I’ve made the inevitable migration over to WordPress. Feel free to browse through the archives here, or check out my brand new site at ashtonhowe.com for up-to-date information and posts.
I’m hopped up on caffeine today, so bear with me.
I love words. I’ve always loved words. I distinctly remember the excitement of learning new letters in kindergarten each week, being versed enough in 1st grade literature to write short stories and poems about men eating their mittens, tracing loopy cursive in 2nd grade so I no longer had to print like a little kid. My mom was always very articulate with me, never dumbing down her language for my three- or five- or seven-year-old mind. “Don’t be so sarcastic, ” she’d say. “Stop manipulating your brother.” I loved these too-mature words. I’d absorb them, digest their context, and push them back off my tongue in the most inappropriate and defiant ways: “You’ah being sahcastic, mom. Stop manipulating ME.” (All with my childhood speech impediment that severely neglected r’s).
• • • • • •
You see it seemed natural, then - when I boarded a plane at 18-years-old to tackle the collegiate world in Rome - to define myself eternally as an English major, an artiste, a philosopher of all things creative and ethereal, fedora-donner and espresso-sipper alike. I was a writer. I’d been a writer since I first learned to play Reading Rainbow cassette tapes on my own and felt I could restructure the lessons with more games, less learning. I was born to conquer the verbal world, to rewrite all history pertaining to language, to lull even the most hostile soldiers into tranquility and peace with my poesy and cadence…
Academia seemed to agree. I did extraordinarily well in my literature, writing, and English courses (barring one Shakespeare class wherein I experienced my first and thoroughly-devastating C because my very-British professor detested my use of American Midwestern slang, or because I think Shakespearean plays are particularly superfluous. either/or.), and even did well in non-English courses that involved an ample amount of critical thought and written argument. I was ecstatic, once upon a time, thinking I may just be gifted enough to carve my niche in an otherwise difficult and exclusive area.
there’s no high on the crest if you know the trough
no Heaven above if you know Hell
only frenzy, and the idea that
the stars you wish on
are already dead.
• • • • • •
Okay, so it isn’t that dramatic. I’m just in a poetic mood today and saw the opportunity for a little shameless self-promotion. Check out my poem “rigid, tasting of saline” in the Walkabout Creative Arts Journal. (sorry.)
But anyway, I’m a writer, and - despite my wavering valor - it’s taken me awhile to find comfort in announcing this to the world as an intended profession. In fact, it took me nearly 23 years, a college degree, and a whole slew of positive reinforcement to wield confidence enough to say, “Hey, I’m Ashton. I write.” But nonetheless, once I did, this newfound confidence blossomed - perhaps, at times, bordering cocky-wink-and-point behavior - and I began looking forward to graduate school all arrogant-like. I thought, you know, I’m good. Piece of cake. I thought I would surely be accepted into an MA, JD, or MBA program, with the only obstacle remaining being the also piece of cake GRE, LSAT, or GMAT. Because I was the Jim Morrison of English, man.
ETA: (Jim Morrison was really the Jim Morrison of English. Like I said, sometimes cocky-wink-and-point behavior.) (Whatevz.)
So I began to study for all exams at once, high on arrogance and enthusiasm, taking practice tests religiously, strewing note cards across the living room floor to remind myself that chicanery is trickery and malefactors are male (don’t take that personally; where’s Freud when you need him?), joking playfully about the ridiculousness of it all while simultaneously thinking nbd bro I GOT this.
But, alas, arrogance and enthusiasm are unfortunate traits…
• • • • • •
Here’s what happened: despite my passion, despite my perceived talent, despite years spent scribbling poetry and prose on the back of probably-important bills, the plethora of practice tests through Princeton Review and Kaplan knocked me off my fancy-pants throne into an alternate reality by telling me this:
1) Law: You, Ashton, kick ass at the LSAT, and it’s unfortunate that you don’t actually want to be a lawyer. (why thankya!)
2) Verbal GRE/GMAT: lolol you will not be the next William Faulkner. (wait…)
3) Quantitative GRE/GMAT: We’re pretty sure you’re Isaac Newton. (WUT?)
In fact, I sat for the real GRE, the one where you go into a testing center, breathe rapidly in front of a godforsaken computer, bleed pent-up knowledge one question at a time RIGHT NOW GIVE ME THE CORRECT ANSWER THIS IS YOUR ONLY CHANCE NO SECOND GUESSING BECAUSE YOU CAN’T GO BACK AND LOOK OVER YOUR WORK HAHAHAHAHA.
