Process Poetry Potions

Twitter user @xtinarc has spent some time making up process poems from Wikipedia pages. They’re very cool little poems which gain meaning through the changing of the layout/form. In the context of Wikipedia, these words are just information, yet when broken into lines and stanzas, suddenly we have poetry.

You can see our mini-chat on popular bird-based micro-blogging platform, Twitter, here.

But the general rules applied were:

  • no editing text (punctuation is okay of course)
  • lines must appear in the order they appear in the article
  • each successive poem’s topic has to link from the poem/page before

Hey, now you can do your own!

The above poem is taken from the Sodium Carbonate page on Wikipedia, and rearranged (but not too much as per the rules). This is the kind of searching for meaning — or meaning by curation — that I talk about in this old essay that I love to link you to. It’s interesting how just the change of context, the addition of a few little marks (“for example”) change how we read it. I think this is because poetry, while written down, is still implicitly the oral tradition — to read it is to “present a reading” which implies that you might read it differently next time, every interaction with the poem-object would give you a different performance and meaning.

This is almost the explicit opposite of Anne Carson’s NOX— which as a grief document/object feels like it constantly attempts to grip on to something solid, and leave it with you. It contains endless definitions, which, in themselves, contain redefinitions and diversions. Each of these appears like a dictionary entry at first, but you soon realise these contain the heart of the work which is — “how to classify the death of your brother, who you didn’t know very well”.

Grief objects like this are partly about the process. His absence from her life (and her mother’s more painfully), makes her grasping of it an exercise in defining what is now missing. She discusses the idea that the news of her brother’s death wandering across the sea to her, slowly, from where he died in Copenhagen, and helps to join his dying away from home, their mother’s recent death and his death as a source of this pain thorough this definition:

This, combined with the re-framing of the work by using these facsimiles, fragmentation and obfuscation of the full facts to represent her own inability to grasp at it. We’re unsure if Carson used random number generation to help take the ordering of this work away from herself — but she has commented on doing so previously, and her newest release, Float can be read in nearly any order.

With all of this, we can see how processes can give us a way as poets and writers to “let go” of part of the process, instead gripping firmly to some other part — the joy of language say. It’s a useful for emulating that feeling of powerlessness, and it’s useful for engaging on a level which only requires our good taste, and not necessarily our muscle.


(and, a minor aside, anything written about Anne Carson’s work should really be prefaced in the way the Charlotte Shane does in the above article about Float:

“I love Anne Carson’s work dearly though I suspect I am too stupid for it.”


Helen McClory has a nice thread of lady-writers that is worth checking out. It’s especially interesting that she requested a list from men in particular — I suppose to remind us chaps of the excellent women writers we enjoy for international women’s day. My suggestion is, as always, that if you haven’t read POND by Claire-Louise Bennett you’ve missed the best book of last year.



Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own #9 — we’ve nearly done ten of these, and it seems fine. If you think there’s something I could do better, I’d love to know what it is — tweet me or email me! Etch To Their Own was written by @CJEggett as a process as a function of the rule: put one word in front of the other until you stop. Next week is super exciting because I am currently working through Attrib by @GiantRatSumatra and there will be a review next week! Ask your friends if they need more poetry waffle in their inbox, then send them this, or this. If you do you can have this spoiler about how I feel about our little newsletter growing every week, and also a spoiler for the excellent music film FRANK.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated C J Eggett’s story.