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52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Repurpose Famous Work

Shift #32: Repurpose Famous Work

Today, I read an article from the Boston Review about the co-existence of poetry placed into the academic canon (American) with poetry used as expression by the common person, how much poetry is being published in various places, and what this all means. The article, Glut Reactions, an exchange between critic Jed Rasula and author Mike Chasar, has quite a lot to say about the sheer number of people who call themselves poets and the perceived tension that might exist between so-called institutions of poetry and other places where poetry is valued.

The dialogue between these two men took me back to my graduate school days in which I used to grit my teeth whenever I had to read literary criticism. Back then, my working-class background kept jumping up in the background and yelling, “Who cares about this twit who deconstructs everyone else’s words and assigns meaning that the author may not have originally intended?”

For some reason, I read the whole article in spite of my memories. Yes, there is a vast amount of poetry out there, with more being written every day, which is neither good nor bad. It simply is. Poetry is one way to make art out of what is right in front of us and, perhaps, it’s far more natural than not for humans to take a shot at making beauty.

One of the things in the article that struck me, which is really more of an aside to the main conversation, was a passage about a poetry scrapbook that Chasar references in his recent book, Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. What attracts me is the fun in using famous poems in a private scrapbook, in taking that which means something to me, regardless of its place in or out of the literary canon, and highlighting it for my own pleasure.

The really glorious thing about making a private scrapbook of the poetry I love is that I don’t have to worry about proper citation, permission, or anyone calling me a twit for missing the point. This is about amassing familiar, beloved art and really using it rather than admiring it as a finished product. A scrapbook puts it squarely into my own creative process, lets me live with it in a different way.

Back to that article I read. Putting poetry to use is a very different thing than merely admiring it as someone else’s unattainably brilliant comment on the world. And so it can be with all art. Put what you love to use.

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