It told me the same thing.
So now, here I am, a straight-A English student with a writing degree summa cum laude - possessing a vast portfolio of theses and essays, published poetry and articles - applying to grad school in writing and rhetoric and communications with tests score that trollingly tell the departmental heads I’m actually a mathematician and don’t believe a word I say otherwise.
Ah. Heavy is the head who wears the crown.
Wait, that doesn’t make sense.
• • • • • •
Anyway, this is the point in the story where it’d be appropriate to rant about the inadequacies of standardized testing, the inappropriate rigidity of boxing intellect into multiple choice questions, the woe of proving your academic potential via timed responses and a glitchy Windows XP OS, but I scored a 34 on the ACT in highschool and can’t bash the system too much for fear of negating the pride of that once-awesome and intimately-entwined accomplishment. So I’ll just sigh.
Ultimately, this is nothing more than the consequence of our world trying to quantitate creativity, right? Although I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t knocked me sidesaddle on my high horse. I’m no longer a fearless Word Warrior, because - for once - I’ve kinda failed at something relevant. And if we get into the discussion of my inability to find an actual job as a writer, I’ll end up fetal position beneath my high horse, shielding myself from the sh*tstorm that is post-undergrad life. But that’s no good, and never very healthy for the soul.
I guess I’ve learned that I need to take the high road with institutions I respect, and the comedic road with institutions that don’t respect me. Or don’t understand me. Or try to shatter my poetic aspirations just because I’m pretty good at solving for x. Because - in a whirlwind of hipster-level irony - Reagan went on to be President, and Snooki is a New York Times best-selling author (LOL). This world isn’t black and white, verbal and quantitative. It’s multidimensional, chaotic, and a vast opportunity to follow your passion, discover artistry, pursue that which makes souls sing and rainbows appear in eyeballs. So this is my plan, pithy and keen:
I will henceforth toss guidelines aside, turn my back on fear and disappointment, find that grey area and - no matter the internal and/or external obstacles - paint that sh*t gold.
Inner and outer discovery are among the most fundamental human instincts. When someone asks me over a shared pint at the local pub - spirits high on hops and good company and the pleasant drone of conversation - what I do, I tell them this: I search.
I’ve spent my whole life oscillating between the extremes of movement and stillness. The hanging, middle moments of the slow motion pendulum-swing are, to me, nothing but opportunities for collection, for refueling. Life occurs in these moments, as it does in all moments, but I’ve yet to find fulfillment here. During these times, auto-pilot’s enacted: I eat, I sleep, I work for the financial capacity to return, once more, to the poles.
I hike, run, snowboard and ski, practice yoga and meditation to remind myself that I am human, remind myself that I am alive. To break from the monotony of socioeconomic necessity, I push myself physically, mentally, emotionally to the brink of action, to the dark recesses of quiet in search of beyond. I’ve walked, foot before foot, up steep mountain ascents to get their good tidings; I’ve spent days in downward dog, searching for answers to the “Who?” and “Why?”; I’ve waded through pools at the bottom of wind-and-water-carved canyons in contemplation of everything that is and all that will never be; but I was still hungry.
And then, at the urging of good friends, I decided to try taking hand and foot to stone, flesh to granite, adrenaline-fueled capillaries to high-rockface air… and here, I’m beginning to find understanding.
It’s difficult to describe that moment, soaring above the worry of civilization, sweat coalescing into droplets on sunburned skin and brow, searching for a way to pull yourself once more into a secure foothold, secure grip, secure anything. Those who’ve climbed longer, harder, higher than I have know this truth: in that moment, nothing exists but breath and clarity. Nothing exists but heartbeat and muscular exhaustion, the endless will to conquer, survive. The mind zooms in, the world, out; color’s seen for the first time, lost ancestral strength is rediscovered, and one more pull with bleeding hands, push with trembling legs, breaks you through to what can only be described as eternity.
I know that Buddhism teaches that eternity abounds. It’s there, in your coffee. It’s there, reflecting minuscule fractals of truth in the suds of an emptying shower drain. It’s there, always, but so difficult sometimes to recognize because of the noise inherent to refueling, inherent to need, inherent to the in between. I don’t mean to discount this, and deeply admire all who find God’s smile in a batch of freshly-washed laundry.
I hope to learn that bliss, and think I may have finally discovered my path.
