Reading is sometimes Stealing: A Writing Challenge Post

by Jeff Oaks

Michael is reading The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy for a class today at the coffeehouse. Every so often he looks up and has to say out loud some paragraph to make sense of it. When he read this one to me, I’ve both laughed. I asked him to send it to me so I could post it as a challenge. It comes from Aristotle:

As he was reading these sentences to me, I found my poetry mind getting interested. Not so much in the meaning but in the structure, the mathematical music of this kind of thinking. Something maybe in the rhythm of a sentence like “A will, then, move through B in time C, and through D, which is thinner, in time E (if the length of B is equal to D)” sounded like a kind of poetic move, or a possible poetic move. 

So, I thought I’d post this page as kind of prompt. What kind of poem or prose might be written (or rewritten) in this rhythm? A piece with several interlocking characters whose relationships demand some articulation? A piece with many braids of thought? Or you might randomly attach nouns to the letters–let A stand for Lions, B stand for Begonias, C stand for My next door neighbor who is dying of cancer, and so on. Anything you’ve been wanting to write about. 

So you might end up with a sentence/line like this:

“Lions will, then, move through the Begonias in the time my next door neighbor has left, and through the lives of the sparrows’ fledglings, some of whom we’ve been finding dead already between our houses.”

Something in the coldness, by which I mean maybe the restriction, of structures like this allows me to tackle feelings of sadness, grief, anger, and even joy sometimes, when I write. Part of my attraction is that the structure seems like it would resist any slipping I might make into cliche or sentimentality. Part of it is that it creates a condition in which creativity, joy, grief, seem impossible, and the rebel or the fool or the controlling monster in me wants to queer that kind of thinking. Make it mine. 

Anyway, I leave it up to you to experiment on your own, with your own materials, and according to your own natures and interests. Feel free to post results.