A couple of months ago we had an interesting project pop up in the Nice-Cuts inbox! We didn’t really understand Stephen’s Poetry Wholes, though we certainly had great fun in the Nice-Cuts workshop giving it a go, so we have asked him to explain for us below!
Poet Stephen Emmerson has worked with poetry publisher if p then q to create the incredible Poetry Wholes, second edition. Both this edition and the previous one have been lovingly produced by the Nice-Cuts team. The first edition was made from plastic, housed in a clinical white box and sold out immediately. After calls at Stephen’s readings for more copies Stephen and if p then q editor James Davies decided to make a second edition, this time from wood.
Poetry Wholes, second edition come housed in a box with a set of instructions. Each Poetry Wholes contains 5 templates which you can use to make instantaneous poetry in a range of styles. Choose from the following:
- The Sonnet
- ‘Vito Acconci’
- The Ballad
- The ‘Slash’
Simply take a regular ‘A5’ size book such as a novel or a book of poems and place your template over the top. Now you have a poem!
Poetry Wholes cost £10 (+postage)
A note on Poetry Wholes from poet, Stephen Emmerson
Poetry Wholes are essentially an infinite poem. Texts can be re-purposed through the Wholes. As long as you don’t run out of text, you won’t run out of new poems. The Wholes can be placed over any text to reveal a poem.
I often perform using the Poetry Wholes. I ask members of the audience for a book. I need five in total. I ask for prose books (not poetry), and I get novels, textbooks, newspapers, instruction manuals and other interesting textual artefacts. I then place each of the Poetry Wholes over a page in each of the books and improvise a poetic reading. By that, I mean I use rhythm. I love doing it. I’ve done it scores of times since they were first published in 2014. I never know what I’m going to get.
The Poetry Wholes act as windows into a poetry that surrounds us. It’s everywhere, but we can’t always see it. Often a poem is about what’s not visible, what’s not tangible, and I hope that the Wholes create tiny portals into those murky spaces where art exists in the boundaries of the everyday.
I am a poet, but I look for innovative ways of performing or displaying text, sometimes I find ways of performing poems that don’t have any text at all. I like to get the audience involved. I want them to do most of the work.
I believe that reading is a creative act. It is not passive. Each reader’s world is unique. I like to present readers with spaces in which they can become participants, not just in the experience of the act, but in the act of the experience. Ideally I want to present a blank canvas in which participants have almost total freedom. But writing is also about control. A reader who has total freedom is a writer. I like to think that my work explores the areas in-between writing and reading, and how language (all language) is inherently about control.
A note on Poetry Wholes from if p then q editor, James Davies
I’ve always been keen on publishing poetry which isn’t just in standard book format but it’s also essential that it’s not just a novelty item. Steve has talked about the performance aspect of the ‘book’ and readers as ‘listeners’ but readers who use the Wholes ‘on the page’ can use them to read and write at home too. You could follow a system. For example, take a single text and produce a poem in each of the five forms from Poetry Wholes. Or you could use the Wholes randomly on any text to see what comes out. Another way to use them would be to make a sonnet sequence, out of a particular text. You can then apply more constraints such as rolling dice to determine the pages you should use. The outcome of the text that the Wholes produce might also depend on which way up you place the template or whether you decide to place it flush against the page at all. As you can see the possibilities are endless.
After publishing the first edition of Poetry Wholes I read Ron Padgett’s book Creative Reading which is a pedagogical list of methods to get people active in the reading process, including people who may be reluctant to read and to turn reading into writing, as Steve has pointed out. Padgett proposes making templates. It may be fun to make your own but the feeling of using such sturdy, quality templates, as the Poetry Wholes that Nice-Cuts has produced for us, adds an amazing tactile quality to such a way of reading or writing, as well as adding an element of ritualism into the bargain.