Poem Friday: Annelyse Gelman’s ‘And Start West’ is an exhilarating read


Annelyse Gelman divides her time between the United States and New Zealand. Her work appears in Landfall, Hobart, and elsewhere, and she is the author of the poetry collection Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone (Write Bloody, 2014). Find her at annelyseg.tumblr.com or http://www.annelysegelman.com.

Annelyse’s note: “AND START WEST” is the first poem in a series-in-progress of centos (‘collage poems’) culled entirely from William Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch. The project, ‘titled aw heck LaNd,’ is a reenactment of some of the cutup processes used in the making of the original book, and an experiment in voice, diction, character, text-as-image…. This first poem comes more from me (the author) than from any narrator; it’s about risk and renewal, choosing moth-hood over cockroach-dom.

Paula’s note: The constraints poets choose for themselves are fascinating. I once met a man selling envelopes of words at London’s Camden Market that you could compose into poems yourself. Christian Bök composed an entire collection of poems where in each chapter he limited himself to a single vowel. Mary Ruefle creates ‘poems’ by whiting out many of the words on a page of text. Interestingly, she doesn’t call what is left a poem, but such a constraint might be another poet’s avenue to writing them. Mary says: ‘An erasure is the creation of a new text by disappearing the old text that surrounds it. I don’t consider the pages to be poems, but I do think of them as poetry, especially in sequence and taken as a whole; when I finish an erasure book I feel I have written a book of poetry without a single poem in it, and that appeals to me.’ Alan Loney used the words on the erasure tape of his old typewriter as the vocabulary source for his collection, The Erasure Tapes. Annelyse’s poems leapt out at me. I loved the tactile sense of collage—of cut and paste by hand. Of shifting and shuffling words to find the lyrical links and the semantic bridges that delighted or puzzled. As I read this example, I was absorbing musicality despite her limited word palette and a sense of mesh-like, cut-up, hiccupy narrative. Knowing the original source, you go back and make new connections (the sharp edges acquire a new potency)—either way it is an exhilarating read.The sort of read that makes you want to write.

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