A) The Dictionary Assist
- Pick a word that vexes you. Look up its Indo-European word root and transcribe all of the language in the entry. That means not only the words that share the same root, but the definitions and explanations folded into the entry. If your word doesn’t have an Indo-European root, pick a synonym that does.
- Make a list of false cognates of your word: anagrams, homophones, pararhymes and the like. If your word is “mean,” you might include “main, man, moan, mien, mine, neem, mon, men, and, for kicks, Eames. Draw from any language that’s meaningful to you.
- Make a list of associations around your word, including synonyms, puns, references, jokes, and titles: “Mean Streets, meander, meaning, meanie, A Prayer for Owen Meany, etc.”
- Write a prose poem in which you use as much of this language as possible. You can either write as your word, letting “Mean” speak in the first person, or write to your word, telling “Mean” what’s what.
B) The Deletionist Assist
- Go to http://thedeletionist.com/ and drag the icon on the page into your browser’s bookmarks bar.
- Go to several website you’d like to erase (gmail will let you get personal, Project Gutenberg will provide interesting source material, and nyt.com will provide contemporary flavor–open a number of sites in different browser windows).
- Click the “Deletionist” bookmark and watch the dutiful Deletionist remove most of the language on your page. Harvest any phrases that interest you (you won’t always get phrases, so if you don’t like the results, try another site).
- Use this material for poems or screencapture page results you like.
Abra: A Living Text is a magical poetry spellbook for iPad and iPhone. Ian Hatcher, Kate Durbin, and I made this free app to put the text of Abra (1913 Press, 2016), a poem that mutates on the page, in readers’ hands, troubling the boundary between author and reader. In the app, the text of the book mutates slowly on its own, and you can accelerate that process through touch: “Mutate” words, “Graft” new words into Abra‘s vocabulary, “Erase” to open holes in the text, and “Prune” to trim away excess. You can also cast the “Cadabra” spell, which will transform the words on screen in surprising ways. You can write into Abra using any character set, including emoji, on your device, and the app will mutate your language too, bringing it back to you on later readings. The “Share” feature helps you make screen captures and save them to your device or post to Facebook and Twitter. But you can also use Abra to generate starter poems any way you see fit. Here’s one approach:
- Open the settings menu in the toolbar at the top of the screen by touching the icon in the upper right corner. Turn off “autonomous mutation” to give you more control.
- Spin the dial on the bottom of the screen to be taken to a random poem, then use the “Erase” function to drawn openings in the text with your fingers. Don’t worry about being purposeful–just run your finger through the lines at random.
- Switch to the “Mutate” spell and run your fingertip across the words to see them transform.
- Use the “Graft” feature to fill in gaps in a way that threads the poem together. You can also “Prune” to close up spaces. If you like to make sense, do it. If you like to revise, as Brenda Hillman says, toward strangeness, then do that.
- Screenshot your resulting poem or transcribe interesting turns of phrase and use them to seed a new poem in your journal.