9×9: a set of poems under constraint

a set of poems under constraint I used constraints to develop nine text/image responses to my experience of the coronavirus situation. The square format, and the first nine square numbers were initial limitations.

2 x 2 A looping of four words that respond to the frenzied generation of information, data, rumours, memories, online and in other media over the past months.

4 x 4 A 16-word text derived from a process of erasure and selection, isolating individual words in the Government letter and leaflet delivered to homes in the third week of lockdown.

6 x 6 A 36-word poem developed by transposition and association from material gathered during online research for the hyperlocal project. Questions of counting and being accountable, are threaded with tensions that arise when value systems conflict.

8 x 8 A 64-word text based on a description of deleted scenes at the end of Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film-noir, Kiss Me Deadly. These have been displaced into a new reality where the characters are watched for breaches of lockdown protocols.

1 x 1 The condensation into single words of government guidance on our behaviour during the period of lockdown intended to reduce transmission and ease pressure on health services.

3 x 3 Nine words that were found in quote marks. Slogans and catchphrases can operate to distract from the details or nuances of a developing situation.

5 x 5 A 25-word text developed by selection and translation from the index to a book on Ancrene Wisse (Guide for Anchoresses). The medieval anchorite lived in isolation, with constraints on behaviour and rules governing daily and hourly activity.

7 x 7 Forty-nine words from the legend of Mary Magdalene, who spent decades living in a cave in Provence. Various stories are told of her isolation, of her asceticism, her piety, of how her hair grew to cover her body, of her daily exercise.

9 x 9 An 81-word poem developed from material gathered from online reading across the weeks of lockdown so far. This was sifted and edited to create texts that echo the sources, but also suggest new comments on the current situation.

As my response to the hyperlocal commission from Arts&CultureExeter I made a set of 9 square visual poems, using the first 9 square numbers, and found images in square format as the initial constraints. These are hosted on the Arts and Culture website, and were also uploaded my social media.

Words were drawn from texts I encountered over the weeks of ‘lockdown’, and the images selected from my stack of collage materials. These were edited by erasure, translation, and recombination. The texts respond to their sources, but transpose associations to novel social and political behaviour. The impulse to respond creatively finds itself faced with arguments in favour of action, and a counter rationale for inaction. The poems emerged despite this. Contexts include the work of Louis Zukofsky, Hannah Weiner, OuLiPo, and Bernadette Mayer.