Bridget Hoida On: Boys Named Pancake

Ever buy a book for the poem on the first, unnumbered, page because the poem is so spot on you can hardly stand it? And you didn’t have a pen or a big enough scrap of paper or the time to kneel in the aisle of the store and scribble the first line and maybe perhaps the author?

And although Professor Dane taught you well, and with certainty, how to lift a page from any book, including those in fancy temperature controlled archival rooms–like the Huntington and the Bancroft and the Getty–you resist and buy the whole damn thing, in hardcover, even though you are fairly sure no one is watching, and even if they were, with some spit and a string you could lift it anyhow. But you’re feeling angelic and so you buy it outright. And tote it through the city. Even though your walk is long and the Santa Anas are blowing hot and your bag is already bursting with books you haven’t yet read, and are supposed to, and most likely will not get to.

You buy it and forget about it.

You buy it and shelve it with the others.

And then one day, when the very same winds are blowing hot and nasty you recall the poem and search out the book only the poem isn’t in there anymore. Someone tore it out. Without class. Without style or skill. With jagged edges. So you flip through the book hoping it’s folded in half and tucked neatly inside and that’s when the words start and draw you in and you realize the poem was a piece of crap written by a two bit hack, but this book…The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake


Bridget Hoida on: Surrealist free-association

As if Parisian tents and 18-point times weren’t already high enough on my love list… now there’s the Metro Poem, ala Jacques Jouet, who, according to Daniel Levin Becker “burns all his drafts.” Which has me imagining, of course, the musings of my darling Magdalena as she navigates La Cienega from Fairview (or at the very least the 10) to Rodeo. I’m keeping the constraints (as outlined below) but adjusting the stops if you will… from the open and close of the metro’s door to the irrational alternation of red and green traffic lights:  When the light turns red, you write the line down. When the cars start again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the car is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. And instead of stations, we’ll use neighborhoods to break our stanzas. We’ll call it the Unbuilt Highway Poem with a nod to the Beverly Hills freeway that never was.

From Daniel Levin Becker’s essay “Little Demons of Subtlety: On the Oulipian Constraint” in Berfrois:

“The Metro Poem: it’s a free-verse form with rigid compositional rules. You get on the metro and compose the first line of a poem in your head. When the train makes its first stop, you write the line down. When the train starts again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the train is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. If you change to a different metro line, you pause on the platform to write down the line you composed before getting off, then start a new stanza for the next leg of the trip. You write down the last line upon arriving at your destination, and then go wherever it is you were going in the first place.

The metro poem is oulipian mostly in the sense that, if done rigorously, it’s surprisingly challenging—straightforward as it sounds, the time strictures make it less like a Surrealist free-association exercise and more like a suicide-aerobics drill for the parts of your mind that usually make observations into ruminations and ruminations into language. It constrains the space around your thoughts, not the letters or words in which you will eventually fit them: you have to work to think thoughts of the right size, to focus on the line at hand without workshopping the previous one or anticipating the next. You have to actively avoid the master craftsman’s impulse to map out the whole poem, since that would defeat the momentary experientiality of the thing. “There is no question of correcting one’s composition, beyond the time of composing the verse, which means that the time for premeditation is reduced to a minimum,” Jouet writes. “No manuscript version.” (As a rule, Jouet burns his drafts.)”

From: “Little Demons of Subtlety: On the Oulipian Constraint” by Daniel Levin Becker