An Old Poem Finds Me on Twitter

Last night, right before I was heading to bed, I happened to see this on Twitter. Imagine my surprise when someone mentioned they had read an old poem of mine – and for a high school class, no less!

The poem is titled “Miss Charlotte Brown, Librarian, Goes Mad” and is a pantoum. I had learned about the poetic form while I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing, and found its structure really challening.

A lot of the pantoums I’ve encountered come off as really stiff and formal. Robotic, almost. And I was wanting to see what I could do to take that formality away. At the time, I had started to become interested in computers and technology… and noodled around a bit with ways to mix things up a bit.

I ended up writing the poem using Microsoft Excel. The pantoum form requires a lot of repetition, with certain lines repeated verbatim in later stanzas. To try to get around this, I wanted to see if I could keep true to the formula (keep the same words), but change the tone and pace of each repeated line.

With a combination of enjambment and punctuation, I found I could re-use a line while making its subsequent use feel and sound a little different than the original.

This morning, before work, I dug through some of my old computer files and found a few things. I found a really old PowerPoint presentation I made on the pantoum (I swear I don’t design slides like this anymore).

I also found the Excel doc I used to handle the repeating line logic. I added a bit to this: one tab has a sandbox (where you can try to write your own poem); the other tab has a side by side comparison of the poem with and without the punctuation added.

Maybe this was an overkill response, but it was fun digging back to find these things.

I haven’t thought about this poem in a really long time. I made a Flash version of the poem a lifetime ago, but I doubt there’s any good way to even view that .swf file anymore.

What a really amazing thing to have happened. I love that this took place over Twitter, and I doubly love the fact that this poem was something I worked on as a student in grad school. And this thing that I did while I was in school… ended up becoming a thing that someone else did, while they were in school. Twenty years apart.

Poetry and technology, I tell ya.

Miss Charlotte Brown, Librarian, Goes Mad
by Felix Jung

Today, I have decided
to read every poem ever written
in the short history of our civilization.
I know it is a selfish thing

to read. Every poem ever written
has its good intentions. I know,
I know, it is a selfish thing.
I want to believe that. Poetry

has its good intentions. I know
reading poems can’t help much.
I want to believe that poetry
books have the answer. I’ll start

reading. Poems can’t help much
in the short history of our civilization.
Books have the answer. I’ll start
today. I have decided.

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