An experiment in poetry

MARSHALL – Last summer, a trio of aspiring writers embarked on a bold project.

“The idea was to explore poetry through a collaborative writing project,” said Barb Hawes.

Hawes, along with Shelly Grace and Justin Craigmile, entered into “The Rewrite Project,” where each chose a poem to rewrite, passing the rewritten poem onto the next person then the next.

“At the end of the rewrite, we had rewritten three poems,” Grace said.

Hawes said the essence of the project came from two sources. One night she was drawing a picture of a small sculpture.

“On comparing the drawing to the sculpture, my husband wondered what another artist might create if she only worked form the drawing,” she said. “How different from the original would the work be?” Hawes tied that conversation together with Benjamin Franklin’s idea of improving writing skills by rewriting works he admired.

The three agreed on a structure – they would not identify the original poems until the end, each person would see only the rewrite he or she were to work on for the next meeting, they would have two weeks for each rewrite, they would meet in person to discuss how they felt about the process and exchange rewrites and they wanted to share their experience with others.

“We talked about rules and decided there were none,” Grace said, with the exception of the rules they placed on themselves.

Grace said the group met informally at Bagels and Brew every two weeks.

“Before we handed off our rewrites, we talked generally about process and thoughts,” Grace said. “After everyone had rewritten each poem once, the group shared the original poems and each rewrite.”

Grace said she was watching the Tony Awards when she heard one of the winner’s acceptance speeches. Instead of thanking people, the winner recited a poem. She went online and found that particular poem. Grace said it was “Unfortunate Location”?by Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins, and she chose it. She said she wanted to know what it was like to take a prose poem and make it into a verse poem.

Craigmile is a Ray Bradbury fan, and he chose “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” by W.B. Yeats. Hawes selected “The Sunlight on the Garden” by Louise MacNeice.

“When we started, the entire group was unsure what our prime directive was,” Craigmile said. “On our first meeting, we were surprised to find that we all chose poems that had already been published, and, as such, validated great works.”

“It’s very scary to rewrite somebody’s work you admire,” Hawes said.

“For me, to rewrite that (the Yeats poem) is terrifying,” Craigmile said.

Craigmile noted how difficult it was to only rewrite the poem in front of them and not completely recreate the work. No matter what your plans for a poem are, he said, almost every time it will grow on its own and what is born would surprise you.

“We felt we were putting ourselves into the poem we were rewriting,” Craigmile said.

Hawes said she chose her poem because of the rhyming pattern and the rhythm.

“I decided to try a haiku rhythm while trying to hang onto the spirit of the poem,” Hawes said.

Craigmile kept the same form and changed the words of Yeats’ poem. Grace said in going from a prose poem to a structured poem, you try to pare words down to their barest meaning. Her rewrite of Jenkins’ poem had half as many words.

“I was very aware of that,” she said.

Hawes said they weren’t going to critique each other throughout the rewriting process, and that the intent was to learn something.

“The idea wasn’t to correct or improve the poem,” Hawes said. “(It was) to take that vocabulary and rhythm and see where it went.”

Hawes said they analyzed the rewrites.

“At the end it was funny to see what words stuck and what faded away,” Hawes said.

Grace said they all agreed that each of them rewrote each of the poems, but they don’t have a final draft.

“These are not finished works,” Craigmile said. “We wanted to do better.”

“We focused on our process,” Hawes said.

The trio developed their project into a chapbook, which is available at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council’s downtown arts center.