Hello, this is Ross Sutherland. I’m going to provide a little background to my poem “Experiment to Determine the Existence of Love.”

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have included this poem in the same collection as “A Second Opinion”. Both cover a lot of similar ground- both pull apart the concept of the love poem and poke fun at its limitations. Some days it feels like my whole career is me just writing the same poem over and over! But often that’s “the creative process” . You keep saying it and saying it until one day you work out why.

This poem is also a riff on the structure of a science experiment. In UK schools, these are the subcategories we use for every experiment. Perhaps the system is slightly different where you are, reader. This was the additional challenge: create six mini-poems, that respond to each stage of the experiment.

Er…it’s a pretty heavy-handed concept for a poem! I wrote this when I was about 22 and…hmmm….I’ve never been subtle. Usually I aim broad with the concept and then try to get a bit more nuanced in the writing.

I’m really interested in formal constraint. Structure can take the mind to some unusual places. Usually, when writing a poem, the structure is the first thing to drop into place. Writing is often a challenge to myself: “Can you write a poem within the science experiment structure?” , “Can you write a poem that only uses one vowel?”, etc.

Incidentally, I do have a poem with only one vowel. It contains the line, “Rob shows Gordon how to bodypop; slow Robocop foxtrot to Bobby Brown.”

You get the idea. Through constraint, we find ourselves writing more from the subconscious. I didn’t decide what my O poem would be about- it just happened. I found myself telling a story about getting drunk as a teenager and not being able to find my way home again. The back of my brain led the way- I just followed.

I’m a big fan of the OULIPO, who based their entire manifesto on this principle. They flooded their work with rules, to make it as hard as possible to write. That way, they would have to search deep within their subconscious to discover the solution. The OULIPO described themselves as “rats trying to escape from a labyrinth of their own construction.” Which has to be one of my favourite descriptions of poetry.

Without a structure, without a set of rules, I flounder. I must first invent the rules of the game before I start writing, or I’ll have nothing to say.

Incidentally, I made a video version of this poem. I cant remember if anyone else has linked to it.

If you’d like to talk to me more about this poem, I’m more than happy to respond in the comment space below! This is not a question of good art / bad art. It’s just about continuing the conversation. I’m particularly interested in people recommending poetry to me, so please do that 🙂

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