Invisible Collagism

From the Literature Clock, a project I love for its particularity, its ridiculousness, and weird genius

In a throwaway anonymous blogging project between fifteen and twenty years ago, I spent some months making poems, or hyperlinked poem-like objects, that were collages of a sort, composed entirely out of lines quoted from other people’s published poems. I cited each line by linking it to the site where I’d found the text of its original poem. The game was to choose lines in such a way that they worked together, in some aesthetic that I can’t quite recapture now but at least still feel that there was in fact a there there, something a little like a Dadaist cut-up, I suppose, though I only encountered those later and was not intentionally trying to emulate them.

(Why was this a blogging project instead of a document? I don’t think anybody was reading that blog. Perhaps the occasional random passerby. It was a public project but not one particularly meant to be encountered, if that makes sense: “publishing” these poetic-extract objects, even just on a blog that nobody was reading, was at the time enough for me to take it seriously as a small art project. I was teaching myself some things, and that required both play and a kind of earnestness. But I worried then, as now, that my disposition is such that I simply would not take seriously work not intended for publication: the brain’s wise lizard knows.)

At first, I used full lines: I would try to make a line from one poem match the next line from a different poem not only in rhythm or some kind of harmony or pleasing disharmony, but also to choose lines in such a way that they could be read one after the other as if they had been born that way, creating through their juxtaposition a new meaning, or at least an intriguing nonsense. But after a while, keeping complete lines untouched became tedious because there were so many instances when things almost worked but not quite. So instead of quoting lines in full, I began to quote fragments. I still refused to write my own words as connecting glue, so I took the connecting words and phrases too from other poems.

(Why this refusal? I think at the time it was—and still is, I suppose—because I write little poetry, and I am uncomfortable with the form. That’s not to say I don’t touch it at all. A couple of years ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic and around this very time of year, a few days before Independence Day with the planes growling overhead, I put together a whole chapbook of poems, with my own words this time, and my own layout and design to boot. This is the first poem in it, “langurous”: I was reminded of it today because all these things happened again, dog and monkeys and planes. It is the nature of these circular days, these years turned in upon themselves.

But I have not written a poem since this chapbook. So perhaps my experiments with poetry may be considered seasonal at best.)

The collage project ended the day I took the word “and” from somebody’s poem and used it to link two phrases together. It was important for the game that I did not just write my own “and”; it was an “and” taken from some poem that I loved very much. I linked this solitary word to its source. This provenance made the “and” special, and the game lawful. It also made the game complete: there was nowhere left to go, and so it was done. Sometimes an ending comes upon you long before you understand you were working toward it.