Uncreative Writing: Alanna McKnight

My friend Alanna McKnight sent me an email recently: 

“Just wanted to drop you a line to say you’ve inspired me.

For the class I made the Rossetti dress for we have the option of doing a creative piece. Everyone has been saying I should do something with the dress, so I am, but I didn’t just want to re-make the picture with the poem, so I’m re-making the poem as well. Inspired by you!
I’m taking apart Rossetti’s poem and putting it back together in the same sonnet format. It’s a tricksy exercise! It may take a couple goings over to get something I like.

Also, is it cool if I cite you in my statement explaining the creative work?”

Excited, I asked her to let me know when her finished product was done and here it is:

“The original sonnet and painting can be found here for a frame of reference of what I work working with:


My version of the poem keeps the rhyming scheme, and used every word.

My version of the painting incorporated some of the elements that Rossetti used (like the dress, the roses, the censer).

The final assignment will be submitted in a frame with the poem and image together, like Rossetti’s were.  It’s for Prof. Lorraine Janzen-Kooistra’s “Modernity and the Visual” course.”

Photo by Dan Henderson http://valhallaimages.com
Photo by Dan Henderson http://valhallaimages.com

Beauty’s Soul- after Rossetti By Alanna McKnight

And in the sky my Beauty drew in thy death,

Or fluttering over her mystery; And how, in what awe

Can it, life, irretrievably, under one known law

Struck by flying voice, by woman; of her breath

Whose beauty and terror I shake beneath

Where to love as hers, that passionately draw

The long allotted ways; fond heart flight and saw


Her hair- The sky, or thy shrine, and bondman wreath

And how of the Lady daily enthroned,

I praise And which eyes, and palm of hand, and feet,

And which guard thee, and bend on thy beat

Are still following her gaze as to the sea

Though this sea is simply many days


Alanna took out some time and answered a few questions for me:

1. How does it tie into the course?

The course is about nineteenth century visual culture. We were given the option to do a creative assignment, with the suggestion of taking a Victorian poem, and creating an image to go along with it, something that would invoke the feeling of the materials we’ve covered. Some people opted to try lithography, which was really cool, others are doing photo collage. I originally wasn’t going to do this optional assignment, because I don’t see myself as being particularly creative. But I made the dress for a presentation I did about Sibylla Palmifera (Soul’s Beauty), and sort of got peer-pressured by my classmates into doing it.

2. What made you get uncreative with it? 

I chose to go this route because the idea of taking someone else’s poem and slapping my own image to it didn’t appeal to me. I had looked at the words of the sonnet while preparing my seminar about it, and loved the words that were used. I remembered reading about your experiences (specifically the OCAD class), and thought that would be a cool way to go about it. The words were all there, they just needed to be shaken up. Likewise with the image. The elements were there, but they weren’t mine. There was another story that wanted to be told that were begging to be released.

3. What did you get out of the experience of uncreative writing? Would you do it again?

Taking the poem apart and looking at it for just the words, taking away any content that was there, and putting a new identity to it was fascinating. I started wondering why specific words were used, like “Bondsman”. What an odd choice! But I had to use it, because it was there. At times I got frustrated thinking “if only I could cheat, and add a word, or break a word up, or make it plural, or possessive”. It forces you to look at your use of language, and your habits of writing. I think I’ve only written two poems in the past 14 years, and they’ve both been for school, but I certainly have a specific voice. Being “uncreative” (which is so not the right word for this!) forces you to use that voice within specific confines. I would certainly do this again. It’s like fridge poetry, except more awesome.

P.S. Also, do check out Liz Worth‘s blog Rewriting Andy Warhol: http://bit.ly/13In5Fq  

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