Even when writing is the thing that my body craves to do, I still have to remind myself now and then to have fun with it. There are endless amounts of activities to cultivate spontaneity and freedom within the form. That playfulness begins by seeking out other’s art first.
All art is made from art. We constantly recycle other people’s words and thoughts all the time, and upcycle these ideas into our own creations. Art can be anything, as it is everywhere and in everything we see. A body, a leaf, a turn of phrase, the way that a teabag drapes over a mug’s lip, an old book or painting, etc—all of this is art. Which is why we must keep our eyes wide open. Observe as much as you can. The world is your prompt, the world is your material. From the world, we make art. Art is the thing that draws a person’s attention to something they may have naturally ignored or passed by unknowingly.
Here are a few of my favorite artists who make something new out of something old:
Will Ashford‘s work combines text with art in a really lovely way. This piece with the umbrella especially makes me happy.
Mary Ruefle has made over forty-five books of erasure art. Erasure is “the creation of a new text by disappearing the old text that surrounds it.” The words she uncovers blink at us as if appearing from behind a ghostly fog. Ruefle says of her work: “The books have been called “found poems” but I don’t consider them as such. A found poem is a text found in the world, taken out of its worldly context, and labeled a poem. I certainly didn’t “find” any of these pages, I made them in my head, just as I do my other work. In the erasures I can only choose words out of all the words on a given page, while writing regularly I can choose from all the words in existence. In that sense, the erasures are like a “form” –I am restricted by certain rules. I have resisted formal poetry my whole life, but at last found a form I can’t resist. It is like writing with my eyes instead of my hands.” Read more about this unique art form in Ruefle’s essay, “On Erasure.”
My good friend from University of Michigan, the talented artist Esha Biswas, has kept a book of found poetry since I first met her freshman year. She continues to astound me—the way that she can spot the sparkling of diamonds within text-heavy pages, and then effortlessly threads them into her own story. You can see many of her pages on her website. .
In addition to using existing books for material, I have recently been introduced to two exercises to try when you want to stir up the pot a bit and let loose on your control for perfection . The page is our playground, why not have fun with it?
Spandrel: The word spandrel refers to, in architecture, the space between two arches or between an arch and a rectangular enclosure. We can use this idea of “extra space” or “leftovers” in terms of writing, too. Sometimes, in the editing process, we are forced to cut a great line, perhaps because it was unnecessary, irrelevant, or redundant. But no writing ever has to be swiped from the face of the earth! Writers are some of the best hoarders on the planet. Many writers I’ve met keep a “graveyard” file on their computer for all of the little bits of text that didn’t make it into a final piece, but still may have value later on. For class, we were encouraged to rummage back through our old journals and “graveyard” files to pick out little scraps of writing and create something new using an amalgam of just those scraps. In a way, we were finding poetry from our own word landfills.
Homophonic translations: Print out a poem or song lyrics in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand. Translate the sound of the poem into English (e.g. French “blanc” to blank or “toute” to toot. While much of the “translation” will be pretty nonsensical, many lines on their own will be unique and original images that could be tucked away for later use. For example: my homophonic translation of the Spanish song “Cucurrucucu Paloma” was as follows:
The dice of the night have been thrown
We have no mass, let’s sleep
We are pure, you and me
The dice that never comes
We have no mass, let’s sleep
Tomorrow will be purer.
We’re heroes of the same sky
How we suffer, poorly
Hasting towards death
Let’s call the fire what it is.
The Lesson: Sometimes the best discoveries are those chosen by random, those products of accidents and misunderstandings. Let your eye be drawn to what excites you. Wherever you land, art will be found there.