Last week I discussed authors who craft their work entirely through erasure—erasing the majority of another writer’s oeuvre, leaving select words in place which form a new poetry. Those poets allowed a residual marker of the original poem in the placement of the remaining words—every word was located where the original author had places it; the new author (as Ronald Johnson claimed) “composed the holes.”
A few others take the process a step further by eradicating the “holes” and compressing the appropriated language over the geography of the original pages. The resultant poetry is one further step from the original…
Gregory Betts’s The Others Raisd in Me (Toronto: Pedlar Press, 2009) is 150 unique “readings” of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 150:
O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantize of skill
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.
Using Shakespeare’s original, Betts explores what her terms “pluderverse.” Restricting himself to only the diction found in Shakespeare’s original, Betts finds a freedom in the sonnet as he can not just use the words as they are found, but also the individual letters; which allows him the potential to create:
a new act
in the rushed click
Robert Fitterman’s Rob The Plagiarist ( New York: Roof Books, 2009) undertakes the same compositional conceit in a different direction. The 13 pieces in the volume each take a different tactic towards appropriation; and steals at a different volume. “The Sun Also Also Rises” recontextualizes every sentence from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises which begins with the first person pronoun. By un-anchoring Hemingway’s muscular prose from the original, Fitterman allows the “I” to float restlessly, uncertainly attaching to Fitterman’s own (minimized) voice. As readers, we are unsure where to attach our own identifying – should we see Hemingway, Fitterman, or does the text become a funhouse mirror in which to see our own visage? How do we identify with the author, when the author didn’t actually create what he’s presented to us?
Once again—to reiterate a constant obsession of mine—these books explore the Borgesian possibility of the infinite library. Every book contains a text only the slightest swerve from the book next to it. What I find so inspiring about Borges’s “The Library of Babel” is that it is fractal in scope—just as the library contains an infinite number of books, so does each book reiterate that potentiality.