“In a Strange and Foreign Country”: Composing Poetry from Existing Texts

Attached here in PDF format are the lecture notes for a Looseleaf workshop I led this week called “’In a Strange and Foreign Country’: Composing Poetry from Existing Texts.” What follows is the opening lecture:

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I have taken the title for this workshop from a passage in Helene Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing which I believe says a lot about the nature of the methods that we will be learning tonight:

The writer is a secret criminal. How? First because writing tries to undertake that journey toward strange sources of art that are foreign to us. “The thing” does not happen here, it happens somewhere else, in a strange and foreign country. (20)

Tonight, we plunder. We will be “secret criminals,” or we should at least believe in the thrill of this.

None of the methods presented here are traditional ways to write poetry. They are often used for satire and social commentary than for “serious” art, but let that be a reason for encouragement rather than derision.

Where we will begin is with the language around us, the language we find and read and are fascinated by. The language that catches us like little children get caught up in anything wonderful.

A movement developed in music recently called plunderphonics which utilized samples from existing recorded music to assemble or provide the basis for new music which, though it uses others work almost exclusively as its means, is highly original in its ends.

We will do some plunderpoetics. We will use the methods of constraint and selection to create new works out of existing texts.

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