In the days following the death of Bernadette Mayer, I was rereading her list of writing experiments and came across the following exercise:
Take a piece of prose writing and turn it into poetic lines. Then, without remembering that you were planning to do this, make a poem of the first and last words of each line to see what happens. For instance, the lines (from Einstein)
When at the reception
Of sense-impressions, memory pictures
Emerge this is not yet thinking
And when. . .
And so on. Form the original prose, poetic lines, and first-and-last word poem into three columns on a page. Study their relationships.
When I tried the exercise, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to continue the experiment, to keep making first-and-last word poems until I was left only with the innermost part of each line, and then until there was nothing left. I then thought of a memory from my childhood that has always stood out to me—my first memory of roasting marshmallows around a campfire. It was during a family get-together and I was shocked and astounded, in a way that only children can really be, at my uncle's method for roasting marshmallows. He would stick the marshmallow directly into the flame to cook it as quickly as possible. Once the outside was burnt, he would pull the marshmallow out, pull the burnt skin off, eat it, then stick the rest of the marshmallow back into the fire to repeat the process. I realized that this was what I wanted to do to these bits of prose.
And so this tool was born. It's a poetry tool but it's also a poem, in the way that rituals, processes, and algorithms can all be poems. To use it, first paste your excerpt of prose into the text box. When you hit "Proceed", it will provide you with another text box. This is your opportunity to break the input into poetic lines. From there, when you hit "Peel" the tool will complete the ritual of cooking, recooking, and peeling the skin for you. The idea is for there to be a visual representation of the original prose, the poetic lines, and the peeling away into nothingness all in one place.