By Randall Babtkis, writer, poet, and professor in the Department of Writing, Consciousness and Creative Inquiry
I love to steal lines. But even a good mimic is grounded in his/her own set of fingerprints. With my clumsy thumbs, I end up leaving prints on everything I touch. When I hear an interesting sentence being spoken and set out to put that sentence down to remember it, my retelling will be embellished with smudges of ink or fine pencil erasures (my filters), hybrid metaphors and new cadences (my poetry), plus some bit of esoteric parody thrown in (my humor). Before I am through with the rehash, my marks, my ink blots, are what is seen as “me” behind the quote.
Who made the discovery of the sentence overheard? The wild love I felt for a sentence is contaminated with my life, my choices. Without me, it could even be consigned to forgotten lore – the bust of Pallas stuck in the Poe poem. With me, Pallas may be conflated with my own ignorance. Intrinsically the original combines with the replication – forged into the germ of something new. Occasionally it is only a kind of self-torture of ego, spilling out of the human soul.
What seems useful in the appropriation, is that I am starting from selective scratch. What exactly was it that excited me enough to want to repeat a line I read or overheard? Is it an impulse to interpret the countless signs and boost personal meaning along the way? Is it to keep me warm and not obsolete?
Even when I expect a collaboration with my “source” material, the single, unique, effect of someone else's words in my watery mouth leaves one asymmetry to remind me of myself alone: the ear attached to the side of my head.
The ear has both a peculiar and familiar contour, a diameter and length that is archetypal and genuine, maverick and in some “Poe” sense, precursed. There is enough originality in the ear, with its earprint. And with rudimentary authenticity, the ear picks up its own melancholy note.
Yet who can claim divine inspiration from that ear process, alone? As I am writing this line, another line floats up from a conversation on a deck on the hillside just below where I sit:
She is very dead.
Though my fingers bang out the words, I can't make sense of it at first. Was that my own thought, or did I really hear the neighbor's voice. I am forced to try to re-imagine a conversation which has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe or the interrogation going on in my head. Who is the neighbor talking about, as she washes the words down with a bottle of white wine? She did not say it, but I almost hear her shout the name: Lenore.
Bend toward the parade of languages that surround you in your moment here on earth. The outside air drags itself in. Whether by mathematical formula or by ambush and cunning, repeat those sounds that float across this small universe and join the sense those sounds make in your own head. Your ear is already breaking these into new sentences. And when those are fine enough, they come with a loud crack. It is the noise of such polyrhythms, of blood pumping and foreign translation and knitting and intellectual achievement – though those never exactly belong together.
The sounds you make are distinct. They may be interacted with and even loved, since they are the sound(s) of creation.
Try it. Write something down that you just heard.