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.