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  • January 2019
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POW: Censorship Poetry

Welcome to Poetry On Wednesday!

Today I’m going to be self-promoting and share a poem I made by censoring the work of another author — okay, it’s not really censorship, but that sounds more fun than “Selectively-Editing-With-Sharpie Poetry”

I took a page from a withdrawn library book, in this case Dragon’s Egg, by Robert L. Forward, and I selectively edited it using a Sharpie, until it became my own work. Here’s a picture of what it looks like with the text following:


he had been


abandoning the sleds.


he has no idea

The people are behind him,

underleaders, understand

tending crops like laborers.

The astrologer sticks are right

in some way. Disrupting,

hungry, swift, has

this rabble-rouser spell

the powerful east Priest of any blessing.

A sharp ripple, pale, turns, passed

less than half a Temple. As

Empire thronged, finally God held

an eastern orifice

once again.

This is a fun writing exercise because it lends the flavor of the original text to the finished poem. I’d never normally write such a sci-fi piece, but Robert Forward allowed me to go beyond my boundaries and think about the exciting possibilities of the genre. And I really do think it’s a writing exercise, not just an erasing exercise – to make a poem out of a page definitely requires creative thinking as well as grammatical maneuvering.

There’s a whole literature of erasure out there, conveniently profiled in this article, “Absent Things As If They Were Present” from the January 2012 issue of The Believer (and unconveniently not available in full online, but check out the library for a copy).  Jonathan Safran Foer, famous for writing Everything is Illuminated & Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, just made a whole new book out of one of his favorite books, and had it published in an amazing edition where all the words he didn’t use were cut out of the original work.  Thus, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz becomes Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Want to try your hand at this stuff?  It’s one of the activities available at tonight’s Teen Open Mic Poetry Slam at The Zone in Lawrenceville. Join us from 4-6 pm to read work, hear others read, and hang out.  More info is at the  previous link, or read about the Zone here.

-Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

Writerly Writing Habits

If you’ve ever obsessed over an unfinished story or spent hours trying to perfect a poem or English class essay, you know how tricky and tedious the writing process can be. To master the craft, many professional writers develop their own quirky working strategies to help them stay productive and keep their ideas flowing.  Readers have always been curious about the physical process behind great works of literature. When it comes to the development of your own unique writing habits, you might want to take some tips from the pros.

Some writers work during very specific hours, and others simply wait until inspiration strikes. Stephen King gives himself a strict daily output requirement—ten pages every day, even on holidays. Then there are writers like James Joyce, author of mind-boggling 20th century novels like Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, who often worked for hours just to complete a sentence or two. John Green (who wrote An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska, and other awesome YA books) has confessed that he ends up deleting about 90% of everything he writes.

Ernest Hemingway at his standing desk.

Do you sit at a desk when you write? Ernest Hemingway preferred to stand. He perched his typewriter on top of a high shelf and eventually designed a standing desk for himself. Then there was Truman Capote, the eccentric writer of the infamous true crime novel In Cold Blood, who said “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down.” He preferred to work from bed.

Some writers need peace and quiet; others can’t think without music playing. When Junot Diaz is working on a particularly tricky passage, he locks himself in the bathroom and sits on the edge of the bathtub. Author Jonathan Franzen believes the Internet is the most productivity-killing distraction of all, so he writes on an old laptop with no wireless card and has actually destroyed his Ethernet port so he will never be tempted to connect to the web. When J.K. Rowling was finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she checked into a hotel room so she could write for days without distraction.

Nowadays, most writers use a computer, though some still prefer to draft their work on paper, from college-ruled notebooks to multi-colored moleskines. Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels in fragments on index cards, in no. 2 pencil. He liked to shuffle the cards around to decide what order worked best. Legendary Beat generation writer Jack Kerouac glued pages and pages of paper together into long winding scrolls and fed them through his typewriter so he never had to stop writing to change the paper. And don’t forget the necessary refreshments. Coffee, tea, Code Red Mountain Dew, beef jerky…whatever keeps the words flowing.

Maybe you only write between the hours of 4:00 and 5:00 o’clock in the morning, in a special writing fort, on Post-It notes, with your eyes closed, while spinning around in circles. No matter the method, it’s the work that counts! Don’t forget to submit your original poetry, short fiction, or creative blog post to the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest. The deadline is May 7th, so there’s still plenty of time to hone your writing process and get to work. And be sure to check out one of the teen writing workshops happening at various CLP locations this month—you can find all the dates & times here.

Happy writing!

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