Illustration by Matt Manley

Repurposed Text Poems

Shelley Stoehr

I write prose, mostly fiction.

I am not a poet.

Well, maybe I am, now—becoming, anyway. I've written more than 20 of what I call "Repurposed Text Poems (RTP)," combining new writing with found text and a good deal of text repurposed from my own prose, graphically manipulated and arranged on the page. It wasn't my intention to begin writing poetry for hours (it takes five to eight, intensely-focused hours to create a rough draft of an RTP). It just, sort of, happened ...

While writing my most recent novel, Muse, I did a substantial—one might even argue an insane amount of ancillary writing, including lengthy journal entries in my protagonist's journal and hundreds of pages of faux messages, of which only a few lines made it into the novel. By an insane amount, I mean something like a thousand pages of material cut from or never written into the 250-page novel. Additionally, my protagonist was a dancer, and I wanted to represent her choreographed movement visually—viscerally—with text, to somehow make the text suggest movement into the reader's body, a twitching of torso, a breath, a leap, a turn. Then, one afternoon, a friend showed me Susan Howe's book, Singularities. Howe's poetry were the first poems to capture my imagination, to make sense—not that I didn't understand poetry I'd read formerly, but before Howe's work, I didn't understand why I would want to write a poem rather than prose. All of these inspirations came together, and I began digitally manipulating text—reversing it, curving it, stretching it. Not only was the technique an effective way to create text "dances" in my novel, the work began to take on meaning of its own, distinct from the meaning of the text in its original, prose context.

I needed text with which to learn and practice, and I began working with some of the discarded text from the novel. Eventually, after reading some conceptualist poetry (and prose), I added another element, found text from the internet, a nod to our information-saturated, digital age. Now, I work within several constraints I've set, such as requiring that each RTP must contain at least one piece of found text, at least one piece of repurposed text, and at least one piece of new text.

People sometimes ask why I use Microsoft Word and not an application such as Photoshop that might be better-equipped to manipulate text-objects. True, using Word, it takes many hours to create even a rough draft RTP, and certainly some software would be more efficient, but the time and other drawbacks of manipulating text within Word are part of my process. And while it can be frustrating when sometimes I move a piece of text, and suddenly, all of my meticulously-placed text (I often zoom-in, adjusting positions pixel-by-pixel) explodes on the page, stretching onto other pages, randomized snippets of meaning scattered...

I find that often, a poem needs to be blown apart to find its heart.

Shelley Stoehr

Shelley Stoehr is a former YA novelist, author of the first YA novel about self-injury, Crosses (1991). She is a current MFA candidate and adjunct English instructor at Southern CT State University. Recently, her work has appeared in literary journals such as The North American Review, The Gordian Review, and ImageOutWrite. She received an honorable mention for the 2019 NAM Hearst Poetry Prize and the 2017 Writer's Digest Annual Competition and was a runner-up in WOW! Women on Writing's flash fiction contest (2017). Her Repurposed Text poems are digital love letters and meditations set in the context of an information-saturated age. The text has mostly been repurposed from Shelley's own prose. About 1/3 of the text selections are found text.

Shelley Stoehr contributed to North American Review, Volume 304.2.

llustration by: Matt Manley. Matt has been working as a freelance illustrator for over twenty years. His illustration is primarily figurative and symbolic with surrealist leanings, and past client work includes editorial, corporate, medical, book, and higher education. Though in the end his work is technically digital collage, the process integrates both traditional and digital media.