Today's Found Poetry Review prompt is really interesting. It's from U of Calgary's Christian Bök, who wrote the poetry best-seller, Eunoia, and if you know anything about it, you'll know he's got quite the mind. Let me show you what he'd have us do:
USE A TEXT TO DRAW A FIELD OF STARS.
- Select a single page of writing from an antiquary textbook on astronomy.
- Scan this page, using customary software for manipulating photographs.
- Erase all text from the image, leaving behind only the punctuation marks.
- Assign to each punctuation mark, a specific style of dot, bullet, or asterisk.
, = •
. = ✦
; = ✹
: = ★
— = ☉
- Replace each punctuation mark with the specified bullets from your cipher.
- Vary the point-size of each asterisk, according to the number of letters in the word originally preceding the punctuation (for example: 1 letter = + 0.5 pts).
- Change the colour of the background to black; change each mark to white.
- Connect some of the largest dots by drawing lines to make a constellation.
- Identify the starfield, using the title of the book (and the page number cited).
Now let me tell you why I can't do this, at least, not exactly. I cannot lay my hands on anything even faintly resembling an "antiquary astronomy text". Nor can I scan anything.
BUT! I still wanted to play, so I took enough of page # 18–19 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Summary (that I have pledged to read) to fill a page of a Word document. I whited out the words, leaving only the punctuation. Then I assigned certain figures to the different punctuation marks that were left on the page as so:
I should note that this didn't completely work as it got confused about commas and single quotation marks. Or something.
I printed what I ended up with. And looked at it for a while. And saw a figure, kneeling in a position of supplication, or perhaps leaning back, arms wide (perhaps deflecting something?) I accentuated what I saw with my pen. This is what it looks like.
|‘Did you miss me when I went away?’|
The title I'm giving this is from part of something Simone, an Inuk survivor said about why she attended the TRC proceedings: "I’m here for my parents—‘Did you miss me when I went away?’ ‘Did you cry for me?’" and is from the same page, #18–19.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's mandate was to examine and document the Canadian residential school system and the abuse that occurred therein. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to these schools from the late 1800's until the last one closed in 1996. The report summary is available now and many Canadians have pledged to read it. If you're interested in this, go here to learn about the reading challenge.
Addendum: I finished writing this and posted it somewhere around 2:30 in the morning, my time. I just went back in to tweak some of the grammar, but I want to add how very surprised I am at what this exercise has done for/to/with me. It's been a glimpse behind what was, for me, a very dense curtain when it comes to comprehending some of what Bök does, in this case, or myriad others, as being poetry. Poetry that moves me nearly always brings with it a sense of the mysterious. Why is that particular word set next to that one and that one capable of eliciting such an incredible visceral reaction? Do they even have to be words? Is punctuation sometimes enough, after you've erased the words?
I find it interesting, to say the least, that it didn't occur to me until today how absolutely loaded the term "whiting out" (the text) is.
Here, then, are photos of the four "steps" I took last night in arriving at the final image above.
|TRC original text from page 18-19|
|TRC text whited out|
|TRC punctuation replacement lineup|
|TRC after punctuation replacement|
A serious thank you to Christian Bök for this one! You really made me think.