Key Points and An Experiment
By Ruth Zuchter
Reflecting on Gregory Betts's work and the rich discussion taking place around The Others Raisd in Me I find myself returning to several key points.
There is power at play in Betts's works (and all through Shakespeare).
There are paradoxes throughout the book exemplified in the act of creating by taking something away.
Centrifocal and centrifugal forces are at work in Betts's pieces, as are push and pull, minimalism and maximalism, excess and constraint.
The imagery of plunderverse and Betts's poems work as 'homeopathic distillations.'
Sometimes Betts takes on the voice of the period, but other times he riffs off the epigraphs scattered through the book to highlight what makes those periods significant to him.
Of Betts's relationship to tradition, Susan Holbrook comments: "plunders actively trouble the tradition of the sonnet."
These poems have an indebtedness to and mutuality with great masters other than Shakespeare, such as Milton, Keats and Michelangelo.
I find myself returning to the word 'Adama' found on page 213, which there refers to a character but also means 'earth' in Hebrew (hence, the name Adam, who was supposedly created from earth/dirt).
Finally, what ignites these smouldering embers is the point Betts makes that Shakespeare's sonnets, written centuries ago, have been a part of literature to the present day. Through 400-year-old verse there can be a crafting of the present and the future.
All this sets my mind awhirl, and I begin to think of other seminal works that thread throughout literature, poetry and society in general. The Bible (Old Testament) keeps coming up for me. At first, the Song of Songs resonates in my mind, an investigation of love as in Shakespeare's sonnets.
But I return several times to a comment from Holbrook's presentation on Betts: she refers to the "troubling of the I," and to the way in which the Bible, and especially the Ten Commandments, set out the legality of the embodied I in the world. The Bible and the Ten Commandments take agency away and also impart agency through laws that are negative (You shall not...) and others that are positive (You shall...).
As an experiment, and taking a firm grasp of Betts's proposal on page 51, "I writes," I thus set out to plunder the Ten Commandments. I know little of the New Testament, but I engaged with the Old Testament daily up to age fourteen or so.
Here are my intentions. I want to acknowledge the contradiction between wastefulness and usefulness, as outlined by Holbrook in Betts’s plunder works. I want to problematize the I (and pronouns in general) in the source text.
I want to identify questions of power and agency in the original work and delve deeper into meaning. I want to uncover some ironies in the commandments and consider their practicality (or lack thereof) to the present.
I want to have fun with a generally not-fun text! Betts's art lies in making so much out of so little. Producing 150 pieces from a fourteen-line poem requires vision, ability, patience and more than a little of something I will call frugality (for lack of a better term).This plunderverse poet incorporates as many words as possible without drifting too far from the source copy, yet creates a wholly inventive and invested piece of new commentary on so many topics.
I present here my Ten Commandments plunderverse (original commandments annotated in footnotes)
with the flourish of my conclusions: In writing plunderverse I've learned the source from which you plunder is a very important factor. I’ve also realized that I have a lot to learn about plunderverse!