Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Are You Writing Gibberish?

If you're not writing gibberish, perhaps you should be. A week ago I spent a day with a gang of girl poets generating new work. We each brought a prompt. Poets have mixed feelings about prompts. Some claim to be unable to write to them at all, some say if you need prompts you're not a real poet, and some, like me, love them. I like the surprise, not knowing what's coming at me. I like the pressure of writing to the clock. I find that kind of tension creative.

We did two prompts in the morning, 20 minutes each, followed by a read-around with minimal commentary. Mostly appreciative ah's and oh's. The philosophy in operation is that the poet should first have an opportunity to work through several drafts before the poem is exposed to a real critique.

We had lunch together. Then we circled up again and did three more prompts. So everyone left with 5 new drafts in progress. Not all will make it into poemdom, but a number will.

One of my favorite prompts of the day began with these words:
The sicks wry curns orthen we cow natied lay, their dis sler calay, be, wills mat takespurn withe the be cove re's ort-ache patuntroution is ay.

Huh? you ask.

The words had been tossed out by a Gibberish Generator. The prompter had put in some lines from Hamlet and then the generator did its thing. Our job was to translate the gibberish into the opening lines of a poem and go from there.

My first effort began as follows:

Six weary cornstalks with a cow nearby lying down, their distressful corn sounds and cow sounds will make spinning with the bees regarding heartache part ache, part joy.

That ended my translation part. Then I kept going from where that left off. For the sake of my discussion here, I'll just focus on the opening lines. My next draft:

Six weary cornstalks, a cow nearby,
distressful corn sounds and cow sounds
make singing with the bees regarding
heartache part ache, part joy.

"Spinning" is now "singing" and lines are emerging. Not happy with that last line. Corny. (Did I say corny?)

Next draft:

The cracking noise of corn growing
and the groans of cows make singing
with the bees regarding heartache
part ache, part joy.

One of the poets had mentioned that research has proven that corn makes noise while it's growing. That idea was floating around in my head, so I researched it. Sure enough, corn is a noisy veggie. Idea of music is developing. Now actively disliking the last line but still unable to find something better so it's just holding a place.

Next draft:

The cracking noise of corn growing
and the groans of cows, background for singing
with the bees regarding heartache.

Can't replace a line with something better? Maybe just kill it.

At this point, it's feeling like a poem may result from these efforts. I've got a full draft now, all in 3-line stanzas. No title has emerged which may mean that the poem still isn't fully in focus. I know there will be more drafts. Needless to say, without the launch pad of the gibberish, I would not have produced these lines.

Here's a link to an online Gibberish Generator:

Give it a try. Surprise yourself into a new poem.

PS: Last night as I tossed and turned, I suddenly realized that I'd allowed four -ing words into that first stanza! Four! And two as line endings. I am determined to get rid of at least three of them. More work. More fun—I love hunting for better words.

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  1. Hmmm. Write these for a week or two and you could have another book in hand!

  2. I feel like I'm watching time-lapse photography here. Thanks for sharing your process!

  3. I agree with David--I love reading about process. And somehow I love "corn sounds and cow sounds" even though you ditched it in later drafts.


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