Monday, April 8, 2019

#94 Backstory of the Poem "XX" by Marc Zegans

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***This is the ninety-fourth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

#94 Backstory of the Poem
by Marc Zegans
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? The poem simply labeled XX, but known as Prolixity, is one of a series of verse fragments that bring to life a fictive world known as the Typewriter Underground.  The premise behind this series of fragments is that they emerged sometime after the disappearance and loss from common memory of a subculture that withdrew from the digital age and returned to the more intimate process of self-expression through type.  
     Central to the myth is the notion that members of this subculture typed on single sheets, shared with friends and other members of what became known as the typewriter underground.  This particular fragment describes a central character in the underground, Prolixity Ferris, an hypergraphic dakini.

     I was writing fragments for the underground at a fevered pace during the summer of 2016 and first got the idea for Prolixity in late July or early August of that year.  I was living in a tiny studio apartment at the back of a house in Santa Cruz that summer, very cramped, with little space, but a nice small garden to look out onto. The room was so small that I did all my writing on my bed. So as not to get cabin fever I would journey out, walk on the beach, spend time in town and think about my characters as I traveled about, then would return at night and write until very late in the evening.
This is not my usual writing process, I normally conceive my poems as I’m writing them, working through the invention and the expression in a simultaneous process.  In developing the material I wrote for the typewriter underground that summer, the process was more one of conjuring characters to the point where they were ready to leap onto the page, and then delivering them quickly as full blown poems, reading them aloud, and then going through a process of careful, but rather minor editing. 
       I conceived Prolixity in a flash, a person compelled ever to write, on everything and everywhere.  She began walking around with me as I travelled about town, and as we walked together, I began to learn her writing habits, her nature, her story and the roll she occupied in the typewriter underground.  Prolixity begins as an innocent, a driven naïf, but evolves a practice of tremendous spiritual depth and great beauty, but one, except for its outward expression, that is largely internal. She is evolving almost entirely internally, through the mastery of her instrument and her channel, rather than the way most of us do in fits and starts through bruising interaction with the world. She is self-possessed and self-contained, so the question became how do I render her story and her character in a way that’s true to her nature, and that comes alive on the page.  
     For me the answer came in the form of a three part narrative beginning with her compulsion to write on all surfaces at all moments, but especially on her body using a henna brush, then her abrupt turn from pens and styli to the typewriter, and in the end the gathering, by magnetic attraction, of acolytes and followers who facilitated her flow without disturbing her self-possession, or depriving her of her warmth and quirky humor.

     I wrote bits of lines first, the way a visual artist makes a rough sketch, left them for a while, wrote more perhaps a day or two later, then got the idea of the narrative that matched the character, and her transition to type and the world of the underground. 
     At that point I wrote a full draft in one burst of several hours and then called up Susannah Melone, an actor, playwright and poet, living in New York, who had been doing me the great honor of letting me read her first drafts from the underground. Susannah gave me a warm ear, and useful feedback on this piece of work in its most fragile and emergent stages.  She also, as she would tell you, fell in love with the character.
     I tend to process language through sound more than vision, so for me reading work aloud, and reading it to a receptive, intelligent and vocally skilled audience is very important in the early stages of completing my poems.  I find the music and the flow in the piece by voicing it, and I discover how it is working and what it needs by reading it aloud to an attentive listener.  I later get input from folks who look at the words on the page, but I begin with the poem as song and that’s where it comes to life.  

     After reading Prolixity to Susannah, the poem was essentially done. I made a few small adjustments after we talked, and then in 2018, when the poem was going to be included in a theatrical production of the typewriter underground at the Henry Miller library (Above)  in Big Sur (Below) (both as a live performance and in a silent film made for the event) I made a few refinements to the piece.  
     I completed the poem when I did final editing for its inclusion in the collection that was released on March 1st by Pelekinesis, La Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere: Swizzle Felt’s First Folio from the Typewriter Underground.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail.     I was in this tiny studio on Morrissey Avenue, above the freeway in Santa Cruz.  The room was perhaps 250 square feet in total. I was subleasing it from a graduate student who was traveling overseas. It had a somewhat uncomfortable queen bed by a window that looked out onto a pretty, but un-kept, garden, fenced with weathered natural wood, a skinny black shelf with a barstool next to the bed, no other chair in the room, a small, compact kitchenette, not separate from the room, nice wood floors, and a pair of small French doors that opened onto the garden.  It had the feeling of a well-organized ship’s cabin, efficient, but little room for movement.  The room created a feeling of compression that was unwelcome when I was not writing, but established a strong focal container for the work when I was engaged directly in writing or editing.

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) I sketched notes and then essentially wrote the poem in one major draft.  After the principal draft was complete, I only made minor adjustments.  I did all the writing and editing on a computer, did no pen mark-up whatsoever until I was pulling typos out of the galleys at the very final stage of the project.  I don’t have photos to share.
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I want readers to feel the joy of Prolixity, her purity, her strength; her full expression without apology for who she is.  My experience so far is that people bond with Prolixity very strongly.
    When I read verse from the typewriter underground, people often come up to me and tell me how strongly they relate to her, or how much they love her. Both the filmmaker, Jenn Vee, and the actors who have read Prolixity and the dancer who has brought her extraordinarily to life have inhabited 
her with great joy and wisdom. 

