My second book of poems, The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground, is a hybrid of poetry and digital art about the Pacific War, and the poems are all erasures. Working on that project, I loved how erasure and digital technology made it possible for the poems’ contexts to be always present, a mouse-scroll or click away from the poems themselves.
I’m currently collaborating on a bilingual project with Mei Kwan Ng, a Hong Kong poet who writes in Chinese. We’re using erasure as a technique, though the resulting poems are not exactly erasures. We are starting with Hong Kong’s Basic Law (its constitution, roughly), but replacing most nouns with language from canonical Chinese poems. Our goal is to turn the very bureaucratic Basic Law into language which sings, and which is alert to the post-Umbrella Movement political context of Hong Kong. Our new poems’ borrowed syntax patterns are declarative and detached, and with the classically beautiful images, the poems have a feeling of almost prophetic authority. So, for example, this excerpt from the Basic Law:
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be a
local administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, which
shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and come directly under
the Central People’s Government.
The white sun shall be the bright blanket of heaven, which shall
enjoy a high degree of sheltering the people spreading directly
over the hard road.
This prompt is modeled after that project. You can start with any piece of junk mail or advertising, or any legal document or bureaucratic form (it’s tax time!). Choose a few sentences. Remove the nouns. Replace them with:
- words from a poem you’ve abandoned
- words from one or more poems you love (by anyone, yourself included)
- any other source that works
From there, work what you’ve got into a poem. This prompt can be a throwaway prompt to generate a few lines, or it can become the engine for a situational poem, like the ones I’m writing with Mei Kwan. If something comes of it for you, I would love to know! Find me at noguescollier(at)gmail.com, or on Twitter at @colliernogues.
Collier Nogues is the author of The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground, selected by Forrest Gander as winner of the 2014 Drunken Boat Poetry Book Contest, and On the Other Side, Blue (Four Way, 2011). She lives in Hong Kong, where she is Lingnan University’s 2016 Writer-in-Residence and a PhD Fellow at the University of Hong Kong. She also curates Hong Kong’s English-language poetry craft talk series and edits poetry for Juked.