At the end of college and in my most inspired years- when I thought I might actually become a poet who mattered- I got really excited about the structure of poetry. I was excited not so much in terms of the line breaks or meter, but in the sound and shape of the words themselves, and the arrangement of the ideas and images they made. In 1999, we were getting ready in class for a visit from Lisa Jarnot, reading Some Other Kind of Mission. Something about the poems in the book grabbed me, and with this naive bit of supposed secret knowledge, I set out, pens and markers in hand, to decode her poem "Emperor Wu," (follow link to third paragraph for discussion of the poem) which seemed particularly ripe for my novel analysis method.
Highlighted, circled, fist-clenched copy in hand, I wrote a poem based on the same dark secret structure I had divined from Emperor Wu, some silly thing that replaced the great leader with Jerry Falwell, if I recall. My professor, Albert Glover, seemed to like it, showed some interest in what I was up to. I felt pretty good about myself- here I was, turning some new ground, using my knowledge to make something new, this visual process and highlighting opening a door into understanding the medium of poetry (words). As if a painter could figure out how to make a great painting by knowing the molecular content of the paint or the weave and material of the canvas.
You can probably imagine where this is going.
I'm not sure how long it took, but I know I read it somewhere and didn't figure it out on my own. Emperor Wu is a sestina. Most, if not all of my probing analysis could be resolved by simply noticing the basic form of the poem.
I hadn't thought about much of this until today, when I happened to pop over to Information is Beautiful to have a look around. There was this discussion of and a link to the work of Stephanie Posavec, particularly her diagramming of On the Road. The finished product is beautiful (second photo), but to me at least, so is the beginning markup of the text. It reminds me of what I pursued with Jarnot's poem. (Though I make no pretense as to having been on any sort of track at the time that would have led to work as stunning as Posavec's.)
So here's a question: Could you take Posavec's diagram of On the Road and work back through it, from concepts, to chapters, to paragraphs to lines to words, and produce something that was any good, let alone as good or important as On the Road? Could you come up with something that was good at all?