Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"The poem will be like you"

A piece of writing, photocopied, cut up, & the pieces arranged together on a page in different ways.

To make a dadaist poem. Take a newspaper. Take a pair of scissors.  Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem. Cut out the article.  Then cut out each of the words that make this article and put them in a bag. Shake it gently. Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag. Copy conscientiously. The poem will be like you. 
~Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto on Feeble Love and Bitter Love

Before there was Magnetic Poetry, there was Dada Poetry, which was created using the method quoted above.  Also the Beats' Cut-Ups. William Burroughs & Brion Gysin used to type out sections by Shakespeare & Rimbaud, cut them up into phrases, &  "create refreshing new poems from the same words".* Burroughs said, "Cut the word lines & you will hear [the poets'] voices. Cut-ups often come through as code messages with special meaning for the cutter." Gysin's explanation of the process was even more mystical. "we began to find out a whole lot of things about the real nature of words & writing.  What are words & what are they doing? ...Painters & writers of the kind I respect want to be heroes, challenging fate in their lives & in their art. ...if you want to challenge & change fate...cut up words, make them a new world." Burroughs & Gysin's cut-ups used a method similar to Dada, but instead of picking the phrases out of a bag they carefully rearranged the cut-up phrases on the page in whatever order they wished.

I thought it would be a fun experiment to use Dada & Beat techniques to transform a couple of poems.  One is a poem of my own, & the other is a poem called "The Red Poppy" by Louise Glück.

Windows: A Dada Poem

their Look
monster in can’t
as over mocking
supposed open
as the back night jumped
darkness littering the night
Ssshh juncture shut
eating we armistice
between mockery this close
between my waste leers am
has me asleep
make skeptical your snaps and
ghosts awkward already we’ve
in fish sullen arms
am close door heart alone
house each
appetites faces tender who the
of carnage all Hold years
blood made other until unlock me
fall heat be least the long the the
us this all of of the i I noise at
with I We of to eyes at
and bad my up or the and

The Red Poppy Revisited: A Cut Up Poem

brothers and sisters, were you like me
before you were shattered.
permit yourselves who would never
to open once, and open you do.
Because in truth; they not having the way open again?
The fire called the sun, like the fire of my own heart, is
because I am human? Did you govern me.
Oh my I have those I am speaking now for him, I have a mind.
I speak great thing showing him his presence.
oh, glory be, what could such a lord in heaven
once, long ago, if not a heart?

If you don't want to go through the whole process, consider using the Dada Poetry Generator--you just have to copy & paste a block of text into the generator.

To read more about Dadaism or the Beat Generation, try a subject search in the library catalog.  For tips about writing poetry, visit our Poetry LibGuide. Or try the Guardian's poetry workshop!

*all Beat quotes are from The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burrough, & Corso in Paris, 1957-1963 by Barry Miles

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