About the Poems
by David Dodd Lee
About the Ashbery Erasure poems: It is important to understand that what had started as homage/slash/critique evolved into what I thought of as, more and more, my own creative act, and so it had begun to seem Ashbery's words had floated serendipitously into my life, the perfect source text. There was little to no premeditation here. I was reading Ashbery—something I did often enough; sometimes with excitement, sometimes in frustration—and I flushed with the realization I could extract “poems” from these amazingly circuitous texts, poems from poems, of course, but poems I truly believed would hold up as strong and unique machines of words all on their own. I had no idea though how intensely, over time, as the “erasing/assembling” proceeded, I would begin to feel both a collaborative spirit with A., as well as some sense that I'd discovered a new way to write poems wholly my own . . . a kind of cannibalistic devotion to A's work as raw material for my own creative process . . .
The rules were simple enough. I could use in my new “poem” any words from a single Ashbery poem. But I couldn't just pick words randomly from anywhere in the raft of words that was the Ashbery poem. I had to construct my poem by going through the source poem and picking out words as Ashbery used them, consecutively. In other words, were I to white-out my omissions one would have little trouble forming the words and phrases that make up my erasure poems . . . As I selected I moved from left to right,as A had, only I omitted as I moved . . .
So, this was a process of omission—erasure—although complicated by will. The desire to construct new meanings via syntax and content, often directed me. I'd create words I felt I needed using great portions of A's text for example. And I did arrange what I selected into lines, an imposition that argued ownership of the poem on the page (this struggle over ownership became one of the overriding tensions of the project) . . .
Books the poems came from: “THE IMPROVEMENT” And the Stars were Shining; “But you think,” Flow Chart; “I FOUND THEIR ADVICE,” Hotel Lautreamont; “A WALTZ DREAM,” And the Stars were Shining; “THE LOUNGE,” And the Stars were Shining.
The titles of the poems are always simply Ashbery's own. To compare my texts to Ashbery's simply locate the poem by title in A's books . . . the exception is “But you think,” which is culled from a single page in A's long poem, Flow Chart. The titles in all the Flow Chart poems were selected from language in the first line, usually, of the selected page . . .