Spreadsheet Poetry Light Show

How do you write a poem? Sometime you might let a phrase wander in on the breeze from someone else, sometimes you take something you’ve heard before and knead it into something better, other times you might have a need to say something and it pours out.

And at certain points, you might start by developing a system, to building a list.

Jackson Mac Low created a kind of spreadsheet for his Light Poems. He started with writing down 288 names for light, and then linked them by letter of the alphabet. He then spent the next 22 years build this spreadsheet into the hundred of poems that went into this work.


This spreadsheet of sorts was the birth of many poems which bounce and shimmer along, as you’d expect from something made entirely of light. The entirety of the poems was published in early 2015, and it’s worth adding to your basket.

I haven’t read all of them, only those available online. But his work of repetition and the natural weightlessness of light makes the poems flash by as a series of lexiconic tastings.

I was introduced to it by taking up this offer on twitter:


And it arrived a few days later. Many of the poems are clever reworkings or responses, such as Mac Low’s 1st Light Poem Transcribed to Morse. Script-Score for a Three Person Performance by Chris McCabe pictured below:


While others are more exploratory in their nature, making suggestion about how certain poems started their life, and in themselves work on the system Jackson Mac Low originally created, and produce their own translation. All translation is rewriting, and the translator never leaves without making their own mark on someone else’s canvas.


You know where I read about translation the most, Ezra Pound. I’ve recently been reading through a page-to-page translation of Pound’s fragments (the last Cantos) where one page is in the English (or multiple languages used by Pound) and the opposite is formatted the same, but in Italian.

As you may remember, this was picked up in the Hay poetry shop. At the time there was a full translation which I thought would be wasted on me. Every Canto, side by side with the Italian translation. This week, after spending time with the page-to-page translation of the fragments, I decided that it indeed, would not be wasted on me at all. After all, while I can’t read Italian, I can read Pound, and it might be a fun way to learn.

Alas, dear friends, it has already been sold only days before I called. It now lives in my mind alone with other nice things I didn’t buy at the time — like that Our Legacy suit in donegal tweed. Never forget.

(Sorry for talking about Pound again. I’ve just been wandering back on myself with him in recent weeks. Next week: no Pound, I promise)


I saw some other good poems this week. Such as these by @domenicahope in @prisimlitmag:


And If you are an ancient Egyptian pharaoh by @HeraLindsayBird, here:



Today’s song:


Jorge Andre — Prologue


Also I am a fan of Joan Cornella’s fairly twisted works


Thanks for reading. Etch To Their Own #6 was written sober for once by @CJEggett, and proofed by no one living. If you have a spreadsheet of words, let me know all about it by email or in the tweets. Sorry I was late sending this today, I was hurriedly putting the final touches on a submission for the lovely Granta magazine. If your friend has just email this to you, thanks! You can find old issues here and sign up for future one here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.