I’ve been erasing again.
I am back on the Henry Van Dyke project pretty much every day, working steadily while also shaping the final projects in a short collection that began as my MFA thesis.
On the whole, I have decided the best thing for the erasures in the primary source material I’m working from is to find a different way into the world (fall ’15, I have two erasures coming out in a publication so gorgeous just thinking about it is freaking me happily out, but this is only spring ’15, so I hate to over-hint). Meanwhile, I’m delving into other old books to make something I can share here.
Though I’m open to any source, it happens that Henry Van Dyke was a prolific, wonderfully expressive writer with a love of rich, textural metaphor, which equals lots of raw lexical material. It also happens that his books are tumbling into library and thrift sales along with paisley bedspreads and wall sized gods’ eyes fashioned from acrylic yarn. It seems HVD had a bit of a revival in the 1970s, and as the last of the avocado colored cast iron is cast off, so are the last copies of Henry’s books. I love them all and have acquired a bit of a collection.
The Ruling Passion (1901), is a book of HVD’s stories that would be rather naturalist if not for their moralistic tighty-pants. The syntax and visual vividness is somewhat limited for Henry, but on most pages, he offers just enough for me to work with.
I’m talking about Henry familiarly because I adore him. Actually, the question I am most often asked about erasure work is, simply, why does it take so long to finish a few small poems? Well, other than that I’m a sorry multitasker and very slow in general, there are some inherent reasons to slow down and de-slam this form.
A few slow facts about erasure art:
Every page of prose has multiple hidden poems. Being a Libra, I struggle with the multiple part.
Every page doesn’t have a good poem on it. There are some pages in almost every major literary work I’ve looked through (and I’ve looked through lots and lots of the greats—imagining what I WOULD do) that seem to be comprised of prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and commas. Sometimes I just settle on spelling things out or, if I can’t put together the words I want most, I might find one or two lovely words and just circle them. There now, not a “poem”, but poetic.
The books are fragile. I paint. It’s my form. I could buy a trunk load of pretty pencils and crayons and pastels, and I’d enjoy that. But in the end, I find a way to cover everything with paint.
I’m like this with sriracha sauce–it goes on everything I eat. So when I art, I have to paint. I have to get the pages wet. Think about that. The pages have to get wet. This is 100 year old paper. And glue. And thread bindings. Wet. Careful now, easy does it.
The poems an erasure artist writes are real poems–from intricate to minimalist. Only, and here’s the catch, the erasure poet cannot redraft. It’s inked, and then it’s done. I’m not rushing into anything.
This work has to strike a certain note with me or it’s not worth the labor. The note is not something I can describe. But it has to ring true.
The paintings have to be worth looking at. I like the blackout poetry I’ve seen wherein someone circles something like “Live fully” and then spray paints the paper around it. It’s really cool. But that’s not this. I have to want to paint the picture. I have many erasures written that haven’t been painted yet.
I think this one is rather haiku-like and I imagine many from this particular source book might share this quality. Hey, so that’s something to keep in mind when writing anything in any form: Dimensional resonance is a structure created by the lexicon, not the intentions or even the plot of a piece. Seems obvious, but when do we think of it like that? So how many levels does your language access? Yeah, get all metaphorical and abstract on that and maybe the revision fairies will visit your dreams tonight.
Sweet and inky sleep, all.