After years of exploration, years of sitting quietly with my breath, years of consuming literature and philosophy and cultural context, I’ve found rock. Pushing myself through to the clarity of exhaustion, the clarity of uncertainty and, ultimately, the clarity of self-trust, has led me to a route toward God. And although each path is unique, each person their own guide, if you’ve gone to the ends of earth and back looking for reassurance that this Universe is alive, if you’ve studied the candle’s flame with intent and focus and still haven’t found what you’re looking for, I humbly suggest this: climb.
Okay, so being an “Apologist” has little to do with actually apologizing, unless you count the situations wherein people apologize profusely to themselves for having to deal with the majority of people who couldn’t care less about their Apologetic stance, but wordplay in spite of logic sells (see: Lil Wayne). In fact, Apologetics is fundamentally a branch of theology pursued in defense of Christianity, but is modernly extended to all branches of whatever that involve defending a controversial point of view, systematically, with information. Consequently, it now also pertains to a defensive method of argument, even if that argument defends the ridiculous beheading of Lord Stark by, His Grace, Joffrey Baratheon/Lannister (that bastard). Cry out in defense of something, in the face of controversy, via the dissemination of whatever information’s at hand, and BOOM — you’re an Apologist. Makes you feel important, right?
As I continue the hunt for a company who’ll accept an offer to trade my impressive capacity for the English language for their impressive capacity to pay my rent, I have to consider whether or not my very public defensive approach (rhetorically and social-media speaking) to almost everything is to blame for my inability to find le job that pays more than $10/hr. Am I considered a liability because I readily share the random opinions that float wildly through my head every time I watch a questionable Presidential candidate tout the future of America through euphemism and doublespeak, rather than keep my mouth shut while facepalming? Well, maybe.
It was so much easier two decades ago, what with a lack of social media to immediately defame your otherwise hard-earned academic and professional reputation. Google and Facebook didn’t exist, and potential employers had to rely on resumes and the good word of acquaintances when deciding whether or not you were employable. But now - with Internet access, a search engine, and a few clicks - prospective employers can spend hours questioning your character from the easily-accessible photos of you drinking a yard-stick-sized beverage in Vegas that one and only time you ventured to Sin City to - mostly, really - bear witness to an extravagant Cirque du Soleil unavailable in your town of residence, population 10,000.
There are now apps, and a plethora of start-ups, that specialize in making you look like a raging alcoholic, based solely on that one bachelor party, that one baby shower where the host went to extensive lengths to make the non-alcoholic drinks appear to be straight ethanol and male-stripper blood, and that one time in Cabo in 2006 that you’d really rather forget because it was genuinely a bad idea.
The information is out there. Your life, in digital format, is accessible. And there are some people who might use this information to strip you of everything for which you’ve worked exhaustively throughout your entire life.
But is this fair?
What we seem to forget, when judging someone by their online presence, is that online presence cannot always be contextually trusted. It may be an extension of our face-to-face life, but - inane-Twitter-trend participants aside - few people behave with the decorum online (or lack thereof) that they would in a face-to-face setting. Our online environment is a release from daily obligation, an experience that allows us to tap into our social being, to connect with other humans, worlds away, via textual thought, opinion, and articulated belief. It’s casual. We don’t wear a suit and tie to log into Facebook.
Shouldn’t we, then, come to some agreement that all people are people,and that casual life - while potentially influential - more often than not bares no influence on professional and/or academic life?
I’m not speaking of those who parade illegal drug use around Instagram like it’s their only redeeming quality in life; I’m speaking of those who work hard, even when not explicitly rewarded, to make their lives and the lives of others better… who stay late on a Friday night to finish up a report for their boss that could be finished on Monday, but want to help their work environment run smoother, more efficiently, nonetheless.
We are all humans, perhaps overly-excited by the most influential technology of all time, who really just want to contribute to the accelerating pace of global success. At least I am. One tweet at a time.
That said, I just can’t come to terms with censorship in the face of difficult economic times. My opinions are mine and mine alone, and I’ll hold them whether or not they’re publicized to a handful of people who actually care. Shouldn’t we celebrate individual thought? Creativity? Awareness enough of the surrounding world to participate in national, global discourse?
I say yes. But if you say no, that’s okay. And I apologize.
The thing is that I knew better than to throw myself head over heels back into a lifestyle too turbulent for the frailty of my soul, but there’s that lurking anxiety to do everything and all things at once. That too-quick pace that sends you spinning into the bathroom on a Saturday night because you tried to keep up with others who, no matter your own power, have a strength that you do not. What of time to stop and think about this whirl-winded life? to lay and watch tree branches scratch the bottom of the sky without the anguish of knowing there’s no success in laying, watching branches? It’s a lot, you see, to rectify the ancient pace of wonderment with the ever-chaotic movement of our forward-leaning world, and the fear of mounting debt and unmet obligations keeps a fire lit beneath us that no longer excites. It burns.
