Great artists steal.
For today's assignment, let's continue to play with the notions of indeterminacy and appropriation as tools to combat the twin demons of The Anxiety of Influence and The Blank Page (which I find it oddly helpful to picture as masked wrestlers).
Here's a grab bag of techniques you can try:
- Blind tranlation. David Lehman introduced me to this technique, and Language Hat has a good write-up with several examples. Basically the task is to "translate" a poem into English from a language you don't know, relying solely on your homophonic or visual associations instead of any dictionary or other reference.
- Translation telephone. In this digital variation, start with a poem in English, then run it through an online translator into another language, say French, then translate that translation into a third language, say German, then go from German to Spanish, then finally back into English. If you choose your original well (the Deep Image sorts are aces for this), you end up with something wholly different from the original, which you can then tweak to remove any lingering stink of plagiarism.
- Grand Master mashup. Here you get to quit pretending to be an Original Talent, and you also get to quit writing wan knockoffs of each of your heroes in turn. Instead, pretend you're the love child of the canon, equal parts Dickinson and Whitman, for instance, or the issue of Auden and Schuyler (just go with it). In this Mendelian exercise, you may find it easiest to try to take just one element of each poet's style and combine it with just one element of the other's: what do you get when you cross Whitman's long, rollicking line with H.D.'s neo-classical precision?
Fair warning: I've never actually gotten a good poem out of this last one, but it's a fun way to grapple with your titans so that you can get out of your own way long enough to get some work done.