EXPERIMENTS

In late March of 2017, about 3 months into my story project about training for a marathon, I discovered Bernadette Mayer and her list of writing experiments through an online poetry class. It changed my life and the direction of my writing. I began experimenting with new forms and ways of exploring and understanding what it could mean to be a body that moves, thinks, creates, and pays attention, all at the same time. The laboratory for these experiments continues to be the Mississippi River Gorge in south Minneapolis, which I run or walk or bike beside almost every day.

Some of these experiments have led to bigger projects, some have been abandoned, and some are just waiting for when I decide to return to them. For a larger list of experiments that I’ve tried or want to try, see my ever-expanding list: Experiments: unabridged list

voice memo work

The first running/poetry experiment I did was inspired by Bernadette Mayer’s suggestion on page 10 of Please Add to this List: “Attempt tape recorder work. That is, recording without a text, perhaps at specific times.” During a 3 mile run, I recorded my thoughts as they occurred to me by pulling out my iPhone mid-run and speaking into it using the Voice Memos app. I enjoyed this experiment enough that I envisioned doing it a lot more, maybe even composing poems into my phone while I ran the marathon–a poem for each of the 26 miles. But the logistical difficulties of speaking into a phone will running have been hard to manage and an injury prevented me from running the marathon. Even so, I continue to experiment with using the voice memo app in different ways.

  • march 20/3 miles (recording my thoughts while running, 2017)
  • march 22/5 miles (recording my thoughts while running up a steep hill, 2017)
  • april 24/WALK (recording my thoughts while walking and comparing it to thoughts while running, 2017)
  • may 19/8 miles (composing chants/little poems and recording them mid-run, 2017)
  • april 9/4 miles (recording dripping water, melting snow sounds, 2018)
  • april 19/RUN (stopping 4 miles in, on lake street bridge, recording thoughts about the river, 2019)
  • dictation project (recording spoken log entries after my runs, 2020)

Running Log Erasures

In April of 2017, I began turning some of my log entries into erasure poems. With the help of my web developer husband (Room 34), I created these erasures online. Instead of blacked out text, the erased words disappear when you hover over the entry. One drawback: the effect only works on computers, not phones or tablets.

Variation: Playlist Erasures
Variation: Other Peoples’ Words
  • O (an erasure of Poem by Charles Wright)

Spells

In April of 2017, in an effort to make thinking about injury less scary, I decided to derange its language by combining 2 experiments from Please Add to This List: 1. Systematically derange the language: write a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work (9) and 2. Get a group or words, either randomly selected or thought up, then form these words (only) into a piece of writing—whatever the words allow. Let them demand their own form, or, use some words in a predetermined way. Design words (9). Since then, I have relied on deranging language to help me find the magic and possibility in words and the things/experiences/ideas they describe.

Spells to Ward Off Injury
Spells for Becoming Acquainted with the Body and Celebrating its Magic
Spells for Enduring Discomfort

Breaths, Chants, Rhythms

As I explore the relationship between movement and writing, I’ve been using my breathing patterns and rhythms while running and swimming to experiment with new poems and poetic forms. Many of my poems are composed later. I make a note of my breathing or cadence and then find words to fit. And many of them are composed while I’m running or swimming. I come up with words as I breathe and/or as my foot strikes the ground. These poems are intended to be fun, challenging distractions as I move. They also can help me keep a steady pace. And they enable me to listen and play around with how my words, phrases, and lines work and don’t work rhythmically.

Running
Swimming

Memorizing Poems

When You Can’t Move, Memorize a Poem

One July night in 2017, my kneecap slipped out of its groove. In the days before I went to a doctor to find out what was wrong, I was scared, uncomfortable, uncertain, and restless. I couldn’t walk and was only able to move by hopping between the couch and a table. To make myself feel better, I decided to memorize a poem. It worked. I memorized almost a dozen poems in the next few weeks. Then I recited them to myself and for my family. As I memorized these poems, I kept a daily log about the injury and my efforts to recover. I used bits of these poems, along with the log entries, to craft a cento and 2 lyric essays.

To Feel How Words Move, Memorize a Poem and Recite it While Running

Right as the pandemic was hitting Minnesota in early March of 2020, I decided to memorize some poems to make myself feel better. I started with one I’d memorized before but had forgotten: Auto lullaby/ Franz Wright. Then I decided to recite it to myself as I was running. I liked doing this so much, I turned it into an exercise. In addition to using this experiment to pay more attention to the poems I’m memorizing–the meter, the meaning–I often compose my own poems inspired by the poem I’m reciting during or after my run.

Spending Time with Others’ Words

In February of 2019, after noticing I had only posted 31 poems in over 500 entries on my RUN! log, I decided to try posting one at the end of each entry. Oftentimes these poems were related to my mood, the date, or something I was paying attention to during my run. At first, the only purpose was to seek out and post more poems. Slowly, I’ve been experimenting with new ways to spend time with other people’s words. At the end of the 2019, I spent a month rereading all of the poems, picking out my favorite lines, and then turning them into a cento. And in February of 2020, I revisited all of the poems I had posted in Februarys (2019 and 2020) and picked out lines that best translated the feels like temperature into words.

Learning to Listen

As my central vision continues to deteriorate, I’ve been focusing more on sound, trying to learn both how to listen and how to describe sounds in my writing. In addition to making lots of lists in my log entries about what I hear when I’m at the gorge and doing focused runs where all I try to do is listen, I have picked particular sounds and spent time exploring them–recording and researching the them, reciting poems about them, writing in my log and notebooks about my reactions to them, and then writing my own poems inspired the sound.

Crunching Snow, winter 2018
Bird Calls and Songs, spring 2020