This past weekend I had the rare pleasure and luxury of thinking of nothing else but words, writing and poetry. I attended a poetry workshop organised by the indefatigable Geneva Writers’ Group and our guest instructor was the vibrant, beautiful poet Aracelis Girmay. She invited us to play and experiment, to explore bewilderment and mysteries, to climb down the ladder of writing head-first.
It was the first full-length poetry workshop that I ever attended and, boy, did I need it! Poetry is an old love that I have only recently come back to, after many years of neglect. I am still struggling to shed the adolescent overcoat that lies over it (yes, it is that long ago since I wrote poetry). I have been writing a lot of it this year, but is it all therapeutical outpourings of infuriating sentimentality? I needed to push myself. I needed to learn to play, watch words appear and disappear. So here is an interesting experiment we conducted. Based on Bhanu Kapil‘s thought-provoking questions from her book ‘The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers’, we were asked to create our own questions about a subject that preoccupied us. I picked ‘Identity and Belonging’, and here are my questions (it’s not really a poem, more like a prompt to spark thinking):
Where do you come from?
Who helped make you what you are?
If not here, where?
How will you know when you get there?
What are you trying to prove?
When will you know and tell?
If not now, when?
What else are you?
What has not been mentioned before?
Why do you need to make the fragments whole?
Who lingers when all is said and done?
But then – and this is where it gets interesting – we had to reshape our questions, leave gaps and rearrange syntax. We were Isis finding all of the fragments of Osiris and trying to put them back together. And I was startled to find a much more powerful way of thinking hiding under my initial, conventional questions. Here is the outcome:
Where do you come from? Who helped make you?
What? You are? What else you are?
When you get there, will you know?
Will you know what you are trying?
When will you know and prove?
If not here, where from? If not now, how will you know?
Who lingers when all is said and done,
Who lingers when all done is said?
What do you think? Which version do you prefer? Is this an experiment that might be useful to your own writing? Can we change our way of thinking by changing the structure of our sentences? What does the lack of information, that frightening gap, tell us about ourselves?