3. collage, or, the splice of life:


I turned to collage early, to get away from writing poems about my overwhelming mother. I felt I needed to do something “objective” that would get me out of myself. I took books off the shelf, selected maybe one word from every page or a phrase every tenth page, and tried to work these into structures. Some worked, some didn’t. But when I looked at them a while later: they were still about my mother. (As Tristan Tzara would have predicted. His recipe for making a Dadaist poem by cutting up a newspaper article ends with: “The poem will resemble you.”)

This was a revelation–and a liberation. I realized that subject matter is not something to worry about. Your concerns and obsessions will surface no matter what you do. This frees you to work on form, which is all one can work on consciously. For the rest, all you can do is try to keep your mind alive, your curiosity and ability to see.

Even more important was the second revelation: that any constraint stretches the imagination, pull you into semantic fields different from the one you started with. For though the poems were still about my mother, something else was also beginning to happen.

Georges Braque: “You must always have 2 ideas, one to destroy the other. The painting is finished when the concept is obliterated.”

(Barbara Guest would qualify that the constraints must be such that they stretch the imagination without disabling it.)

Collage, like fragmentation, allows you to frustrate the expectation of continuity, of step-by-step-linearity. And if the fields you juxtapose are different enough there are sparks from the edges. Here is a paragraph from A Key Into the Language of America that tries to get at the clash of Indian and European cultures by juxtaposing phrases from Roger William’s 1743 treatise with contemporary elements from anywhere in my Western heritage.


Flesh, considered as cognitive region, as opposed to undifferentiated warmth, is called woman or wife. The number not stinted, yet the Narragansett (generally) have but one. While diminutives are coined with reckless freedom, the deep structure of the marriage bed is universally esteemed even in translation. If the woman be false to bedlock, the offended husband will be solemnly avenged, arid and eroded. He may remove her clothes at any angle between horizontal planes.”

(Rosmarie Waldrop, from “Thinking of Follows”.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.