19 May 2012

Weaving & word play

This month's word would have to be 'weave'. As I began exploring the principals and elements of weaving for one of my recent projects, I noticed them winding their way through other aspects of my work. I just love how everything feeds off of each other; this is one of the joys of having lots of different projects going at once. The downside, of course, is that it takes longer to complete them. But, as I've noted before, I view time as an ingredient that can only enrich creative work.

Earlier in the year I had mentioned how much I was enjoying poemcrazy: freeing your life with words, a sort of field guide for approaching poetry written by Susan G. Wooldridge. Ideas inspired by her 'word tickets' and 'word pools' have been tumbling around my head for the past few months, and one outlet has been creating 'found' poems. I love the idea of collecting words and phrases and giving them new meaning, and the fact that this form of poetry selectively draws upon text that already exists in some form appeals to the editor in me. Some people gather words from their surroundings...signs, packaging, advertisements...while others turn to books for their material. There are a few 'rules' to the latter version: the words of the poem should retain the same order in which they originally appear, new words may not be added, and the author/source needs to be clearly credited.

Since I'm always trying looking for ways to mine the depths of one of my favorite subjects/most faithful muses—the city of FlorenceI started looking through the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century books I've collected over the years. Though I had read that it's advisable to use fiction as the basis for found poetry, writers used language differently back then, and it wasn't hard to find plenty of material with potential.

What nostalgia, lingering among the pages that used to keep me company—making me yearn for Florencebefore I moved here. And I just love the tactile quality of the aged paper with deckled edges...how the old metal type imprinted not only the letters, but also their texture across the page. I decided to use original pages if I could find a book that had deteriorated to the point that taking it apart wouldn't feel too violent. One, an anthology of Florence-themed writings published in 1909, had several loose pages, so I dismantled the signatures (finding that it had actually been rebound some time during its century-long life). The book was full of excerpts by a number of past travelers, and I liked that there were several 'voices' to choose from.

When I found a page with words I wanted to work with, I would made a photocopy. As I went through it, making marks and notes with a pencil, certain words and phrases leaped out. Slowly they began linking to others, creating new imagery.

I determined that I would take the found poems a step further by interpreting them as visual pieces that somehow alluded to the original context, i.e. leaving the original passages still visible to some extent. In considering how to present the emerging poems, translucent papers seemed like a natural starting point. I began by cutting rectangles around the words I had chosen (shown in the image at the beginning of this entry), but there were a few difficulties in executing this method precisely enough for my liking.

At one point I tried to recreate the text on the computer, with the idea of printing out the words I had selected for the new poem on a sheet of vellum, then overlaying it upon the original book page. This allowed the full text to remain distinguishable while giving the chosen words the necessary emphasis. Unfortunately, recreating the exact spacing that had been produced with moveable type proved too complicated. I am always trying to cut down on the amount of time spent at the computer, so it didn't feel like the right direction to pursuea shame, because I think this approach would have satisfied me most from a visual standpoint.

By this time I had begun my experiments with weaving together papers/photos, which in turn led to the idea to weave strips of paper through the lines of text in such a way that the 'found' poems would be revealed. Below are some examples of the different weaving techniques I tried (notes on the process follow the photos).

1. I find this first one to be the most lively study, and think it could be really spectacular with a thoughtful selection of papers. Through as much of the text as possible, I wove the leftover edges from some paper I had watercolored for another project (in retrospect, not the most aesthetic thing I could have chosen!). I then used smaller bits and pieces to cover up the words that did not belong to the poem but were still visible. The attempts to accommodate the varying widths imparted a rather higgly-piggly effect, which I quite like, but it also confirmed that I did indeed prefer to be able to see the original text. (I plan to try this 'wild' weaving again in a different context.)

2. Addressing the issue of the varying widths that were necessary to cover all of the words that didn't belong to the poem led to experimenting with vertical strips that were roughly the same width of a line of text. But even with the fairly narrow strips, it was still tricky in places where the selected words didn't neatly line up with those in the lines above or below.

3. This led to weaving strips of vellum horizontally. This method gave complete control of the positioning of the strips in relationship to the words, though it entails considerably slicing up the page. In the example shown, I used white vellum for a portion toward the top of the page; for another section, I switched to a cream vellum that better matches the book's original creamy pages (not evident here since these tests were done on photocopies).

4. For ages I've been looking for a chance to use some colorful variegated cotton thread, so I decided to give that a try tooespecially since color features prominently in the passage I chose for my trial runs (and in the poem that was coming forth). If I end up choosing this route for the final piece I may try incorporating the colors found in the poem. Creamy-colored cotton that harmonizes with the original book page would also be a beautiful solution, and I will try it at some point as well. {In the meanwhile I have; it's shown below. I do like the effect very much.}

These experiments are far from over, and I realize the examples I've shown may be difficult to fully appreciate since they are merely small gestures on flimsy photocopy paper. I am already beginning to choose papers to mount the eventual pieces upon; considering that the pages I'm working with are Florence-inspired, the locally-marbled papers seem just right for setting them off. I'll share more as things come together.

It seems that so little that goes on in the studio actually gets mentioned here, but I hope to post about other weaving-influenced projects as there is time. I suppose, in some ways, work in the studio parallels the process of weaving itself. The warp must first be established; then, even once it's in place, not much seems to be happening. But as more of the weft is laced through the warp, the substancethe colors, the pattern, the texture—is slowly revealed.

Happy weekend!

{Click here to visit The Found Poetry Review's website.} 

{On the weaving theme, Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years
(Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times) comes to mind. This book by
anthropologist Elizabeth Wayland Barber, explores the importance of weaving
through history; I love how she learned to weave as part of her research.}

{My latest letters for ALaW can be seen here.}


  1. I'm late but I'm here! I read this post a while ago and just loved it. It was like soaking in some fabulous place of interest and intrigue and wonder - I followed all your perambulations and ponderings and loved them all! The exploration is exquisite and I look forward to where you go next. A true delight! I love the last image and the red one (4) where you stitched thru the words and let the threads dangle. Bliss.

    1. Thanks for your generous words, Fiona. (And heaven knows I take ages to comment on the many intriguing blog posts I come across, including yours. Unfortunately, too many go unacknowledged.) I am still enjoying the experimentation/percolating phase for this project. Sometimes I'm inclined to try and work out a 'method' and apply it many times, but in this case I like the idea of 'exposing' the found poems in different ways, according to what emerges. I will follow up once I complete some of the pieces, but right now I seem to be darting off in a dozen directions...

  2. "Love." And it would also be intriguing to view an anthology of all the different weaving techniques, media, colours, etc.

    1. Thank you, Aimée! And yes, an anthology would be very interesting. It seems the concept of weaving is infinitely applicable, and I find myself considering how to weave the various bits and pieces I come across during the course of the day.


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{Sorry about enabling word recognition, but I'm hoping it will alleviate the spam.}

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