What is I or Us?
Good question! It’s a book-length erasure poem created through the cooperation of
So what’s an erasure poem?
A poem created by taking words away. An erasure is an example of “found art,” a poem created by piggybacking on an existing text; the words that are not part of the poem are erased or blacked out, and what is left is the poem. The Erasing Frankenstein writers have creatively blotted out, written over or otherwise “erased” words from the pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the words left on each page are the new poem.
What is The Erasing Frankenstein Collective?
A group consisting of incarcerated and non-incarcerated members of the Walls to Bridges Collective, (an organization dedicated to providing learning opportunities for incarcerated people) as well as graduate and undergraduate students and alumni from The University of New Brunswick. Using Shelley’s 1818 novel in order to engage with the issues of monstrosity, women’s writing, and forms of imprisonment, and to consider the exclusion of incarcerated voices in literary cultures, participants collectively created the first-ever adaptation or “translation” of Frankenstein into a contemporary book-length erasure poem.
Because 2018 is the novel’s 200th birthday! Because although the novel is usually read as a warning against playing God, it also addresses justice and imprisonment, themes relevant to our collective members.
How did the collective work?
A Walls to Bridges participant erased several pages, then a student partner responded by erasing the following pages. The result, I or Us, alternates between Walls to Bridges voices and student voices.
The year 2018 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As scholars and literary communities around the world plan celebrations that include new editions, conferences, and read-a-thons, there remains a critical blind spot, a significant issue facing literary culture and higher education, namely the minimal engagement with incarcerated peoples as collaborators in scholarly discussions, research agendas, and creative output. Indeed, Shelley’s novel embodies this problem: best known as a critique of science, scholars overlook its representations of imprisonment. Yet Shelley herself felt imprisoned by the success of this text, as the preface to her 1831 edition makes clear, and many of the novel’s characters suffer from various forms of imprisonment. The bicentennial is a significant opportunity to address this oversight by bringing incarcerated women’s voices to bear on this beloved text. How is the monster remade when these voices are heard?
“Erasing Frankenstein” is a public humanities outreach activity that will showcase the creative exchange that took place between federally incarcerated women and members of the prison-education think tank Walls to Bridges Collective (W2BC) at the Grand Valley Institution for Women (Kitchener, ON) and graduate and undergraduate students from the University of New Brunswick. Working collaboratively by long-distance mail, they made the first-ever poetic adaptation of Frankenstein, turning it into a long erasure poem, made by “erasing” each page of the novel, that is by blotting out unwanted words to create a poem with the remaining ones. In doing so, they brought marginal figures, voices, and affects murmuring in the background to the foreground. The result is that the narrative voices of Victor and Walton were replaced by a patchwork body of voices from the novel’s nearly forgotten female characters, many of whom suffer themselves either directly or indirectly from imprisonment and injustice. This composite of minor voices was brought to life by the hands of a collective authorship, one that put incarcerated women equally at the helm. The proposed outreach activity looks to mobilize this innovative exchange with new audiences, including other incarcerated peoples, academics, non-academics, policymakers, prison staff, and the general public. The outcome will be an enriched public discourse through an open-ended discussion about incarcerated voices in our culture and communities.
This activity aims to question public perspectives on incarceration and to acknowledge if not ease the challenges presented by reintegration of the formerly imprisoned into society. Our goals for this outreach activity are to showcase a more inclusive, collaborative, and creative way of engaging with this seminal text, and to start a critical dialogue within literary culture and higher education over the politics of inclusion, exclusion, and erasure within our various communities. We hope to build and strengthen relations among incarcerated women, students, scholars, writers, policymakers, community justice organizations, and members of the general public.