Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Erraticism - Reflection on the Project

Our website, Erratic Poeticomic, dropped today.

It has me thinking tonight about the word "erratic," how it's topically come to mean dangerously unpredictable, how it's typically negative. And, yes, erratic comes from errare, to stray, to err. It connects for me to essai (essay); over in nonfiction, we think of the essay as an attempt. We try to try (to try) something new, to diverge wildly, to wander-err, hoping, of course, that our divergences and errances describe a meaningful orbit around a theme-sun.

I, for one, fail often.

I stumble down the incorrect of two roads. With a different sentence structure, I flail. I make what Dinty Moore calls glorious messes.

To me, our erraticism on this website has been that kind of mess. It's a glorious attempt.

Let me put it another way. I like to mix all the food on my plate. Sometimes ketchup mixes with green bean. OK. Sometimes it's fruit with meat. Not great. But sometimes the combination works out (potato with tomato).

I think Brett, Lydia, and I heaped our work into a delicious casserole. It could use a different spice here or there and some more baking, but this time three cooks in the kitchen was not too many. In some ways, we attempted something not one of us had a solid grasp of. What each of us added, though, brought our project more clearly into focus. We were trying. To have fun. To think about poetry carefully. To joke glibly about anaphora. To see where a new idea might bring us.

So, I want our "erratic" to mean "wandering," "trying."

And trying it was: the lighting in the CSC lab does not make one happy to be considering the lighting in the CSC lab. I have blisters on my fingers. . .from clicking. Today, I saw a font and, still worried about the clarity of emotion in my Applebee's poem, thought pensively, "Oh, could that indicate pensive?"

Ultimately, this project was trying because it was different. I'm a results-driven learner, and dreamweaver, comiclife, and all of our rhetorical inspirations required something new from me: patience. I think I've succeeded (with the group and individually) in learning these unfamiliar programs, but I want to be honest about my limitations. I'm still not much with a mouse. I still reach for the artistic gimmick (be it in image or word). My attempts at revision still resemble the quick fix more than the full detailing.

I cringe when I'm thinking hard. Sometimes, I think I need to cringe a bit harder.

But I would like to echo Lydia in that this project required a certain single-mindedness, a certain irrationality. When, last Wednesday, I was laying on the floor on top of Ashley Good posing as a dead man for Lydia's comic. . .When I felt volcanic stomach pains after my second consecutive supper at Applebee's (usually relatively reliable if you stay away from the profane nachos). . .When I begged over and over to illustrate the three of us with fire shooting out of our heads, I had to wonder if I was pushing it a bit far (or even in the wrong direction).

But we had good, level heads about things. We knew when to be crazy (we started calling that "wazy" for some reason having to do with anticipatory political correctness) and when to be moderate. And during our fast-talking, computer-cursing, Avalanche-pizza-eating moments of malaise, one or another of us perked up (perhaps naively) with a "this'll be great. It'll be great. This'll link to that. Then we'll have some stuff there. And it'll be great."

If I make it sound like we lacked a blue-print, I'm doing a disservice to Lydia (endlessly energetic) and Brett (tenaciously reassuring). From the beginning we had this "ic" trope. We needed to encompass poetic, comic, rhetoric, generic, and serio-ludic. We ended up throwing in filmic, too. With that loose, but catalyt(ic) plan, we converted idea to image and the br(ic)ks began falling into place.

Dave Grover and Rob Strong should be commended for their assistance before it gets too late. Rob changed an article about Saddam Hussein into an article about Nicole Kidman for me for my comic poem. Such a large transition was only matched by the way Dave changed our anxiety about publishing the site into triumph with a few deft key strokes. I owe him a cherry limeade. From Son(ic).

Another friend who helped me with this project was Virginia Woolf. Now, I don't think she'd be too impressed. She tended to be suspicious of the plot-driven and, as much as I like to imagine the epic resonance of my Applebee's trilogy, I'm not sure it explores fully the inner life of the mind. The inner life of a riblet, maybe. Still, V. Woolf was seriously striving for genre-mixing in her new albums.

She said, "I think there ought to be a scrambling together of mediums now. The old are too rigid; but then one must have a terrific technique to explode the old forms and make a new one, to say nothing of a lump of fire in one's brain, or the new form is merely a pose."

I had this in mind during the re-composition of my poem and the construction of our site. I'm not ready to say I had a terrific technique. And we may not have exploded the old form as much as we have jazzed it up. But we're closer to seeing how we might think about a visual poetics; it won't be a classic concentration-esque illustration of the words. It will be associative, contrapuntal, undecidable. Working within such a poetic, we might understand each image as a line. We might create image sonnets or sestinas, constricting ourselves to bring focus on the form. We might consider the place of the lyric-I when that I seems to stare at the audience.

We might keep some embers going in our brains.

The fourth poem titled "At an Applebee's in Greenfield, Mass." that I "wrote" consisted of the lyrics to the Electric Light Orchestra song "Strange Magic." In some ways this was a joke, in some ways not. I always think of it as the archetypal Applebee's song, with its synthesized surreality. It occurs to me, though, that it could play in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama as a haunting soundtrack, or in The China Diner as a muted underscoring of spare-ribbed, falsetto depressiveness. So I want to end with it in a last gesture of erratic magic. Goodnight.

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