Mouse #5: poetic dumpster-diving

This week I acquired seven antique drawer knobs. I had to sneak out early in the morning and unscrew them from the broken dresser on my neighbour’s curb before the garbage truck arrived. This is way better than shopping. Not only is dumpster-diving free, it’s also exhilarating: part espionage/part rescue mission.

I signed out Annie Dillard’s Mornings Like This, without knowing what it was: a collection of “found poems.” Artists who write found poetry, explains Annie Dillard, “go pawing through popular culture like sculptors on trash heaps. They hold and wave aloft usable artifacts and fragments: jingles and ad copy, menus and broadcasts — all objets trouvés, the literary equivalents of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans and Duchamp’s bicycle.”

I like the idea of making “sculptures” from other peoples’ junk and artifacts. When I write profiles for my Christian Week column, I’ve always thought of it as carving: I start with a block of interview notes, chip away the dull bits, and voila! The beautiful story takes shape. One of the things that held me back creatively, whenever I thought of writing fiction or poetry, was believing I had to blow ideas onto the page from thin air (the air in my brain). How silly! God creates out of thin air; humans reshape. Poetry is everywhere.

I wasn’t thinking about found poems when I wrote Deep Cleanser using skincare ads from my memory, but since I’ve started reading Dillard’s poems (She doesn’t even add words, but somehow manages to rearrange sentences, drop words, and in the process, changes the context from hunting to love and death), I’ve been more intentional about searching for “artifacts.” Once place I looked was hymns, which I admit I am not capable of improving upon. I doubt anyone is. They improve me. Woven into any poem about the swirling eddies of life, hymns add a bubbling undercurrent of hope.

Here’s a poem I wrote recently (I’m not totally happy with it yet, but I like its potential) about the fixations (stims) children with autism use to comfort themselves.

A Shelter from the Stim

Rock, for all ages, cleft are you,

in the shadow of the weight.

Pace to the humming of the light

your hands a shield against its knife.

While you draw, a fleeting groan,

Will your tears forever flow?

Spin the plate, the self — a web.

Your wheels turn better upside-down.

Clear your throat, click your tongue,

the language of a realm unknown.

Bow not before the judgment thrown.

Flap against your wounded side,

You can’t fly away.


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