IMPROMPTU #20: Travis MacDonald

20 - napomo - 16 - macdonald - site

Travis-Macdonald-FoundPoetryReviewI believe that language is a physical, material thing. It’s not sound waves. It’s not ink or pencil on paper. It’s not pixels. It’s not shadows traced on a cave wall or transmissions from some semi-divine muse. Or it’s all of those things and more. It’s a tangible substance in a constant state of flux. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the nature of this substance to demand its own continuous reinvention. It depends on it. On us. For its very survival.

That’s what’s at stake here. Survival. We have to keep it moving. I think of Ezra Pound and his economic theories. How they relate to the mistranslated Chinese characters he painted on his bathtub: Make it new. Every day, make it new. Or something to that effect. That’s what I want to do. I want to take all the old discarded letters and texts we have neglected and forgotten, to save some of the massive avalanche of information we are producing at an exponential rate from the slag heap of our collective attention spans. To hold it up and say: look at this! Not at what “I” have found but what’s always been here. Waiting for us. But just missed. Barely. I want to reveal it and revise it. To revel in its broken, borrowed light. Don’t you? Let’s…

THE PROMPT: “The Decimator”

Go to your bookshelf. Starting at the very top, take down the 10th book from the left and turn to page 10. Read it, and it alone. Out loud. Don’t turn back to 9 and don’t read on to 11. Imagine the page as its own self-contained entity. Now copy all the words down. You can do it by hand in a notebook but, given what’s to come, you might want to use a computer. The search function found in most word processing programs will be your friend for this one. Trust me.

You’ve typed out the page? Word for word?

Great. Now go back to your bookshelf and find the empty slot where the book you just had used to be. Count 10 more spines to the right and pull that book down. Resist the temptation to cheat. To avoid heavy books or reach for favorites that don’t fall into the count. This isn’t about your darlings. If they’re not dead yet, they will be soon.

Again, turn to page 10. Read it aloud. And then write it all down. In order. Every word. One by one.

Repeat this process 8 more times. Until you have 10 pages of transcribed text.

Now take the first word on the first page and perform a search for that word each of your 10 pages. Wherever you find it, delete it. Erase it. Scratch it out. Whatever works for you. But whatever you do, say it out loud as you do it.

When you’re done, there should be only one instance of that word in all 10 pages. Now, move on to the second word. Repeat the process of elimination throughout all 10 documents. Then do the same for the third word. When you’re done with the first page, repeat this process using the words on the second page.

It gets easier from here on out. Every word left on the second page should have already been eliminated from the first, so you only need to search from the second forward. By the time you get around to page 9, for instance, you will only have to scour pages 9 and 10 for each word.

When this process is complete, you should be left with a series of unique, isolated words. Once again, read them out loud. All together.

This is your word bank. Build something with it.

It could be a story. Could be a poem. Whatever it is, don’t use a single word that’s not in your bank. You could give yourself permissions. Maybe you allow the repetition of prepositions for example. But not right away. Start by seeing how the words left at your disposal fit and flirt together. What kind of conversations do they have when left to their own devices? What do they hide between them? What new meanings do they reveal when pressed against one another? What do they say that you yourself alone couldn’t have?


Travis Macdonald is the author of two full-length books of procedural poetry – The O Mission Repo [vol.1], an erasure of The 9/11 Commission Report and Nostradamus, an N+7 treatment of Nostradamus’ quatrains – and a dozen or so chapbooks. He is also a creative director at an ad agency where finds all kinds of poems hiding in plain sight. In his spare time, he co-edits Fact-Simile Editions with his wife JenMarie. In 2014, Travis was the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Literature. He is happy to be here with you.

51 Comments

  • April 20, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    A labor intensive prompt. 😀

  • April 20, 2016

    taidgh

    Thanks Travis. This prompt is intriguing. Something tells me I’ll need time for this one. Just a little question, maybe confusion on my part. Do we keep the first word on every page?

  • April 20, 2016

    Mark Staniforth

    Interesting prompt but I couldn’t quite make sense of it. Pushed for time today, so I’ve gone completely off-prompt and decided to complete my “Taco Bell” trilogy, based on an interesting exchange I found on Twitter: https://staniforthmark.wordpress.com/impromptu/

    • April 20, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i like this series & i like the way this one reads aloud. it’s fun.

  • April 20, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    God! I’ve never worked as hard as this to build a word bank! :p
    https://vinitawords.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/suffocating-ashes/

    • April 20, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      there are some strong lines here that resonate, such as “every black line, every atom tells a story of suffocation.” i could imagine taking something like that & using it to start a poem. nicely done, Vinita.

      • April 20, 2016

        Vinita Agrawal

        Thanks Amanda! I’ll re think the beginning based on your suggestion.

  • April 20, 2016

    Carol A. Stephen

    Can’t imagine getting this done within a 24 hour time span. Not transcribing 10 whole pages. I think I will save this for later.

