lost poetry

As readers of my blog might have noticed, the month of June seems for me to be about finding.  I have found two poems serendipitously placed in my path by chance (if you believe in chance or serendipity or those sorts of things that go against all conceptions of Fate and inevitability), and I have found numerous objects, those not so much by chance as by my desire to just go out and find something.  The end of the academic year at Carleton is heralded by the appearance of discarded, unwanted belongings in all the dorm lounges and recycling bins, and for the intrepid and poetic explorer, there is much finding to be done. Things I have found/taken/creatively re-appropriated include a magnifying glass on a stand, brand new articles of clothing (price tags still attached), an unopened box of pasta, a pencil case, gold wire-frame glasses without lenses (of the hipster variety), and a shocking amount of candy (which I did not creatively re-appropriate so much as simply consume).

But for all the finding and taking-up of things that I have been engaging in, I have also done my share of letting go.  I sold books that I had been holding onto with the ridiculous belief that I would revisit them in my free time; I contributed to the piles of unwanted items in the first floor lounge of my building, getting rid of – among other things – a bath robe I had never used during my entire three years at Carleton; I left a large tin of anchovies on the table of my floor’s lounge, something that I had originally purloined from a dining hall display table but never opened.

And finally (I assure you that this post is indeed primarily about poetry), I left a poem.  I am not sure if there is already a widely-used term to describe a poem that is the opposite of a found poem, but for now, I’ll call it “lost.”  The idea behind this, for me, is that while with found poetry, the poet is seeking out the poem, with lost poetry, the poet lets the work go.  In a way, all poetry is lost.  The poet, having written a piece, desires to share it and in doing so, gives the poem up to the reader.  Once the poem is released, it cannot be taken back; it is lost to the world and to the reader’s interpretation.  But the poetry that I have in mind when I use the term “lost poetry” refers to those poems that are let go that will perhaps never be found.  The poem that I found scribbled on a slip of paper and dropped in a stairwell was truly lost, in that if I had never picked it up, it could have gone unread forever and eventually been crumpled in the corner to become a victim of a custodian’s dustpan.  Lost poetry is not presented to the reader in the same way that a poem on a blog or in a journal is because it is never known if the reader is there and it is equally unknown if the reader will understand the poem as poetry.  Lost poetry is written, but its publication is more of a giving up or a letting go – a release of poetry into the world in which the poet knowingly leaves much to chance.

You are perhaps wondering about the poem I lost, and unless you were wandering around downtown Northfield, MN on June 4th around dinnertime, it is unlikely that you could have found it.  Anna (whose blog you should read and whose interest in psychogeography initiated and influenced this poem) and I found two pieces of sidewalk chalk, and what ensued could be called, “If you give two twenty-year-old intellectuals a blank page,” or in this case, chalk and sidewalks on a sunny day.

We purposefully wandered (is that a contradiction in terms? I don’t think so), starting our wandering by writing a word on the sidewalk accompanied by an arrow pointing in the direction of the next word.  We took turns writing words, and eventually, after many more words and arrows, we made it back to our starting point.  The poem that we ended up with was this:

rare
beginnings
here and now
ought
it?
hold
without
making
belief
a means of
continuance
now
think of this:
punctuated equilibrium
fails, but
try
wait
exhale
float
points
encountering
all sorts of bubbles
(uh oh! don’t be misled! or do…)
burst
reversals
lead you back
and bind nutshells with
with borderlines
which
ends
too

By now, all these words have disappeared from the sidewalk, and I have no idea if anyone stopped and decided to follow an arrow in the short time the poem lasted.  I suppose for this poem to remain truly lost, I would have refrained from posting it here and from taking photos of each word to document the poem’s existence on the sidewalk.  If I had just let it go, it is likely that Anna and I would have been the only ones to read it, and maybe as its authors, it would have had meaning only for us.  I guess what I can conclude is that I’m much better at finding things than I am at letting myself lose them.

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2 Responses

  1. ‘Purposefully wandering’ is a contradiction in terms only so far as it allows us to question our very conceptions of ‘purpose’ and ‘wander’. And any good psychogeographer holds such purposeful wandering as a process foundational to our art/theory/what-have-you.

    I would of course question, as you do, the lost-ness of this poetry, given its preservation here and in photographic form – but I think this concept of all poetry being inherently lost is intriguing and perhaps quite true. But I would also note that part of this poem WAS lost: the poetic approach was the idea that the reader may not know where the poem begins or ends, because it existed circularly around a space of roughly two city blocks, and the arrows, although indicating a prescribed direction for reading, gave no such indication of where to begin (or cease!) ‘reading’. Instead of the traditional column of words that you have chosen here, might it not be truer to create a sort of mobius strip of words and phrases that gives no boundaries to the reader’s experience of the poem? Or perhaps, a wall of words in which the poem is repeated over and over without marking this supposed ‘beginning’ and ‘end’, allowing the reader to start and stop their reading wherever they so chose? Of course, these visual approaches may further undermine the ‘lostness’ of the poem, the original and transitory and, yes, trace-like nature of the act of chalking this brief bit of literature onto the urban surface. So in a way, you may have found this poem as well, losing it only for the briefest of moments.

    [ I am also grateful that you have a hard time losing things that you have found. 🙂 ]

  2. I think that the act of losing the poem is perhaps more important than the poem itself. This means that in the end, the author is really the only one who can find meaning in the poem and/or the losing of it. For me, this is somewhat problematic because poetry, in my mind, is about communicating something to others and forming meaningful connections with an audience that other forms of writing and artistic expression can’t achieve. So in writing a poem whose only audience is me, I’m getting away from one of the reasons I think poetry, or at least, my poetry exists. I suppose that I can be satisfied with the hope that someone will find the poem I have lost. Embracing a faith in the promise of finding is a part of losing in the first place.

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