid
I have found out
there are many women—
bright spots, shady spots,
so many heads, white
eyes. The pattern tries
to strangle them. They shake
the windows, the garden
and arbors. They shake
the daylight hard.
Along the way, I reached a couple impasses with this project and had to redirect. My main concern is not to simply recreate the narrative in poems. I want to make something new, find another story within The Yellow Wallpaper, using its diction. Creating erasure in this free-form manner allows the poet to become familiar with a text in a more intimate way. I will say that Perkins Gilman's vocabulary is perfect for erasure, rich, varied and offering many options. The use of olfactory descriptions to depict the wallpaper, all the creeping and yellow 'smooches', the darkness and moonlight, the torn, gouged, and gnawed walls; heads, eyes, and shapes in the paper, words like 'grotesque' and 'sulfurous'. So much material for an erasurist.
There's a form of Japanese weaving known as Saori which is simply defined as improvisational weaving. It may come as no surprise that this is my basic approach in both art forms. In weaving, I use a collection of variously sized lap and tapestry looms to create simple pieces that feature color combination, texture, materials and 'flow'. I'm not a trained weaver, I couldn't find my way around a 4, 6 or 8 harness loom, I don't know how to create a herringbone stitch, tweed, or a Celtic knot motif on an inkle loom. But... I do know how to wrap yarn vertically around the pegs of a simple frame loom and even how to devise my own little looms. I wove the small mat above, and the one below, on my favorite little 'loom' which I created by wrapping yarn around a wooden artist's panel box. It measures about 8x8 inches and has a recess, like a shadow box, in back. That's where I weave. When finished, I snip the wrapped threads, knot and get a nice long fringe.
Tapestry hangings I create on a Harrisville lap loom, weaving different colors and improvising stitches as I go. I have a knack for finding cool sticks and roots for hanging tapestries. My own collection includes a bird, a unicorn and a rat.
My approach to weaving and erasure, to any poetry-writing actually, is quite similar. Both begin with strands: words, yarn, and can be put in any order or design that please me. Metaphorically, the loom all warped up is like a poetic form, the lines of a sonnet waiting to be filled with substance (weft) or the lines of paper waiting for words. So, I've spent the first half of the winter unintentionally practicing Saori in both weaving and writing. And I think I've got a little something to show for it!
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