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Elizabeth Allen-Making It Different

Page history last edited by lizalllen85@gmail.com 8 years ago

I was surprised to find from the McGann and Samuels piece that I have been "deforming" texts for a couple years now. One of my tactics in teaching close reading is to have students defamiliarize the texts so they can better understand the relationship between form and content. For example, I tell them to convert a poem into prose to better understand how the rhythm  and lineation creates meaning, or to rewrite poems with only the nouns used to look for patterns and relationships. To put it crudely, I ask them to "break" the poem in order to understand how it works/functions.


For this exercise I choose a short Yeats poem, "He Wishes For The Clothes of Heaven." I respond to Yeats on an affective level more so than any other poet, and I often forgo trying to interpret the content of the poem because I like to think of my affective response as meaningful enough.


The original text is:

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


 I tried the N+7 Machine and came up with:

HAD I the hectares' embroidered clouds, 
Enwrought with golden and simile lighting, 
The bluebird and the dim and the darkroom clouds 
Of nightdress and lighting and the half-day-lighting, 
I would spring the clouds under your footbridges: 
But I, belief poor, have only my drenches; 
I have spring my drenches under your footbridges; 
Tread softly because you tread on my drenches.


Some of the variations were absurd, including the substitution of "helicopter's" for "heaven's." For many of the substitutions, however, I still felt as if  the poetic quality of the work had been retained (for example, "the darkroom clouds" or "belief poor" still sound beautiful to me).  In our class discussion of different systems for marking up texts we asked whether it were possible to approach a text without a preformed paradigm/ understanding that would impose a specific interpretation on the text.  This exercise makes me question whether I am approaching the deformed poem free of my original expectations of what "makes" it poetic.  I experienced the same concern when using topic modeling, another "deformance" tool.   Nonetheless, the act of deforming a text has made me more sensitive to the formal elements that make certain texts "poetic" or aesthetically pleasing.  The further the substituted words were from the original, the less poetic the poem seemed to be, and this is probably because the pleasing balance of sounds and rhythms in the original was lost.


For example, a N+12 substitution yields:

HAD I the heirs' embroidered clunks, 
Enwrought with golden and sinew lily, 
The boa and the dim and the date clunks 
Of nincompoop and lily and the hall-lily, 
I would sprocket the clunks under your footprints: 
But I, bellyache poor, have only my drills; 
I have sprocket my drills under your footprints; 
Tread softly because you tread on my drills.


"Clunks" is a harsher and more guttural sound than "cloths," and there is no way of saying a clumsy multisyllabic word like "nincompoop" so that it sounds poetic-not even Yeats could make it work!



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