And I wonder, now, while watching kindred spirits spiral wildly out of control, what’s left for those of us who want to live rather than move. What room is there for us who need to pause in the midst of this stampede, to breathe for a moment the invigorating scent of existence? It’s an arbitrary and anti-climactic pace whose momentum thrusts to the bottom of uncertainty and confusion all who find value in aesthetics, philosophy, the quiet contemplation of springtime air through leaves. There is beauty in progress, beauty in discovering at a maddening pace the secrets of our universe, but beauty also in the ethereal being of unknowing. We have our politics and our economy, our science and our business, a telecommunicative ability that surpasses everything predecessors knew, but we have also a bureaucratic nightmare, a crisis of the soul, spawned from the replacing of imagination with quantitative result.
And even still, it’s a useless cry. There’s no escaping machination or, my god, we would. There’s only occasional respite found in shutting out the drone, with alcohol and substance, with retreat and forgetting, for one long second, the inadequacies of believing there’s something more.
This is all mental masturbation, I know. Self-indulgent and futile because the individual perspective is no longer valued. This will make no money, revolutionize no process, contribute nothing to the sociocultural hierarchy of one-upmanship and outdoing the Joneses, but it’s still here, in its own right, as a voice among many. It’s a contribution, small as it may be, wrought from perception and heart and a smoldering desire to unearth meaning..
I don’t mean to be cynical. I don’t mean
to be the glass-is-half-empty girl, captious,
postmodern-passé, but sometimes, you know
because light travels at a finite speed
the star you wish on is already dead.
I oscillate wildly between optimism and uncertainty. I understand that life is inherently unpredictable, and that trying to control everything around me often ends with my undernourished body on the apartment floor, eyes shut against the world, overwhelmed by a crushing sense of forced relinquishment. I’m not really sure what I expect from myself, why I constantly force my mind to the brink of madness as though the human soul can readily survive on caffeinated overdrive and the fleeting reinforcement of external success. Where am I even trying to go, anyway?
I’m doing well, in the cultural sense of the idea. I’m back in school, achieving the best grades I physically can, and I find the topics I’m studying generally interesting. But on solitary nights, when everything slows enough for reflection to set in, and I realize that I’m - in all truth - nonetheless an unemployed 25-year-old, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed somewhere along the way.
There’s the memetic temptation to blame “the economy,” to blame the era into which I emerged with my credentials, but I can’t accept that. Releasing personal responsibility to outside circumstance is the easy way out, and a general paradigm with which I disagree. So I keep on, putting one foot in front of the other, working my way up this seemingly endless stairway to an undefined end, pacifying myself with the promise that I will — someday — meet grandeur.
And even this, this little bit of catharsis, is nothing more than self-indulgent drivel. There’s no monumental offering here, save perhaps a voice to which someone else can relate. My spark is fizzling; my enthusiasm is growing tired beneath the weight of a brawny and relentless stress. But I have to keep hoping. And maybe there’s something to be said for the quiet determination that pulls me bleary-eyed from bed each morning to challenge, once more, this chaotic wake of life-passing-quickly. Perhaps there’s something to be said for the strength required to pick myself up from the frighteningly-comfortable notion of settling and - even if apprehensively - keep going. Perhaps, in general, there’s something to be said for human resolve, something beautiful about the inner capacity to overcome, and something intricately fantastic about wanting to live up to one’s full potential…
Or perhaps it’s all for naught.
In times like these, I really wish I could just RTFM.
Gasped breath turned stale in the back of my throat, sour,
a metallic regurgitation of past heartbreak tossing
my innards into knots, certainty into denial of solid ground
all over again. The sun through half-closed blinds intruded
— as I, too, had so clearly intruded
upon your unlit secret. Your rawest deceit.
I could no longer remember how to stand, and you
couldn’t find the words because there weren’t any.
