Category Archives: novel

Erasure Poems

1). Start with a source document. Mine is a letter written in 1740 by Eliza Lucas Pinckney to her father.

2). Black out some words (or select some) or both.

3). Type up and read, edit if desired.

4). Repeat. Enjoy the variations.

I followed two rules: 1) all words in the Erasure Poem must be in the order that they appear in the source document and 2) all words must remain in their original form (i.e. the same tense or person). I made an exception to rule two and updated archaic spellings.

This technique, very popular in altered book circles, is one I’ve used for collage, but never for poetry. Relative to the historic fiction I’m writing (Eliza is one of the main characters), I was curious what might be revealed — anything new or useful about Eliza or her circumstances?

All of this was inspired by a poetry reading a few weeks back at Sam Durant‘s “The Meeting House” in Concord, Mass. (an Arts and the Landscape event sponsored by Trustees of Reservations). Four poets read. One of them was 2015 National Book Award winner for Poetry, Robin Coste Lewis (pictured above), who offered an erasure piece. It was intensely moving (you can hear her read three of her poems, here).

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
ONE

Honorable Sir,

Words to express the situation
beyond expression

the fearful immediate
danger

as I must own some
advantages
such as honor, perhaps profit too.

Put in with my just cause
the love you avoid
by unjust means.

The assurance that this life
depends on Dear Sir,
you.

Injurious to imagine
Heroism.

I deserve
this time.

You always persevere
Honorable Sir.

Your Daughter

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
TWO

To Colonel,

I want words
from you.

The situation terrifies us.
Immediate danger.
I must own

You are sensible.

Might some advantages arise
such as honor, profit too,
mere trifles
in the balance?

A just cause in preference
to every other means.
Courage enough
to will the thought
unworthy of you.

To pretend to Heroism
should conceal fears

and affections.

Always prayer.

Your most obedient
Daughter

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
THREE

To Sir,

I want words under you, us
Beyond and increased

Some place to differ

There, when put in the balance

Life
A just cause
Love

You avoid the assurance
that this welfare
injurious, I deserve.

To pretend
Heroism, I conceal
perpetual apprehensions.

I am always the prayer.

Your Eliza

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
FOUR

I am sensible and
I esteem the fight
as well as the love

Advantages arise

These mere trifles
honored a just cause
as well as every means
to retract anything more
than I deserve.

Mama and the Almighty
The constant prayer

Your obedient Eliza

Transitions and things and slavery (never far from my mind)

C and his girlfriend went away for the long weekend. As soon as they returned, it was time to drive my other son to the airport. Washing dishes at the sink this morning, I thought, “oh this phase of the empty nest is marked by transition,” and then a heart beat later, “ALL phases of life are marked by transition.” After all, I was washing a ceramic bowl that an hour earlier belonged to a downsizing friend.

Scanning her garage shelves this morning I said,  “I’ll look because both boys are setting up apartments this fall,” but the truth is I find opportunities to receive free stuff irresistible.  Perhaps my choices were puzzling to her. I took several decades’ worth of spigot and hose attachments, but not the complete set of enamel-handled silverware (surely handy in a young man’s empty apartment?!). I grabbed the funky, brass crab ash tray, but left the collection of vases from all over the world behind.   It is not quite as fun as it used to be — this gleeful, thrifty form of acquisition — because I now understand the cost of HAVING things. The housing, the cleaning, perhaps the wishing I hadn’t.  But still, can anyone doubt that those giraffe salad utensils look happy in their new home? Look at them, checking out the kitchen!

I could go on a framing spree to justify the big box of wooden frames I lugged home.

Or, I could go drink iced coffee in the shade before it rains. I’d like to finish Faulkner’s “Go Down, Moses” even though I may have less idea about what’s going on than the author intended. Can’t a read be like that? Just a letting of the text wash over the mind? And then it’s back to “Blood and Indigo” and Eliza and the enslaved Melody and the events during the week of the Stono Slave Rebellion (the second week of September, 1739). Imagining.

It requires research and a kind of patient waiting to describe a scene situated almost 300 years ago. What was in the minds of my white characters that week? What was in the minds of my black characters? The attempt to fully imagine those events feels like a fruitful one. I begin to understand the harsh tensions of that time, including the true costs of slavery. The void between white and black points of view is vast and unbridgeable, as I tell it, and perhaps one or even both sides are unknowable to me, and yet, I keep going for it.

Sadly, this research and patient imagining of violence brought on by racial oppression echoes across the centuries and helps me to understand OUR time as well. I wish that weren’t true.

All kinds of things tell me that we, America, might be at a tipping point. Don’t you think? Commentators a lot better informed than I are talking about the coming of the end of white supremacy (for example, here). Everywhere, I see signs of a willingness to take on our history with a fresh and more honest approach.   


(If you know that this is Newton’s Jackson Homestead, celebrated as one of the documented stops on the Underground Railroad, you will understand the import of that banner).

To be continued, of course.

snowed under

IMG_7638There is so much that I want to write about — storytelling, historic research and how synchronicity can make it exciting and affirming… recently discovered facts about the year right before the Lucas family left Antigua, which changes my view of their decision to leave the small Leeward Island quite radically and feeds later scenes with a specificity that I just love.
IMG_7644-0But for now I am literally snowed under. It just keeps coming. There are calling this steady slow accumulation an ‘event’ rather than a storm, but the mind boggling part is how much more may fall: POSSIBLY TWO MORE FEET!! I managed to get up to Salem yesterday, the first time in two weeks — the visit being squeezed between snow storms and snow events. (That’s my sister’s ‘sidewalk’ below).
IMG_7687It seems odd to write this, but there’s an upside right now to my sister being practically a shut in  — and that is:  this weather has very little impact on her. I arrange for groceries to be delivered and worry about her slipping on her iced up sidewalk should she go out to check her mail. But otherwise, not much changes for her.
IMG_7649The city will be shut down tomorrow (again). Schools closed everywhere (again). The T will run on an abbreviated schedule.  K will work at home. This interim time of puppyhood / snowstorm continues weirdly unhinged from former routines — most notably sewing and writing.

But, this morning I was up at four and did write (I love the quiet of the early hours!) and was out of doors walking Finn by six-thirty. There’s a lot to be said for these forced marches, even if they are complicated by gloves, boots, specialty leashes, treats, dog doo, etc. The bracing air and the quiet streets have a way of feeding the soul.

Tomorrow is my birthday, which means I am thinking of my mother.