Today I decided to follow a prompt from napowrimo.net. In short, take an Emily Dickinson poem, remove all her linebreaks and punctuation (especially those fun dashes) so you just have a paragraph of prose. Then reline it, feeling free to add, modify, or delete words.
Here’s my version of her “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—.”
I heard a fly buzz when I died.
The stillness in the room was like the still-
ness in the air between the heaves of storm.
The eyes around had wrung themselves dry,
and breaths were gathering firm for that last
onset when the King be witnessed in the room.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
what portion of me be assignable,
and then it was there, interposed—a fly
with blue uncertain stumbling buzz
between the light and me—
and then the windows failed—
and then I could not see to see.
And the original…
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –
The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –
I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –
With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –
I’m not any sort of Dickinson expert and wasn’t particularly familiar with this poem, so for me it was quite easy to reline it into something that felt more modern (i.e., I wasn’t “stuck” in any familiarity with the original). It was interesting to see where I used a couple of dashes in the same place Dickinson had. Some people get distracted by her dashes; I get distracted by so much capitalization as well, so I had to get rid of that.
All in all, the relining of the poem allowed me to stop reading it in such a sing-songy way. As a result, Dickinson’s original words (with one minor adjustment) struck me as remarkably contemporary.