Read This, Then That: Erasure Poetry

February 20, 2015

Today, we're putting a spotlight on the form of erasure poetry: a means of loosening or reassigning the grip of authorship on a text by erasing some combination of words, sentences, or even entire paragraphs; refining or subverting its original meaning. Both of today’s Read This, Then That picks – The Politics of Knives and Don’t Let it End Like This Tell Them I Said Something – feature erasure elements.

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Read This, Then That features literary pairings for the voracious reader. As big readers ourselves, we know you always want your next book picked out before you finish your current one, so let us help you out with a two-fer recommendation.

 

Read This: The Politics of Knives by Jonathan Ball ( Coach House Books)

Then That: Don’t Let it End Like This Tell Them I Said Something by Paul Vermeersch ( ECW Press)

 

erasure n. a form of found poetry or found art created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. ( Wikipedia)

 

Erasure poetry is a means of loosening or reassigning the grip of authorship on a text by erasing some combination of words, sentences, or even entire paragraphs; refining or subverting its original meaning. It’s a form that’s seen newfound popularity, with poetry projects like Jenni B. Baker’s Erasing Infinite series, where she creates erasure poems from David Foster Wallace’s infamously huge Infinite Jest, page-by-page. Both of today’s Read This, Then That picks – The Politics of Knives and Don’t Let it End Like This Tell Them I Said Something – feature erasure elements.

In Jonathan Ball’s The Politics of Knives, his titular poem borrows from the erasure mechanism to create fissures in his own text. The blackouts in the poem, reminiscent of redacted government documents and differing from the white space in other erasure poetry, inspire an anxiety in the reader, a dire need to know what

See the first page of the poem:

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Ball’s text itself asks questions, with the answers behind “redactions”, keeping secrets from itself. Further along in the poem, three entire lines are blanked, after the line, “...but if there is a code name then what is the code name?”

Paul Vermeersch’s newest collection, Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, sticks truer to the erasure form in the section entitled “The Technology of the Future Will Emerge Hungry.” Vermeersch erases and reshapes texts from poets like Lisa Robertson and T.S. Eliot. The first poem in the series, “Phalanx” is made up of the text from Dennis Lee’s Riffs, but written after and reflective of the disastrous G20 Summit in Toronto.

Vermeersch’s rewriting through erasure is gutting for anyone, but especially those who were there and remember:

I watch the furies one morning, my city
nailed, men and women muddy
and crumpled before the
phalanx riding down Yonge Street.

 

Lee’s Riffs, a poem about falling in love, is stripped in Vermeersch’s reworking to something elegiac, and defiant.

Discover erasure for yourself: read The Politics of Knives, then  Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something.

RTTT_erasurepoems


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