    • April 20, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      I must admit I had time on my hands today, Carol. This was tedious work and took hoooouuurs…. I did cheat a little in the sense that I chose page ten from ten digital books. I just couldn’t imagine typing ten whole pages. Find and Replace with blank spaces was relatively short work after that, using Word. But a painstaking task, all in all.

      • April 20, 2016

        Misky

        I gave myself one heck of a crick in my neck, too.

  • April 20, 2016

    Misky

    • April 20, 2016

      Misky

      By the way, this prompt took six hours to finish, and I reckon the result is unrefined piffle.

    • April 20, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i loved this. your tone is so different here from your other poems. i don’t think it’s piffle at all, but rather a whole different voice for you. i can imagine your trying out this voice for other poems. very playful & full of fun sound play. i think it can lead somewhere…

      • April 20, 2016

        Misky

        I think I was feeling a bit punchy after all that, and the voice is just fatigue. LOL!

    • April 20, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      Actually this was delightful to read! And it’s true worth lies in how you got to it.

  • April 20, 2016

    Carol A. Stephen

    Yes, I don’t understand either. If you are eliminating the first word on the first page and on every subsequent page, how are you still left with one instance of it? Is it that you only eliminate the subsequent appearances and not the first one?

    • April 20, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i eliminated all repetitions, so that meant eliminating the first instance as well. i found that i learned by doing.

      • April 20, 2016

        Misky

        That’s the way I did it, too, which means the final page is the resulting text bank.

    • April 20, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      That’s right Carol. Eliminate only the subsequent appearances of the word. I sincerely request you to choose very short texts.

      • April 21, 2016

        Carol A. Stephen

        the problem is the selection, after the first book, is rather strictly predetermined so a short text is not certain!

  • April 20, 2016

    Amanda Earl

  • […] Ending prompt” QuillsEdge Press’ “When the Tea Kettle Sings prompt” Found Poetry’s “Decimator prompt” Apparatus Mag’s “News stories prompt” Imaginary Garden’s “Good Wishes […]

  • April 20, 2016

    Carol A. Stephen

    I only had this morning to work so I will revisit this prompt later. Meantime, I took an easier way with the prompt from Poetry Super Highway, to write a poem of place starting with my feet. https://quillfyre.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/napowrimo-2016-day-20-these-feet/

    • April 20, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      I liked the prompt and loved your poem. Appreciate the accompanying photos too! Great line to end the poem.

      • April 20, 2016

        Carol A. Stephen

        Thanks, Vinita. I will come back to try this one, but had to go with feet for today!

    • April 20, 2016

      Misky

      Who’d have thought feet would make such an enjoyable read!

      • April 20, 2016

        Carol A. Stephen

        Glad you liked it. I am never sure when I write this kind of poem whether it is good or just dreck!

  • April 20, 2016

    Linda Crosfield

    I’m halfway through the elimination dance on the first page and just discovered that for whatever reason Word at some point switched “whole word only” to “word” which means, of course, I now have a bunch of non-words showing up.

    Also discovered whilst furiously typing (why, oh why didn’t I think of using digital texts?!) that my recently moved-in-a-new-direction-account-arthritis index finger on my left hand
    causes me to make a repetitive typo whereby an “f” is often inserted before an “r”. And guess who’s a stickler for accuracy. This one’s a killer! I just came over to see how everyone else is doing with it.

  • April 20, 2016

    Bob Marcacci

    • April 20, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      Great idea to source text from children’s book…charming poem!

  • April 20, 2016

    Stephanie Ellis

    Ok, I admit defeat today. I managed to get 10 extracts and started erasing but it’s just taken too long – I finished work late and have been at this since I got home. I need to switch of laptop now otherwise I never sleep properly :(

  • […] from Travis Macdonald’s super intensive prompt, which asks that a writer: 1. Goes to a bookshelf and selects the 10th book. 2. Transcribes the […]

  • April 20, 2016

    james w. moore

    my head, hands, brains, et al are truly decimated. as is my bookshelf: “last, lower” – https://jameswmoore.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/last-lower-day-20/

  • […] poem was written in response to a prompt posted by the Found Poetry Review, written by poet Travis Macdonald.  It is developed using text from the following ten (per the […]

  • April 21, 2016

    JM Scott

    I spent all day working on this poem and I started just after midnight. http://candlesticksandcadavers.blogspot.com/2016/04/essence.html

  • April 21, 2016

    A. Garnett Weiss

    A day late again. And the prompt from Travis MacDonald would deserve much more attention than a day’s work could achieve. Instead, here’s a link to the Kennings experiment.
    http://jcsulzenko.com/day-20-challenge-to-write-a-kenning-or-two/

  • […] The instructions are quite lengthy, so I am simply including the link to the blog post itself here: Found Poetry Review, Impromptu 21 […]

  • […] Day 20: Travis MacDonald […]