AnEphemeral Account of Cut-Up Poetry “Cut-Up” by definition, means divided into pieces bycutting. (Random House, Inc) In poetry, it is a rarely used form of writing. This method is used by taking a completelywritten section of text and separating it into pieces with very little orsingle words on each piece.
Theresulting pieces are then rearranged into a new text. Cut-up writing is often difficult or at timesincomprehensible and anyone who can interpret or understand it, deserves to be recognized. In an essence, Cut-up is very similar tovisual art, in that, only the artist (or in the case of poetry, the writer)knows what the true meaning behind the piece is about. The first recognized use of this writing style was in1920 when a Frenchman Tristan Tzara, co-founder of the Dadaist movement and apoet, challenged to create a poem by pulling random words out of a hat. (Engstrom) For example: Prenez un journal./Prenez descisnaux./Choisissez dans ce journal (translation, Take a newspaper./Takesome papers.
/Choose in this journal). (Engstrom) Not long after, William S. Burroughs, mentioneda similar technique when he cited T.S. Elliot’s poem The Wasteland, which used newspaper clippings as an early exampleof the writing style.
(Stull) In the 1950s Brion Gysin, a writer andpainter, boosted the development of the style by accident. Wanting to protect a tabletop fromscratching, he laid a mat down of newspapers as he was cutting with a razorblade. After slicing through the papers,he observed that the leftover layers presented an interesting collaboration. Itwas then he started cutting articles of the newspaper into sections on purpose,which then where randomly arranged.
(Gysin) As a result and chance observation byBurroughs, the experiment resulted in the poem “Minutes to Go”. Burroughs himself, one of the most prominent advocates ofthe cut-up technique, made a lot of daring claims about its importance as aweapon in the fight against control structures embedded in printed texts (andlanguage itself). Other advocates havemade similar claims, and detractors will often attack the whole process withequal vigor, but both camps fail to realize that cut-up, at its root, is aprocess that has been used by writers for centuries. By cutting typewrittenpages into strips of just a few words, or taking two sheets and folding themover to make new sentences, created the “Cut-up method”. By rearranging text into non-formal,non-linear sentences released himself from the control of words. David Bowie, musician and writer, frequently used thismethod on the Album Diamond Dogs,starting with the lyric “If this is a curse then I’ll bless you / And turn tothe crossroads of hamburgers”. (Bowie) He worked with a music technologist andinnovator (iTunes, Ford Sync), Ty Roberts, to develop a Macintosh computerprogram called “Verbasizer”.
Thisprogram allowed a user to cut and reassemble sentences instantly, like anautomatic dispenser, which Bowie used on all of is albums until his final albumrelease on his birthday, January 8, 2016, just two days prior to his death ofliver cancer. One of the biggest issues in art is the blurring of thelines between art and fashion. This is aggravated by the effects of money andmarkets. Everybody wants to be trendy in order to court the favor of thefashion conscious public. That leads an interesting technique like cut-up tolegitimize all kinds of useless plot techniques that really just make storieshard to read so the author can claim –“Well I’m only interested inreaders who want to be challenged.” I see way too much of this justification in academic literature that justpoints back to other writers who used it as though that makes it appropriatefor their work.
There is the stinging rebuttal to this criticism whichI’ve received from some authors whose work I was tasked with editing thatcut-up is analogous to scratching in electronic music. Yes, there is an analogythere but for me personally it doesn’t strike a chord. There are very distinctdifferences between music and prose.
I can see the analogy carrying through topoetry to a certain extent, but it often gets carried over to prose and there Ifeel it all too often becomes an excuse for obfuscation. Burroughs put it best when describing cut-up, “The bestwriting seems to be done almost by accident but writers until the cut-up methodwas made explicit … had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. Youcannot will spontaneity.
But you can introduce the spontaneous factor with apair of scissors.” Obviously to the nakedeye, using this method can and will produce results which you’re not happywith, but the surprising thing is how many of the results are successful. An exampleof mixed results comes in an excerpt of Burroughs’ Poem, “Cancer Men…These IndividualsAre Marked For…” the vast/cancers thatsurgery and Xrays C/In the United States the Americi/is considered well worthour feet. .
. Trying to interpret a meaningin this passage is fruitless, but this is the purpose of this form of poetry. It is not supposed to make any sense and attemptsto deciphering it, will only result in frustration and further confusion on thereaders part. Only Burroughs will ever knowwhat the true intention was, if there even was one. Sometimes all that is needed is a quick read through ofthe results, adding punctuation and deleting the occasional word to produce thefinished results.
Purists might complain about editing the cut-up text, butthis process is a tool which you can choose to use at any stage in the processof writing. Who knew taking few wordshere and there and rearranging them would result in the creation of an entirelynew works of poetry.