Playing Around in the Spaces Between: Improvising Poems

Guest Article by: 
Elena Gonzales Melinger

In improvising poetry, aka a live-action cento, aka fashioning a poetry jam band, I start with a makeshift canon. Like throwing a party, you put different poets, different styles at play with/in each other, and see if it takes off. Like throwing a party, I try to be well-rested and hydrated before I host. I spend time thinking of who to invite. I light a candle. I open the space up. I have party games ready in case it gets awkward. There is some noise, which starts out steady and comforting, before we trust each other enough to get real weird. I try not to pull from the same school, style, genre, gender. Fiction and nonfiction, when placed near poetry, could turn poetic too. Any book I’ve had for a long time that excites me, but I’ve never been able to read, might want to come.

I do love formal, pored-over poetry (and I write it), but I’ve always been jealous of musicians' ability to jam. Books are contained worlds to escape to. But I also like to cherry pick lines by intuition, to set them free from their context, let them play with other master-works, and write original improvised poems in the spaces between. Rachel Jane Hulsey’s noise and understanding of music is the heartbeat of our sound. Once, we had a practice where things weren’t going as smoothly as other times. I didn’t understand what was broken in her machine. I asked her, what’s the noise you are trying to avoid? And she told me, silence.

Here’s some books that I’ve been jamming to that you might want to play with! Get them from Brazos Bookstore:

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (American Poets Continuum #134) Cover Image
By Lucille Clifton, Toni Morrison (Foreword by), Kevin Young (Editor)
ISBN: 9781934414903
Availability: Backordered
Published: BOA Editions - August 28th, 2012

A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)Tics Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933517599
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Wave Books - April 3rd, 2012

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375701290
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - July 27th, 1999

Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156028615
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - May 17th, 2004

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds Cover Image
ISBN: 9781849352604
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: AK Press - April 18th, 2017

Other recommended texts include Sun Ra's This Planet is Doomed: The Science Fiction Poetry of Sun Ra and CA Conrad's Ecodeviance: (Soma)tics for Future Wilderness.

Elena Gonzales Melinger is a poet and writer. Her work has appeared in the Texas Review, Glass Mountain and Dangerous Constellations. She has performed most recently with Public Poetry and Poetry Fix. Her chapbook, Write What You Know, and zine, Light Skinned Tears, will be available at Brazos Bookstore on February 8th, 2019 for her event.


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