This post is based on an exercise I learned in my creative writing class last year, from Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing. The point is to take a poem that’s already been written, preferably one with some credentials/literary merit, and replace all the words with your own entirely new words, creating a new meaning. The new meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be relevant to the original poem. But it does need to have the exact same rhythm, with the same order of accented and non-accented syllables. For example, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” could be transformed into “My words you heard after twenty winks” but not “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.”
I chose “I Am!” by John Clare, a little-known poet with a very interesting biography. I found the poem on Poetry Foundation. Below, I will post Clare’s original text, and then my transformation of it.
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
A ship—a peach-gold beacon on the line
Where sleeping tide of sea cuts into sky:
I am a net to catch you just in time—
For drowning in your dreams brings terrors nigh,
Yet I have seen before your pupils shine
And wish again to bathe in knowing blue,
Which you bestowed on me with untamed words,
Black on white unnamed sky-storms, making true:
The chains across your neck are godsped birds,
Which weave a star-map for your mind’s dazed crew;
Will you not listen now, and be assured
Of breath incoming where you cast your hook?
You fear the land, for it shows not its face
You long for nothingness, a holy nook
Where you can strangle your own screams in lace
And sleep as once a rose did in a book,
Unblooming and unshattered, dead as space
What roils above—below’s where we shall rest.
Image credits in order of appearance:
By Constantin Meunier – Photo by Szilas in the Meunier Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9787050
By Creator:Edwin Harris – oil on canvas, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4803497
By Georges Jean-Marie Haquette (1854 – 1906) – Sotheby’s Amsterdam, 27-29 March 2007, lot 161, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33245468