So I collapsed
into the cruelty of circumstance,
as hundreds of passersby
pretended not to notice,
I’m acutely aware of how all status-quo-challenging ideas are thrown through the cultural spin cycle until they come out as shrunken caricatures of themselves. I’m also acutely aware of how it’s these caricatures, rather than the original concepts, that are paraded across mainstream media until they become so commonplace that people mistake this distorted view as truth. This happens all the time: Communist, for example, is now a derogatory term within contemporary political rhetoric, having little to do anymore with socially-philosophical beliefs embedded in Marxism, and more to do with being a Freedom-Hating Job Killer; a Terrorist is no longer strictly a person who violates the basic rights of other human beings, but anyone who questions the two American religions of Christianity and Capitalism; Feminist, similarly, has become a disparaging term, used contextually not to celebrate the power of Woman, but to belittle those who challenge historical patriarchy.
So when I shy away from defining myself explicitly as a Feminist, or joke facetiously about identifying with Feminism, it’s not without reason. While I believe firmly in the exaltation of the female species to at least a position of equality with Man, I’m nonetheless cautious of where my public allegiances lie: writing directly as a Feminist will have my argument more quickly dismissed than writing as one who indirectly supports feminist ideals.
It’s sad, sure, but that’s how our world works, and one of the most important things to remember about challenging the status quo is that opposition framed from within the context of the current paradigm has a better chance of being accepted. Baby steps.
Why the lengthy qualification? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the use of feminine sexuality-as-power, and have erected some talking points that align with my Feminist position. I don’t, however, want my Feminist position to be incorrectly placed at the center of the discussion; it’s this nearly-unavoidable shift in focus that serves time and again as the primary obstacle to all arguments drawn from the Other. So let’s just say this: yes, I am a Feminist, but my following perspectives are not because I am a Feminist; my following perspectives outline why I identify with Feminism.
This all started with recent conversations among friends that dealt with the female use of sexual prowess to attain status. When I say “sexual prowess” I don’t mean the simple fact of identifying with the female gender or enjoying sex as a woman; I mean the use of push-up bras and ass-shaking to break through the glass ceiling. My initial reaction toward these tactics was one of disgust; I was raised to strive for success as a woman through hard work and intellect. I saw firsthand the complications of deriving strength-as-Woman from Man when my mother was left penniless and without career experience after my father walked out. And, as my own history dictates, I’ve struggled continuously for the right to be taken seriously in spite of a symmetrical face and an appealing waist-to-hip ratio (two of the most basal determining factors of female attractiveness). I’ve always viewed men’s inherent sexualization of me as an impediment; I am a female, but I am not a sex object.
As such, the idea of having something handed to me just because my physical appearance plays on a male’s reptilian brain makes me queasy. I want to own my success, to derive pride from the strength it takes me to achieve. But, while working through these conclusions, I couldn’t help but wonder: can the use of sexual femininity in order to succeed be a form of achievement itself?
There’s always the argument that utilizing one’s attractiveness in order to get ahead is a form of empowerment. This is the argument that positions strippers and prostitutes in the place of Superior, rather than Subordinate; the controversy that fuels the Feminist Sex Wars and leaves first- and second-wave Feminism disoriented and mumbling no no no…that’s not what we meant.
So perhaps my personal conflict here really is just another fan to the tumultuous flame of Female Sexuality, but - saturated as this discussion may be - I still think it’s important.
I understand being comfortable with and proud of one’s physical appearance. I will never decry a woman who uses her physical body as a source of strength for herself, as a reminder that she is beautiful and capable. My problem here lies in the use of this strength for the benefit of other people; specifically: Man. There’s a stark difference between using the confidence derived from the celebration of femininity to excel in one’s work, and using one’s femininity explicitly to get things from men. How? Well, the result of the former is success-through-work-ethic, and the latter is success-through-exploitation. When everything is said and done, both methods “succeed,” but success-through-work-ethic does so without intensifying the obstacles through which women already have to socially jump.
Each time a woman shakes her ass and bats her eyelashes for a dollar, for a free drink, for a promotion, she reinforces the cultural perspective of women as sex objects, which inherently reinforces Woman’s social position of inferiority. It doesn’t matter if that specific instance leads to success for that specific woman; the meta-repercussions here are still detrimental. Having something thrust upon you and subsequently accepting it because it’s to your current advantage is one thing - accepting an unsolicited free drink, for example - but working coyly to use suggestive sexuality as a form of currency is exploitative. As my boyfriend so bluntly puts it, it’s whore mentality. (The use of the word “whore” here is certainly a whole separate post, and not something with which I directly agree, but it’s a poignant conclusion nonetheless.)
Let me clarify: being sexual and celebrating your body does not make you a whore; being sexual and celebrating your body as a form of currency doesn’t make you a whore either (largely because of my own issues with the contemporary definition of this word), but it does damage our collective ability to rise above the default sex-object position into which patriarchy thrusts us. The way men see it is: if it looks like a sex doll and acts like a sex doll, it probably is a sex doll. And that limits all of us.
