No apologies—I am a thief. I wrote about a poem a day this November. Since it’s nearing the end of the month I just went back to read over what I’ve been writing. What I see is that I imitated, I stole, I borrowed, also I experimented, I expressed, improvised, imagined, I formed, I failed. But mostly I stole. Some of the poems are quite acceptable. Some make no sense. Some are almost there and some are nowhere near. Now I’m wondering what near means and what it means to be there. Is being there a mirror? Is the mirror convex? Probably, to some extents. My concern isn’t to sound mature (to Eliot) but to thank a lineage/writers for writing. It’s so often a poem that starts me on a poem. Certainly, all the other inspiring things eventually find a way into the poem—but I just realized after rereading these November poems that when it comes to sitting down to type it out, right now I am one of those poets who feels compelled to visit another poem first for a point of departure.
One night it was right after reading pages from Amnesiac by Duriel Harris which is, as one of my favorite bloggers put it: “a gallery of portraits and self portraits composed of dense lines and complex syntax or quick, deft strokes.” I try on that density, that syntax, those strokes by way of the good old replace-a-verb-for-a -verb or one-object-for-another, etc. exercise. So Harris’ “vial and corn tash” becomes my “necklace and speaker” and in I go. My speaker writes a version of her body’s history that loses a lyric singularity. She does this through statements around who she is and who she is not in a setting that shares a history with others. Harris’ speaker knows who she is, who she is not and frames the knowing with the objects in the portrait—the speaker rejects any givens as last words and the words complicate over on top of themselves. I stole that knowing and it’s mine now in a draft. Even though it’s mine, what I ended up with was a stolen self-portrait. Stolen self-portrait.
And as the month went on, I kept stealing! I wish I could say it was a rock star moment when I broke my decade old guitar earlier this month, but it was just a clumsy moment playing fetch with my puppy. I threw the ball. The puppy retrieved. In the process she knocked the wooden instrument off its stand. The guitar crashed on the floor and won’t play anymore. For a feeling of closure, I decided to write an ode to my guitar but couldn’t begin before going to Neruda and his socks. Translated, his “feet were two fish made of wool,/two long sharks, sea blue, shot through/ by one golden thread.” My hands “became two steely blisters,/two long sliding centipedes/of burnt rust to bleed from veins.” My ode had start with Neruda’s before it slips into something else. We’ll see where it goes!
This month I’ve been working on a crown concerning a population of girls in India who were never born because they were girls. Had to go to Gwendolyn Brooks’ take on part of the subject/form first. Eventually her lines from “the mother” turn up verbatim as volta for my own. Here’s a draft from the crown:
with lines borrowed
from Gwendolyn Brooks
She was never with me—I only imagined
Her memory fragmented loss in fontanel
Closing to form recognition or rattle.
Her eyes may have been green or light
Reflecting off the dam’s concrete
Offers some glint for the aching, tumult
Relentlessness of no sleep now or later on.
But why should I whine, she was never
Mine—But that, too, I am afraid
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
We exist in the drained lands of the missing.
Fiercely for one another come and go the sex
Flooding on our floodplains we continue outward.
Swoons of luscious reach—finished, just beginning.
It goes on, my thievery. I n+7'ed a friend’s poem, took one of my teacher’s poems and rewrote it backwards—made day into night. I’ve been appropriating, repurposing. These procedures teach me how to read a poem, too—what they mean/how they’re working. Does my going to a poem to write a poem mean my originality is lack/run the risk of seeming redundant/make the poem less conceptual than it's capable of being? Maybe. Probably not to some extents. Anyway, I’m feeling lucky for this obsession, this spark, all these amazing poets/this lineage since it allows me to never run out of something to get me started.
Soham Patel has taught Composition, Creative Writing, and Literature courses at the University of Colorado, Pikes Peak Community College, and Anand Arts College-in Gujarat, India. Currently, she studies poetry in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Some poems are forthcoming in XcP and have appeared in SHAMPOO, Copper Nickel, The Cortland Review, Foursquare, Marginalia and other places. She’s a Kundiman fellow and has been awarded residency at Soapstone and Soul Mountain.