Blog Teaching Writing

The Art of Making as Remix


Remix is the process of using pieces of something to make or inspire something else. See how this can apply to poetry. Originally published on April 12, 2020

A single image composed of other images.

As a maker I always need to start with something. Whether that something is a set of limitations, another’s idea to riff off of, or a challenge or purpose to meet. But I do remember that when I was young, whether when writing or art-making, that a piece of paper could somehow feel like a big nothing. A blank. A space that had to be filled.

It was a profound moment when I started to realize that that piece of paper itself was actually something. It was material. It had characteristics. It had a history and could evoke histories even. Suddenly that nothing I was faced with became very much a something. Something I could mark on, fold, crinkle, destroy, rip, toss, share, and admire. It was something to make with, something to mold and remix into my own.

This week for National Poetry Month we celebrate the art of remixing and remaking with and through poetry.

Remixed Inspiration

Remix is the process of using pieces of something to make or inspire something else. A quick search at surfaces two different kinds of remixes that we can start with as inspiration. The first is a poem by Danielle Cadena Deulen which includes remixed phrases from John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” the second is a narrative poem created by Fred Moten from a collection of loosely transcribed speech/language gathered at a conference.

“Remix with a Few Lines from Keats” by Danielle Cadena Deulen

“revision, impromptu” by Fred Moten

But what does it really mean to remix?

When I looked at the definition of remix on April 7 on Wikipedia, I found a note warning that the page contains “multiple issues” and needs “expert advice.” I think this is probably because remix can be challenging to define. In music, remix has become a commonly accepted practice, especially through improvisation as well as in jazz and hip-hop. Remix as a way of composing outside of music though it’s much less understood.

Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and Director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, said in a 2005 speech at the Conference on College Composition and Communication that “culture is remix, knowledge is remix, politics is remix. Remix is how we as humans live and everyone within our society engages in this act of creativity.” As writers and teachers of writing, remix is also a core way that we compose, how we revise, and even how we learn. For example, through research done on NWP’s CLMOOC, remix was found to be a primary form of learning among educators with its own set of characters and affordances (see “Remix as Professional Learning: Educators’ Iterative Literacy Practice in CLMOOC”).

This Week’s Challenge

This week the challenge is to do some poetry remixing. What this looks like is a bit up to you although we will have a few colleagues share the ways that they remix in the world and/or inspire remix in their students. Stay tuned here for more from remix-poet Kevin Hodgson of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and a team of teachers working with youth via the online social blogging platform of Youth Voices.

For your own exploration of remix in the meantime, let’s follow the lead of the two poets here and be inspired by the materials we find around us:

  • Like Danielle Cadena Deulen, what are some phrases from poetry that you love that can inspire remix of your own creation?
  • Like Fred Moten, what are some conversations around you that you can draw from and remix into a poem to share back to the speakers and/or the larger world?

Top image: Originally animated set of remixed images from CLMOOC 2015