Transcribing by Hand

Patrick Rosal recently told how he asked his students to transcribe one poem by hand.  He was right there with them on this assignment and posted his written transcript of Celan’s piece “Death Fugue”.  He then invited anyone who was willing to join in on the fun to post pictures of their transcription.  Here’s my attempt.  I transcribed Jericho Brown’s poem “Again”.




I’ve read this poem aloud a few times, but hand writing the piece was a completely different experience.  I noticed aspects of the poem I had somehow skipped over in my previous readings, such as the fact that each line begins with a capital letter.  I was also more aware of each line as its own unit, rather than rushing through the line to get to the end of the sentence.  It was in this head space that I became fascinated with the line “For my feet. In the dark/”. Here is the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. But as a unit, these two phrases are really engaging. What is for your feet in darkness? What does it matter since you cannot see your own feet in the dark? I pictured losing one’s way since the next step cannot be seen.  Or, maybe, this is freeing since there is no prescribed path; this presents the chance to carve a different path.

Perhaps the most surprising turn out of this experience was the urge to read the poem backwards, line by line. Here is one section of the poem as it is in the original poem:
Give a man a minute.
She’s asleep and I’m typing it
all over again. Everywhere
A man is shifting a bit
To make his woman comfortable
In his arms.

And here is that same section typed backwards (I’ve changed the punctuation a bit for the sake of flow):
In his arms,
To make his woman comfortable,
A man is shifting a bit
All over again. Everywhere
She’s asleep and I’m typing it.
Give a man a minute.

The backwards version has a different, almost cryptic, meaning compared to the original version. But it’s a great exercise to extract different syntaxes, explore different word arrangements. I found this to be a great prompt. I’m definitely going to start a poem with the line “Everywhere, she’s asleep.”


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