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Beckman, McCann, and Rohrer on Erasing the Romantics

By Harriet Staff

Head on over to The Kenyon Review blog for this interview with Joshua Beckman, Anthony McCann, and Matthew Rohrer, who, collaboratively, performed erasures on seminal Romantic texts, which resulted in Gentle Reader!.

Andrew David King’s intro:

It makes sense to me why a group of contemporary poets with more avant-garde than conservative aesthetics (though I use those terms with some trepidation) would choose to erase Romantic-era writers—but I wanted to ask what the motivation was for selecting these source texts. Was it random? A decision to interrogate the canon? An experiment to see how the traditional lyric would hold up when taken as fodder for modernist praxis?

A sample from the interview:

KR: The informational pages of Gentle Reader! don’t answer much about how, exactly, the process of erasure unfolded, or which one of you is responsible for which passage. Why leave out a more detailed description of that process? And why have readers encounter information about which works were erased at the end of the volume and not the beginning? What do these choices mean for the final version of the project?

MR: A lot of that was in homage to the Lyrical Ballads, wherein Coleridge and Wordsworth didn’t claim authorship of the first edition, and in fact pretended it was written by one author. A lot of it comes from our not really wanting people to focus so much on the fact that they are erasures, which I think gives certain readers an “out”. We actually wanted people to read the poems and consider them as poems, the way they would any other poem. Because they are poems. They are also Erasures [sic], and it would have been weird not to acknowledge that somehow. But we didn’t want it to be the only thing about these poems that people noticed. I think we decide that if people wanted to get all the way to the back of the book and find out these are erasures, and where they come from, that’s great. Hooray for them.

AM: Exactly.

JB: Also, specifically about leaving them unsigned—while the poems were not written in a “traditionally collaborative” way, the experience was constantly collaborative—at no point was any given poem being written with fewer than three other people present (the other two of us and the author of the original work), so that even though I may have done the erasing of my copy of Keats in my apartment and brought whole the work that is in the book, it seems just as false (or nearly as false) to present sole authorship over it, as it would be false to accept sole authorship over a poem all three of us had written word by word by word. For many readers there is an instinctual assumption of traditional authorship and with it what falls away is the nuanced reality of communal artistic creation. With erasure I think this is even more a concern—you either end up with someone being impressed that X made something from the work of Y or someone complaining that the good parts of X’s work are what Y had already done (a sort of “Look what I did” or a “He didn’t do that at all”). Leaving our names off allows at least a little more of that authorial ambiguity to vibrate.

KR: More on process: how did the three of you navigate the construction (or deconstruction) of the work? Did you each complete individual pieces, or alternate between stanzas or lines—or both?

MR: We each did our own poems, but then got together and edited them together, and did final touches on them together.

Full interview here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, December 3rd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.