We’re so much more than tits and ass. Sure, let’s celebrate them, embrace them, stop trying to starve them away, but let’s also use them as a form of strength for ourselves. Every time we use them as a cheap tool for a cheap drink, we devalue our true capacity for success. Because of the way in which our society currently functions, it’s easy to get from A to B by piggybacking on male attention, but real success will never be achieved by taking this easy way out.
So, you know, go to school. Read. Stay abreast of contemporary politics. Contribute something to this world as a human being, rather than as a pair of good-lookin legs in stilettos. Essentially, I guess… man up*.
*(Facetiousness is facetious.)
Today’s one of those days that started with obstinate ice on my windshield and continued with each otherwise-trivial obstacle piggybacking its predecessor until all of a sudden frozen gusts of wind were sandblasting my cheeks as I walked home from campus at sunset and goddammit I couldn’t even remember to bring a scarf so how did I expect to get through a Computer Science degree?
It’s one of those days where it’s hard to believe I packed my life into two 50-pound suitcases at the age of 18 and moved to Italy on my own; one of those days where any tales I tell about living in Rome or Lugano and traveling through Amsterdam or the Alps seem spoken from dissociated lips, the words and memories someone else’s. Today is one of those days where I do not feel like a girl who’s lived in four different countries in the past six years, who’s graduated at the top of her undergraduate class, a published poet, world traveler who’s already acquired enough experience through the death and rebirth of relationships for three lifetimes.
Instead, it’s one of those days I came home and ate a sleeve of Newman O’s while trying not to cry.
For someone who’s spent the last six years of her life wandering unconventionally toward adulthood, I really don’t do very well with change. I like structure. I like order. I like rules and definitions and rigid expectations. I like predictability. Even in my writing - seemingly free verse and open - there’s always the perfect number of vowels to balance consonants, just enough parallel alliteration, never an extra comma. I do well with patterns.
You’d think, then, that returning to school for something as finite and inflexible as Computer Science would be right up my alley. And you’d be right - it is; but for some reason, as I sat among engineering and physics and applied mathematics students today in class, I freaked. There I was, two nose rings and nearly-pink-from-henna hair, taking differential calculus notes on loose-leaf that was littered with bits and pieces of little poems that couldn’t, bracelets clinking rhythmically each time I lifted my pencil, imagining steps of derivation as metered lines of a sonnet, and it hit me: what the hell was I doing in the engineering center?
With a preference for rigid expectations comes the unavoidable application of said-expectations to oneself, and I suddenly realized how little I fit.
There’s no philosophical growth here, no poetic waxing on the value of overcoming fear, no ultimate existential point. There’s nothing besides the fact that I’m terrified. I really have nothing to offer you aside from the declaration that I’ve never pushed myself this far outside of my daintily-artistic comfort zone, and I’m currently experiencing a huge death-of-ego thing right now. It’s scary, it’s overwhelming, if I keep coping with cookies I’m gonna put on the freshman 15 at age 25, and I’m sorry for otherwise wasting your time. I’ll do better tomorrow, and I guess that’s all any of us can really strive for.
I really love found poetry, blackout poetry, etc. The whole idea of discovering a new poetic voice within something to which someone else has already given life is a beautiful concept in my opinion; it really highlights the cooperative and communal potential of art.
I’ve recently started practicing a variation of found poetry, wherein I don’t unearth an entire poem from a single source, but rather pull from multiple, thematically-related sources. People probably do this all this time, but I’ve only recently considered it an option. Here’s one of the first pieces I’ve constructed:
(Normal text is taken from Katie Makkai’s “Pretty”; bold text is from Anis Nin’s “Shake the Dust”; italicized text is taken from Ani Difranco’s “Self-evident.”)
Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?
Will I be wanted?
This is for you
Fermented and distilled
With a leanness of meaning
Wallowing on bar stools
Gym class wall flowers
A poetic specter so far gone that
Speak half-English and half-God
Prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to
Speak only when you are spoken to
Burn both ends
Committing countless crimes again
To perpetuate retribution
Will I be pretty?
With perfectly made dinners
A shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry
For the hells
We have painted ourselves
Will I be wanted?
Between the setup and the punch line
Will I be pretty?
A young woman’s voice
Stung-stayed with insecurity
Crest-fallen because not enough strangers found you suitably fuckable