POPcraft: Infinite Lives

by Stephen Lin

In this exercise, I want to find a way of stepping outside of the self and intentionality. This does not necessarily mean complete self-negation, but rather trying to be mindful of the selves that only emerge in the context of our interactions with external structures.

This will be a sort of revision exercise because truth be told, I am bad at revising work and need a reason to reenter an old piece. Pick a poem you have already written. Maybe it’s one you already know. Maybe it’s one you are trying to get to know better. Read through it again and make any edits that come to mind.
Next, shuffle your deck thoroughly. Draw one card from your deck face up. Look at it. Register it. See it but do not meditate on it. Rewrite the poem you’ve chosen but incorporate the card you’ve drawn in some way. It does not have to be a major rewriting. You can even rewrite the poem word for word but substitute a word for the card you have drawn. Look for the places where you get stuck. Look for the lines that don’t connect. Find those hard parts and the hard questions and, instead of answering them, substitute in something else.
Shuffle the card back into the deck and draw another one. Doesn’t matter if you draw the same one. Rewrite the latest iteration of the poem with the new card. Try to do this as fast as possible each time. The point is not to meditate and ruminate, but to open yourself up to the influence of randomness, the agency of an abstract system, to play in a place where the self is merely another decentralized figure in a flat topology.
Repeat ad infinitum. Repeat until you know the piece so well you could recite it from memory. Repeat until you get tired of the poem and want to put it aside. Then do.
This exercise recalls the practice of “speedrunning” in the video game community, where players repeatedly play a game until, through successive iterations and increasing fluency, the narrative of the game itself becomes secondary to the narrative that emerges from player interactions with the game system (engine, algorithm, code, all the gaps between what is possible and what was intended to be possible). Often a constraint in revision is the awareness of personal intention or the attachment to our original conception to a piece. Sometimes revising until our initial vision is more accurately reflected is a useful way forward, but sometimes it’s more helpful to reflect on what’s on the page and figure out how to best play the strange, emergent game of the poem as-it-is.
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