So, last January, about the time Rod McKuen passed away, I picked up his poetry book Lonesome Cities, which I’d obtained long after its publication in the 1960s but which I’d never read. I didn’t really like the poems: their language felt too chatty and their subjects too familiar and too precious.
But alongside each poem was plenty of blank space in which I could rewrite the poems to my own taste, to make the poems sharper and stranger, more surprising. Some of the poems are simple erasures (see also resources here), while others have some words replaced by sound-alike words, and all poems have certain amounts of re-arrangement, editing, and rewriting (however those definitions may overlap).
I debated whether to put my new poems alongside McKuen’s originals. I have chosen not to, partly out of concern not to step on his copyrights (and this writing process felt like authentic creation, but it also prompted questions of what, exactly, copying means). But I also don’t think comparing the new to the old is necessary, as the poems below range far beyond the topics of McKuen’s poems to represent their own questions of consciousness and philosophical inquiry.
Here are my poems, with reference to the titles of the originals the new poems came from:
“An Out,” an erasure of McKuen’s poem “An Outstretched Hand”
Each of us was God.
Some of us grew.
The wind bent.
Love is, is.
Each eye turned sound,
shoulders their feet.
It takes a hand.
“Sting,” an erasure of “Rusting in the Rain”
The old world coming stops as it goes.
Did anybody ever grow older?
Come see where we have been.
“I’ve,” a rewrite of “I’ve Saved the Summer”
I give you to winter when new.
I’ve need. Darkness can feed. I’ve kept your smile.
You were 19. You’re older, you’ll know.
I know no answers. Your way lies somewhere.
But I’ll give you the road.
“Like the Window,” a rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “It’s Raining”
It’s like the window if we wait.
There’s here now. Don’t be anymore.
It’s the crickets.
Do you think? You love.
“Summer’s It,” an erasure/rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “Sommerset”
times: summer’s set?
“To Glean Sin from the Crows,” a rewrite of the first two stanzas of “Sommerset” made by replacing each word in poem with a sound-alike word:
Several ways were sunny.
Canned eels’ mouths were made.
Sand heavy birds down a long cane;
that seems to compensate
for muddy ears. Comb fuzzy bats.
Tin filters amore.
Hens heal ivy. Where summer went,
him no team ignores.
Cats rhyme some more. They gored some pigs.
Endure, he knew, but how?
Repair in size our wooden trunks.
Two seen beneath a stall.
Cows mainly hear enough of static
to glean sin from the crows.
Whine was learned, yet summer kept
land-cropping all sender’s snows.
“I Live That, Always,” an erasure of “The Single Man”
I live that, always.
For just a night,
the talk wasn’t a better day.
At home, or in his private cloud, I am
a time I can’t remember.
The house might have been help.
“Cans,” an erasure/creative edit of “Cannes”
Cans waking in the morning
sweep down the street.
The empty bottles go back.
As crossword puzzles on the sidewalk,
a new foundation crawls
back under buildings
to avoid the Jets.
Still adjusting our heads,
we shoe up in the hallway
and lose bed.
Thank God for the coasts.
“Form,” an erasure of “For Bimby”
Some things you can put down.
Sheep grazing on the airport stale February days.
Smile balloons look to me.
Surprises held in the day.
A blaze with tourists and cats ruins time.
Her smile is elaboration lost
“The cross Atlantic,” erasure/edit of “Atlantic Crossing”
I gave up a while.
I had written songs to my family’s safe for years.
Had some women liked my animals in luxury?
I’d miss me, but they’d be it.
The way did much paint.
I’ll admit there were eyes I’d keep.
All in all, I was ready, so I pray more.
God had frightened years.
He first did run down.
We’d play together if we weren’t one another.
“Beaching Manhattan,” an edit-rewrite of “Manhattan Beach” as a prose poem
I’m working in a house at Manhattan Beach. Eddie came by last weekend with two women and some books. The books and the women were stacked. (Ha!)
I sleep and breathe the waves. I think of my breathing. I mist my attention on the traffic. Familiar rooms sink past my songs. A half-packed suitcase buys me oughts.
My dog does stuff up on the beach–she doesn’t seem to care that this is the very end of the land. My friends may as well be weathered sticks or bottles sans notes. My dog smells of the smells she smells; they settle on her fur.
Boats fill harbors in a dance stretching back 10 years in a morning. I live mostly in afternoons.
I nearly died. Fever made doubt or walks along. I stayed alive. Letters came, and “I” was the island I would go for. The asshole rides me to see the dog embark a seal.
“Four for Hands,” an erasure-rewrite of “Concerto for four hands”
Shadows time me.
“Now You’re Even,” an erasure-edit of “New Year’s Eve”
The old die.
I am the green ground.
I have faces.
I need,–I know.
The town slopes
The next room waits.
Villages rain like celebrations.
“Urban Herb,” an erasure-edit of “Suburb”
The mountain winds around petals. A desert country like smoke. Those electric-nows pine for perfume towns. The smile is smiles. Centurions anticipate chopping. Down the trees and down the hills, ants make flat.
“Bag Age,” an erasure-edit of “Baggage”
Only one day shoulders disappearing.
Room crowds your face.
Help me suppose it gone.
Leave me so I stand.
“Boa Rid,” erasure-rewrite of “Boat Ride”
The boredom drove.
God was full.
You were Texas.
Your tongue, again, knows.
Your arms water time, privately.
“In Dian’s Summer,” an erasure-rewrite of “Indians”
In Dian’s summer,
Every thicket beds flowers.
Sunshine does the painting.
The hills buy the buffalo tower
and fence. Off the factories,
we’ll build shadows.
Men die but gray.
“Engineer of Pallidity,” an erasure and inversion of “Venice” (pages 34 through 31)
a whole long moment meets time.
I am handsome; a mirror could have a hope.
Find a way to own my reflection.
I excite you with motor cuisine. You, I’ll never smile.
The glance—once—keeps you. I buy. You coin the world, and back a secret.
The sun targets me. The sun beaches you.
My hair lies. I’m your engineer of pallidity.
Tomorrow, sun ends home, shade.
Waiting, the birds.
Feeding. Ignoring me, you, chattering, the pigeons.
Coming. Moving. Eating. Chewing.
“These,” a selection-rewrite of “Three”
I face country tablecloths.
I index fingers.
I till now.
I paint 20 minutes.
Your eyes say grapefruit.
I ruin mornings.
I draw evenings.
I even drawings.
“Tuesday,” an erasure/sound-replacing rewrite of “Two”
Back to look—I, you. No!
Understand: I speak same as I bathe,
with a winnowing and a leafing through.
The heat throws. Off, we wormed each other
into tarps in different booths.
Turning me, months mediate a simile.
In the laboratory at the lakefront,
there were some seaweeds in a hair curler—
my mind looked at them—
I had drained my face from the stairs.
“When,” an erasure/rewrite of “One”
When you corner change
and wrinkle it into day,
you and lovers lose
water to leaded crystal.
“Disbelief,” a re-make of “Morning, Three”
At any “and,”
disbelief smiles “yet, “or.”
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