The Others Raisd in Me: A plunderverse project – Gregory Betts

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In his “Plunderverse: A Cartographic Manifesto,  Betts describes plunderverse as a practice that “makes use of the wealth and waste of language by exploiting the unattended information in a source text. It makes connections and variations of a previous author’s words to create a different poem from the original piece.” (http://wordsters.net/poetics/poetics05/05betts.html). There is something powerful about the idea of “unattended information” – information without the guardian of the author, then repurposed and repossessed. Betts calls this “creatively misreading” in his introduction to The Others Raisd in Me and the text here is built on appropriating Shakespeare’s original 150 sonnets and turning them into syllabic chippings, reformed into hockey poems and visual poems and, again and again, poems of self exploration.

The works then depends on the synchronicity of the new and old works fitting together simultaneously, creating sedimentary layers of textual resonance. Betts initially achieves this through an extensive number of quotes from authors, ranging from Francis Bacon to Steve McCaffery to Donna Haraway, that preface the sections of the text. In one sense these are the “others” in the text here, language creators that have provided the bedrock of the text. Building chronologically from the early parts of English Literature into contemporary thinkers and authors, the quotes serve not as gateways into the content of the text but rather the form of thought that shapes each poem, the reverberating presence that quakes underneath. As an example, the quoted section of Shelley’s The Last Man sits under “That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds?” (the 8th line from Shakespeare’s CL sonnet). The Shakespeare line, which blindly excuses his lover for “the worst” of herself, is contrasted against Shelley’s protagonist’s inability to proceed with romantic (and myopic) notions of nobility and the Victorian male. This contrast highlights the splintering notion of the text as a whole: suddenly Shelley’s narrator, “an outcast” who still longs to belong to civilization and to others, is put alongside the endless romantic narrator, as equals (or echoes) – Shakespeare’s narrator appears to peel away the rest of the world until just he and his lover remain, a voluntary isolation, while Shelley’s novel ultimately ends in her narrator thrust into being completely alone. The reader is unsure whether the voices are counterpoints or in harmony and this ambiguity adds gradations of richness to the text.

Yet, what pushes this collection beyond a “plundered” patchwork of quotes or set of procedural poems is how intimate they feel. Part of this is due to the minimalist nature of the works: most of the poems are tiny, barely a dozen words. This closes the text down to what feels like sparse conversation on a back porch, a sort of familiarity between writer and reader that requires only the thinnest of explanations.  Too, these compact works, stripped of excess language and the need for strict form, create a resonate emotional experience; each word crowds around meaning and jumps in multiple directions, pulled by the directions of the quotations preceding the sections but also the linkings between poems.

The introduction to the text frames the work within the rise of technology and the “mechanical evolution.” Consequently, the “others” are “the self and its metal shadow.” As the end section spills into Battlestar Galactica and cyborgs , the reader progresses through these different landscapes the title again echoes. Now the phrase  “Others Raisd in Me” carries with it the multiple avatars of the contemporary individual. The Facebook version of the self is different than the one used when answering from a work email is different than the one that signs in and browses hockey forums.

Yet, the introduction seems to stare too intently outward when the text itself encourages a look specifically at the process of becoming an individual. The “others” are also the personalities of the younger self, raisd and then evolved into the current narrator. These past personalities, distinctly different, cannot be left behind  as a person grows up. In this text the reader can catch this progression through the narrator’s voices and experiences, each reflecting a different aspect, singular parts of a larger gestalt.  As “37” explains:

When i say

me

i mean

how i made it

here

 

a metonymy

of thee

 

Here, it is less an outward address to a romanticized other, “thee,” but rather a description of maturation. The other voices in the text, the multiple entry points into the sonnets, echoes that include bpNichol and Gertrude Stein, are all a small part of the cumulative narrator.

So the reader exits The Others Raisd in Me with a striking balance between Literary Canon and personal resonance. The delicate playfulness and rich layering lends itself to multiple reads. Perhaps then, it is best to space those multiple readings over time, allowing the texts and tech of a particular space and time to inhabit and morph the poems.