So a while back those crazy kids at if:book Australia were running this remix project called Lost in Track Changes where five writers were asked to write something and then also remix or respond to the things the other five writers wrote.
They also ran a little side-project called Open Changes where Emily Craven from if:book wrote a thing and then anyone who wanted to could remix it and submit it in the comments on that story. The best four things would then be posted online to be used as prompts in the following week by anyone who wanted to join in, and then the best four of those things would be used as prompts in the following week, and so on for eight weeks.
Anyway, long story short: I wrote a thing for Open Changes in the last week of the project, and it got picked. Given that there was no week nine, it didn’t get posted and remixed, but it did get included in the final iteration of Open Changes, which was a big-arse poster that featured the things that all the successful writers wrote, all designed to look like a tree and shit.
No, really – check it out:
The thing I wrote was a poem called “The Bone House is Worn by the Fight”. I wrote it by taking “The Marquess of Time” by Sue Wright and mashing it together with a chunk of Beowulf and then randomising it and sort of smoothing it out so it made some kind of grammatical sense. You know – swap a word for another word here, switch some sentences around so they’re clearer, add some conjunctions and punctuation – that sort of thing.
I showed it to Anna after it got accepted to be in the tree thing and she said it read like I’d been living on a solid diet of Led Zeppelin lyrics for a good chunk of time. I guess that’s what you get when you mash together a story about cocktails with Death and an ancient Viking poem about stabbing and wrestling monsters. Which is to say, I’ll take it as a compliment.
A truncated version of “Bone House” ended up as one of the twisty limbs that climbs upwards from the spot in the bottom right of the poster just above the raven that’s perched with its wings outstretched. Here’s a close-up.
Sometimes I get a little flippant about the more mechanical ways of approaching writing, like this kind of remixing/randomisation thing. Part of me has a hard time taking credit for the finished work in such a process, maybe because I think it’s more worthy to come up with the words yourself instead of taking pre-existing words and using them to make a thing. I also tend to think that if you leaven your bread with a classic of Western literature, then you can’t really claim to be entirely responsible for the taste of the loaf.
That said, I was pleased with how “Bone House” turned out, and even more pleased by the positive response from some of the other people playing along with Open Changes.
You can read the poem in its entirety over on the Open Changes site (it’s the last one – scroll to the bottom of the page), complete with crazy replete-with-pilcrows layout, or read it below if you prefer.
The Bone-House is Worn by the Fight
The twigs rightly watch the resting-place,
taking solace in shapings of fire-flame.
The bone-house is worn by the fight.
The hand races to the scythe and
rejoices in the easement of Death.
Don’t be greedy, don’t lay down easily;
thou and these are hot now and
well-whetted, soon to hasten northward,
unaware that the worm lies a-waiting
and a-watching. We have walked red earth
wherein is laid many warriors clad in Death,
cringing in their spear-death doughtiness,
peerless among ravens, seething silently
as their head-kin nod at happenstance.
Thus beer and land-work bend and bow us,
grieve us by night like shadowy sea-farers
whose ceaseless valour, whose doughtiness,
whose moor-land brown-brindled hand-wringing
grieves ten grandsons while boasting imps
heed not the gold-proud tidings of war-sweaty
fellow grievers. Now noon has brought our
heath-stepping siblings, warriors all,
to watch as hardy well-wishers speak,
the hottest of all boasting kinship with iron.
Thus the bone-house wastes its days and
anchors heath-steppers to forbear joy.
However folk may scatter, wherever their
head-kin or bone-house may wander,
still ravens beat their blackened wings.
From burg to burg we carry our bone-house
with us, weary ’til the day it easily burns.