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The section where she is in perfect flow as she writes on her body, to write this piece about the purity of her presence in this self defining act, I had to write from a place of absolute inner stillness and pure presence to the character and the moment.  Making the lines was an act of pure love and I was shaking, perhaps laughing with the universe, when I was done with this section.  It’s where I think the poem becomes something more than words on a page, put in a certain order with line breaks.

“She developed almost magic capacity

To cover every inch of her skin with writing
Often flowing from the henna brush in her toes

Onto the small of her back, the back of her thighs
The curve behind her ears, and the lids of her eyes,
Each word in its shape and intent fitted perfect

To its cutaneous locale—a completion
Of a thought suspended until ink it resolved.“

     I was also filled with a kind of playful joy in writing the final line of the poem, because it is a silly, playful reference to John Coltrane, expressed in her voice with pure, shining delight. When I read the poem to others, the folks in the audience who get the reference always laugh with recognition, and others who don’t know the reference laugh with a kind of reflected light from Prolixity’s character, one that glows on after the poem is done. 
     The two sets of laughs and facial expressions in response to this line are so different from each other. It’s wonderful to observe and there’s a deep truth to that experience, because it demonstrates that the cultural reference isn’t necessary to the completion of the character.  Rather, its existence adds a layer of texture to the material.  If the reference were necessary, it would be a prop to the poem, rather than an enhancement. I think the line works because you don’t need to know the reference to know that the line is true to her character.

Has this poem been published before? And if so where? No, but it’s been produced on stage several times, and it’s been the inspiration for a silent film.
Anything you would like to add? For me, the heart of the typewriter underground has been a desire for the verse to function as a catalyst to diverse, joyful and wildly imaginative creative expression.  You can see some of this in the silent film about Prolixity produced by Jenn Vee, and in this photo, which pairs live stage performance by Carri Newhouse as prolixity with the film playing above. In this particular production the poem was read by a wonderful actor Monique Rose who goes by the stage name No Existo.


Prolixity Ferris’s writing instruments

Were legendary—tile marker for the shower

Wax pencil for glass, henna for her paper skin,
Vintage fountain pens whose nibs cut paper, “just so,”
And an armada of pencils, pens, quills and styli.

Since the day she had formed her first letter, words flowed
And flowed and flowed and flowed, until

She had filled her small world with calligraphy.

If a surface was empty her words flew to it.
And so she became a high master of Yoga.

Through exotic poses arranged into series

That were formally known as “the Pen Asanas,”
She developed almost magic capacity

To cover every inch of her skin with writing
Often flowing from the henna brush in her toes

Onto the small of her back, the back of her thighs
The curve behind her ears, and the lids of her eyes,
Each word in its shape and intent fitted perfect

To its cutaneous locale—a completion
Of a thought suspended until ink it resolved.

What then brought this miraculous hypergraphic
Dakini into the world of typewriter strikes?

Some said it was the adrenaline rush of pure speed.
Others claimed that eyes to page freed her mind
Some said it was the unending brown paper rolls

Which her students and acolytes stole from restrooms
And placed in symmetric columns by her machine
Standing gravely by, like musical page-turners

Ready to seamlessly replace a finished roll
Her typographic flow never interrupted.

The rolls ceremoniously connected end-to-end

By the most fastidious gluists and binders

Became known as the great scroll of Prolixity

And to the mystically inclined, the Wheel of Ferris
Believing that it unwound the cycle of life.

The activity that surrounded Prolixity

Neither attracted nor concerned her. She just typed

And when handed a silk glove by an apostle

Who noticed that she had typed through her right hand skin

She proclaimed, “A glove supreme” and continued on.

Marc Zegans is a working poet and spoken word artist. His collections include The Underwater Typewriter, Boys in the Woods, Pillow Talk, and The Book of Clouds. He has recorded two albums, Night Work and Marker and Parker, the latter in collaboration with pianist Don Parker.  Marc has worked regularly in immersive theater as a producer, author and performer, and has been introducing audiences to the Typewriter Underground in live performances since 2016. Marc’s Typewriter Underground saw its debut as a full theatrical production directed by Janice Blaze Rocke at the Henry Miller Library, Big Sur in June 2018.  He lives by the coast in Northern California. Marc’s poetry can be found at, and he can be reached for creative advisory services at

Eric Edelman, illustrator of La Commedia Sotterranea, is an accomplished collage artist who resides in New York.  His work can be found at Art of RetroCollage — The Metaphysical Art of Eric Edelman

Folks interested in ordering the collection that contains Prolixity can go to

My poetry website is
My website for creative advisory services is


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
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by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
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067  February 06, 2019
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068 February 11, 2019
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by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
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071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
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072 February 20, 2019
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by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
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by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
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078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
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087 March 21, 2019
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088 March 26, 2019
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089 March 27, 2019
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#090 March 30, 2019
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#091 April 2, 2019
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#092 April 4, 2019
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#093 April 5, 2019
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