Over at last week’s Pulitzer Remix roundup, Drew Myron asked me to describe more about the Remix rules and the composing process. And I’m happy to oblige!
The two big Pulitzer Remix rules are as follows:
Each poem you produce should be created from words and phrases that appear in your Pulitzer Prize-winning source text. You can rearrange terms and make changes such as modifying verb tenses, adding plurals, inserting pronouns, etc. but should not deviate wildly from the original text to produce poems “inspired by” the novel, for example.
Poems you produce must alter the source text in some substantial way. You should apply one of the techniques suggested in the “strategies” section — or one of your own invention — to produce a poem whose language and meaning differ from that of the source text. This is in adherence to section 2 of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry. Poets who incorporate long unaltered passages from their source texts into their poems risk being removed from the project.
The editors suggest the following strategies (though of course, we’re free to make up our own):
Select and rearrange. Choose interesting words and phrases from a section of your source text, then rearrange them into a poem.
Black / white-out. Use a magic marker or white-out pen to erase consecutive sections of your text, leaving words and phrases behind that make up your poem.
Write a poem using only dialogue spoken by a specific character. For example, if The Great Gatsby was your source text, you could write a found poem from only the words spoken by Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, Nick Carraway, etc. during the course of the novel.
Cut it up. Photocopy pages from the text, then cut the words and phrases into strips. Put them in a bag, shuffle them up, then draw them out randomly and rearrange them until you have a poem.
Get technical. Use online tools like the ones detailed below to help scramble and rearrange your text in interesting ways.
I’ve been using the black-out and “select and rearrange” (though I’ve been calling it cut-up….oops) methods so far this month.
For the black-out poems, I start by pulling a page out of a PDF. I scanned about 40 pages of text using an app on my phone, and if I want to work on some black-out poems, I pull out the document and print out the number of pages I need. Usually, I start by blocking out the proper nouns, since I have yet been interested in writing a poem about a particular character (unless you consider the house itself a character, and then I wrote one last week). From then on, it’s a matter of reading the page over and over and over, penciling out bits at a time. I start small, with conjunctions or adverbs that strike me as irrelevant, moving from individual words to entire sentences. When the piece is done, I pull up the digital file and black everything out using Photoshop, which looks better than my pencil work. The black-out poems have been interesting because they remind me how difficult it is, still, to cut things from my poems. They also reinforce that sometimes, excision is the best route to completion.
For the cut-up poems, I have roughly 20 pages of typed-up sentences and paragraphs from Beloved that I thought might be useful in some way. When I sit down to work on a piece, I shuffle through the pages until I find something that resonates me either thematically or linguistically. I then keep rifling around and pulling lines that builds on the original idea, rearranging as I go. The final lines get taped into my notebook, and I type everything up.
So that’s the gist of it. Check out the poems below.
April 8th: “Lady of the Lake”
April 9th: “Return to Form”
April 10th: “Ignorance was bliss”
April 11th: “Victory of the Soul”
April 12th: “Empowerment”
April 13th: “Pleasure, Affirming”
April 14th: “Springtime Plea“