The Cut Up Method

Writing Techniques

I have not created anything worthy of BLOG in the past couple of weeks. Here is something interesting instead!

While researching for a presentation I am giving with some of my peers on Kathy Acker’s novel, My Mother: Demonology, a Novel, I have come across a technique of writing (and art making) used by William S. Burroughs POST Naked Lunch. It is called The Cut Up Method:

“The method is simple. Here is one way to do it. Take a page. Like this page. Now cut down the middle and cross the middle. You have four sections. 1 2 3 4…Now rearrange the sections. Place section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page. Sometimes it says much the same thing. Sometimes something quite different… In any case you find that it says something…quite definite. Take any poet or writer you fancy. Heresay, or poems you have read over many times. The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition. Now take the poem and type out selected passages. Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem.” -William S. Burroughs, The Third Mind

Here is a link to a PDF of The Third Mind by Burroughs:

Click to access William-S.-Burroughs-and-Brion-Gysin-The-Third-Mind-complete.pdf

The youtube video above is a short film made in 1966 called The Cut Ups by Burroughs and Antony Balch that demonstrates this method visually. Don’t worry. I can only get through 5 minutes of it before wanting to shout NO! GOODBYE! and shutting it off. However, it is a prime example of how art/writing can be more about the editing than anything else.

I have already been using techniques similar to this method in my work, but I have only employed them in my poetry/collages. Taking large chunks of prose and reworking it sounds so TEDIOUS! But I am interested in how that process might be different or similar to collaging.

Kathy Acker’s work is a prime example of the use of The Cut Up Method outside of Burrough’s work, but in a more figurative manner. She weaves narratives from texts ranging from the well known, such as Huckleberry Finn and Don Quixote, to the lesser known like The Story of the Eye by George Bataille, and pairs them with autobiographical texts, such as diary entries. As I have only read My Mother: Demonology, A Novel, I cannot give my opinion as to whether her use of the technique is rendered usefully. It does make for an interesting read. Especially if you like feminism and erotica (verging on pornography).

When I have a chance, I would like to use the Cut Up Method, so look out for some work to come! Hopefully I can post something of my own up soon.

Blind Eyes Could Blaze Like Meteors

collage, My Creative Work

Blind Eyes Could Blaze Like Meteors pg 1Blind Eyes Could Blaze Like Meteors pg 2

Blind Eyes Could Blaze Like Meteors is a collage and cento poem. See below for the works I used for the cento. The poem carries the length of both images, starting with ‘Blind Eyes Could Blaze Like Marries and ending with ‘How soon succeeding eyes begin.’

FYI: A cento poem is a poem that takes lines from other pieces of work to make a new work of its own. To see an example, other than my own, look up Wolf Cento by Simone Muench

The two images I used are ‘Pastoral’ by Leonora Carrington and ‘Jupiter und Io’ by Antonio Allegri. This content of the poem takes place in a mead or field at dusk, so I used ‘Pastoral’ to reflect the setting and time of day. Also, the colors of the image are very dark and diluted so this helps dramatize the disparity of the poem.  ‘Jupiter und Io’ depicts Jupiter (a Greek God) as a dark cloud caressing the nymph, Io. I researched this painting online and discovered that Io is one of Jupiter’s many loves who has been seduced by him. Since the speaker of my poem has come across a woman who is desperate for his love, I felt that the voices of the characters in my poem reflect the intent of the characters in the painting.

Lines of poem taken from the following poems:

Do Not Go Gentle into that Goodnight by Dylan Thomas

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats

Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens

To See A World… by William Blake

The Song of Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats

Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Colleridge

An Anundrel Tomb by Philip Larkin

Daddy by Sylvia Plath

Stop all the Clocks, Cut off the Telephone by W.H. Auden

Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

Because I could not stop for Death by Emily Dickinson