Two years’ worth of Pepys Diary erasure poems available as free ebooks

Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls

As regular readers of Via Negativa know, I’ve been making erasure poems from the online Diary of Samuel Pepys since January 1, 2013, and though I’m currently almost a week behind, I’ve yet to miss an entry. (What’s an erasure poem? Think of it as a poem sculpted from, or discovered within, someone else’s text: one can only use words or parts of words as they appear in the original, and in the order they appear there.)

Pepys himself rarely missed a day in his diary, so in six years this project has generated rather a lot of poetry. Granted, it hasn’t all been brilliant, and I do it as much for the process as for the product. Has it made me a better poet? I believe it has. It’s certainly taught me humility and persistence, and I think I’ve become a more nimble writer of micropoetry as well. But I’ve never regarded the project as a way to generate traditionally publishable work. So starting in 2017, I got the idea of compiling my daily erasures into a single document, which I could then convert into a PDF and release at the end of the year for anyone in search of something a little different to read. So here are the download links:

After the conclusion of the nine-and-a-half-year diary, I hope to go back and compile the first four years into PDFs as well — if I’m not completely burnt out by then.

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.