Pepys Diary erasure project enters third year

When I started blogging erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys on January 1, 2013, it was with the understanding that I would only do the interesting entries, and stop as soon as it got boring. Two years in and I have yet to skip a single entry of the diary—not even the one-sentence ones. It’s become this weird compulsion. Maybe it’s a crutch, a way to avoid having to think up poems on my own? Nah. It’s actually quite a bit more time-consuming. But it’s teaching me a lot about invention and discovery, the observer effect, and the shadow text—which, like a shadow government, thrives on its own irrelevance. Within a few months of beginning the project, I switched to a fully digital style of erasure using HTML. And in the latter half of 2014, I began to use erasure to teach myself how to compose better haiku — one of the most difficult kinds of poetry to get right.

What better way to celebrate two years of erasing Pepys than with a videopoem by one of the best in the poetry-film business? My friend Marc Neys, aka Swoon, surprised me with this in late December:

But even now, I’m sure I can stop erasing Pepys anytime I want. I just don’t want to yet.

4 Replies to “Pepys Diary erasure project enters third year”

  1. Hi, Dave,

    I enjoy the Pepys erasure poems very much, though how you could fail to use “barrels of oysters and three pullets” in your Dec. 30 poem I will never understand.
    I’m no scholar, but centuries ago, when poets worked much more easily under the influence of their elders, and indeed warmly thrived under there, I imagine the links among generations of writers were textually much closer–viz., Alexander Pope and Milton or Dryden. Nowadays writers are often combative in these inevitable relationships, and so we get the tedious rebellion of the avante garde. But your seeking out this odd relationship with an elder has a freshness and charm about it I for one admire. Thank you.

    1. HI Zara, thanks for the lovely comment. The combativeness of poets is indeed a tiresome thing, though I’m not sure how new it is — and I certainly wouldn’t want to pin it on the avant garde, some of whom seem at least a bit more open to collaborative writing than the mainstream. And without avant-garde rebellion, we wouldn’t have erasure poetry, or found poetry in general. Regardless, I do think that deep reading and conscious imitation are great ways to exercise our poetic faculties. I know a college kid who’s writing sonnets in imitation of Shelley. He’ll go far, no doubt about it.

      how you could fail to use “barrels of oysters and three pullets” in your Dec. 30 poem I will never understand.
      Heh. I certainly considered it, but I had used oysters in previous erasures so many times already… But my friendly response to these kinds of remarks is always the same: make your own erasure! I’d love the company.

      1. Thanks for responding, Dave. I was just razzing you about the oysters. But
        consider: You do NOT erase Pepys’ words, but leave them as part of the literary experience you create. It would be very different (and probably include some Holier Than Thou sentiment) if you erased Pepys’ contribution.\\

        For myself, I’m currently channeling Yeats, and have get joy in the work. Zara

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