The Beat Generation writer, Williams S. Burroughs, was known for his experimentation with text. One of his more interesting exercises was creating cut-up prose and poetry.
Basically, he would take a page of text, cut it up with scissors, then rearrange it into something new. On the surface it looks like a simple repurposing of the text. Looking deeper, one can see how there could be a variety of options hidden on the page.
It reminds me of the adage that everything that can be written has been written. Writers simply have to find new ways to write.
So I decided I’d try my hand at creating a cut-up poem. It’s raining as I write this, and the temperature outside is dropping. Seems like as good a time as any to try an experiment. A distraction from the miserable weather.
My first step was to Project Gutenberg to find a book. I thought it would be better to simply print a page than to rip one out of a physical book. I chose a page from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Specifically, from the tea party chapter.
It’s been a long time since I last read this book, but I remembered the tea party scene to be one of the more interesting sections. It also seemed appropriate for my little creative experiment.
I then grabbed a pair of scissors, being careful not to run through the house with them, and proceeded to cut the page into a variety of individual sentences, groups of words, and individual words. I figured a variety of options would be useful. And randomness was key. I didn’t want to find myself pasting the original story back together. I was looking for a challenge. That meant not thinking too much about what I was selecting. I simply glanced at the page and cut out whatever words or phrases jumped out at me.
After that, it was all about finding order in the chaos. I laid all the pieces out and looked them over. Without giving it much thought, I grabbed a piece and laid it on the clean page. Then another. I could see something coming together.
As for the final product, a bit of free verse, I think it turned out well. There’s some coherence in the cadence, which surprised me because it was bits and pieces from all over the page I printed. Perhaps there really is order in chaos.
Read if for yourself and see what you think. I hope it inspires you to try something new and different with your creativity.