Friday, 7 December 2018

Meddle with a coupling poem

For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Like someone else’s words? Use their lines and write your own new lines in between each of theirs. You can do this with articles you’ve screengrabbed, fiction snippets, other poems, whatever you fancy.

Like someone else’s words? Use their lines and write your own new lines in between each of theirs.
You can do this with articles you’ve screengrabbed, fiction snippets, other poems, whatever you fancy. Part of the pleasure is twisting or enriching the meaning of the original lines, playing with or against them and toying with the grammar, especially when sentences run across lines. This is a very new form, invented by Karen McCarthy Woolf.

A quick note on copyright: the person who wrote the original words owns their copyright. If you want to share your poem (online or by publishing it), you'll need to get their permission or pick words that are already out of copyright (in most countries, that means where the author has been dead for more than 70 years). Alternately, you can do a double-coupling poem: write your lines in between theirs, then remove their lines and write your own new lines between yours.

For variation, you can also try a hidden coupling poem, where you pick a poem which you haven't read and cover it with paper. Reveal the first line, copy it out, then write a line yourself, then reveal and copy out their second line, and so on. It's a thrilling way to work, not knowing what's coming next, but a word to the wise: get someone else to pick the poem for you and check its length and suitability. I chose a poem from the index of a book based on its title and that it was out of copyright – it started out well enough, and then I found myself trapped in swathes and swathes of lyrical pastoral description! By the tenth line rhaposidising about mountain scenery, while I tried to add stuff in between, I was losing the will to live.

In this example, I'd screengrabbed three quotes from an article on fugue states which had struck me deeply. The words not in italics are from "How a Young Woman Lost Her Identity" by Rachel Aviv (2 April 2018, New Yorker), reproduced with her permission.


dissociative fugues are organised and
I can still drive, as if this metallic blue momentum were
purposeful, operating according to some
enduring physics, though even my hands have lost
internal logic. The person’s thinking is
smeared around a conversation under a tree,
dominated by a “single idea, that
escapes her fingers, trying to reach him, which
symbolizes or condenses (or both)
the event horizon around this singularity, which swallows
several important ideas and emotions,”
nimbused by bereft light particles, partnerless now. Read what
Lowenstein writes.

Furious sun fought air conditioning. I think by then I had driven
for several hours. “I had lost the ability
to park, to decide turnings, but I stopped,
to understand categories,” she said. “I
sat in a deli. I didn’t know what food I liked. I
no longer had a chronological measure
of selves – if that self had gone, the singularity had eaten all
of time. I no longer experienced myself
but thought, once, I had eaten sundried tomatoes
in a specific place. I didn’t have an
idea beyond that, but ordered some.” No-one

understood why someone might forget
her own mouth, or how to move in time, might lose
her identity during the storm. “There
I sat, immobile, with the sundried tomatoes. I knew I
was a lot of trauma,” she said softly. “It
spilled from me, in Hawking radiation. I
cracked things wide open.” A man
had vanished; this anti-particle self appeared.

If you want to give it a go, check your own screengrabs folder for inspiration (remember you'll need the other person's permission if the poem goes public) or try an out-of-copyright poem or book - here's a helpful starter list of poems in the public domain.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.

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