Try On Other’s Clothes

I’m currently taking a poetry class, and each class we read a new poem. The first was Allen Ginsberg’s, “Is About.”

We read through the poem twice. The first time at a normal pace, and the second time a bit quicker.

Immediately following the second pass, we flip open our journals and begin writing. We write frantically for 25 minutes. We don’t stop. We don’t think. We don’t edit. We just write.

We read the poem twice to not only understand it, but to get a feel for its structure and techniques.

Take Ginsberg’s poem for example:

Dylan is about the Individual against the whole creation
Beethoven is about one man’s fist in the lightning clouds
The Pope is about abortion & the spirits of the dead…
Television is about people sitting in their living room looking at their things
America is about being a big Country full of Cowboys Indians Jews Negroes & Americans
Orientals Chicanos Factories skyscrapers Niagara Falls Steel Mills radios homeless Conservatives, don’t forget
Russia is about Czars Stalin Poetry Secret Police Communism barefoot in the snow
But that’s not really Russia it’s a concept
A concept is about how to look at the earth from the moon without ever getting there. The moon is about love & Werewolves, also Poe
Poe is about looking at the moon from the sun
or else the graveyard
Everything is about something if you’re a thin movie producer chain-smoking muggles
The world is about overpopulation, Imperial invasions, Biocide Genocide, Fratricidal Wars, Starvation, Holocaust, mass injury & murder, high technology
Super science, atom Nuclear Neutron Hydrogen detritus, Radiation Compassion Buddha, Alchemy
Communication is about monopoly television radio movie newspaper spin on Earth, i.e. planetary censorship.
Universe is about Universe.
Allen Ginsberg is about confused mind writing down newspaper headlines from Mars–
The audience is about salvation, the listeners are about Sex, Spiritual gymnastics, nostalgia for the Steam Engine & Pony Express
Hitler Stalin Roosevelt & Churchill are about arithmetic & Quadrilateral equations, above all chemistry physics & chaos theory–
Who cares what it’s all about?
I do! Edgar Allen Poe cares! Shelly cares! Beethoven & Dylan care.
Do you care? What are you about
or are you a human being with 10 fingers and two eyes?

Aside from the title, the literary technique of repetition is rather straight-forward. When we finish reading the poem and begin writing, we don’t just write aimlessly. While you’re welcome to do so, we tend to focus first on writing off of the poem. What that means is we source the original poem to form our own. This is accomplished through structure/technique, in this case it’s the repetition of “…is about.”

The idea is to write non stop without much thought—an immediate pouring of our consciousness to paper. Sometimes the poem is straight-forward and completely derivative of the original, and sometimes it strays very far away, either way the point is to write and write and write.

Why do we do this? Why do we try on the clothes of other poets?

No matter how much I write off of Ginsberg or source his poems, his voice will never be my own. Even when I attempt to sound like Ginsberg, I’ll sound a strange rendition of him uniquely of my own. Because I am not Ginsberg, and never will be.

The intention or purpose isn’t for me to become Ginsberg or even sound like him, it’s to use his writing as a catalyst to my own thinking. It’s the utilization of his writing to catapult me into my own.

I encourage you to try on the clothes of other people, of your heroes, of artists you’ve never heard of, of strangers. With that being said, must you try on the clothes of those in the same field? I’ve been turning to poetry to influence my design work, where will you turn to? You will find your voice by first losing it.