Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Allison Funk Remixes her Escape Artist Poem

On the acknowledgments page of her volume The Tumbling Box (2009), Allison Funk notes that one of her escape artist poems initially appeared in Poetry magazine. I consult Poetry regularly, so I went to their site to see how Funk's poem appeared when it was first published. There were notable differences.

In the May 2001 issue of Poetry, Funk's poem is entitled "Underwater Casket." In her volume of poetry, the poem is entitled "The Escape Artist in an Underwater Casket." The new title aligns the poem with the other pieces in the series, which are  "An Entry in the Escape Artist's Diary," "The Escape Artist Performing the Straitjacket Release," and "The Escape Artist in Winter."

The other major change is perspective and mode of writing. The initial "Underwater Casket" piece is actually about a man who gets inside a box that is submerged in water. The poem opens,
Before he could breathe on his own,
another's heart beating for him;
before the storm brewing in his lungs

began, and the soldered box
sank to pool bottom.
Years later when the poem appeared as "The Escape Artist in an Underwater Casket," Allison had made major revisions. For one, the poem was now a persona poem written from the perspective of the escape artist. The opening of the revised poem reads,
What was I thinking before the storm
brewing in my lungs began

the sealed box I'm in sank to pool bottom?
"Underwater Casket" included 10 stanzas, 9 of them with three lines, and the last stanza with two lines. That first version has a total of 171 words. By contrast, "The Escape Artist in an Underwater Casket" contains 9 two-line stanzas and a total of 94 words. In a way, the second version had artfully escaped that initial version.

I'm fascinated by the revisions, how the poem maintains its focus and at the same time changes in notable ways. For instance, the first version is clearly about a male, whereas the second version does not solidly identify the gender of the speaker. I'm also curious about what led Allison to make the changes that she did, what led her to keep revising.

A Notebook on Escape Artists

No comments: