• J. V. Damaris

The Modern Dadaist: a poetry challenge!

Updated: Sep 17


Dadaism is an avant-garde movement that began around the outbreak of World War 1 and went on to greatly influence art. To retaliate against the supposed 'reason and logic' of the capitalists, Dadaists protested by embracing chaos and irrationality... and this idea, in my humble opinion, is badass!

A favoured Dada technique for art is collaging: 

picture sourced from https://www.theartstory.org/movement/dada/artworks/ on 07/04/20


These techniques in art lead to a literary technique: the "cut-up technique", where lines of text are cut up and rearranged to create something new. Tristan Tzara explains in the Dada Manifesto how the cut-up technique can be used to create poetry: 

"TO MAKE A DADAIST POEM

Take a newspaper.

Take some scissors.

Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.

Cut out the article.

Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.

Shake gently.

Next take out each cutting one after the other.

Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.

The poem will resemble you.

And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd."


By the 1920s, Dadaism was fading into Surrealism, with a lot of the artists now moving into new movements such as Modernism and social realism. Yet, Dada should not be ignored, as many artists, writers and musicians (punk rock!) still claim to be heavily influenced by the movement, most notably, industrial band Throbbing Gristle. Their music uses the cut-up technique, looping and splicing together factory sounds and distorted lyrics to create something entirely new and positively BRUTAL! (Is this, in fact, more punk than punk?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8klW9trVTQ


The dadaist cut-up technique was brought back to the forefront and in the 1950s by one of my favourite writers, William S. Burroughs, along with his painter/writer friend Brion Gysin. Burroughs was part of the trés cool Beat movement and also later palled around with the aforementioned Throbbing Gristle (He can also be found as a 70-something-year-old, collaborating with the forever-fan-boy Kurt Cobain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi1XPmFH6H8The two applied the cut-up technique to printed media and audio recordings as a way of decoding the material's implicit content, in order to discover the true meaning of a text. 


My Response:

Below, I apply this technique to one of my own poems (one that I was not so happy with but thought it had some good lines). 


When editing your own writing, it's important to imagine that you are coming to the work from an outsider perspective. We can easily get wrapped up in our own perspective when writing and not realise that this may not be interesting or relevant to the reader. By using the cut-up technique, you remove yourself even further. I might even go as far as to say that your third eye is in control.


"When you cut into the present the future leaks out." - William. S. Burroughs


The steps:

The following poem I put together by loosely following Tzara's method. Firstly, cutting each line of my poem up, then folding each of them in half, placing them all in a hat, shaking the hat violently for a few seconds and then mixing with my hand too, next grabbing a random piece with my eyes closed and placing it on the bench in front of me, one by one.


(It was very exciting to see my new poem come together literally before my eyes, and, as Burroughs and Gysin suggest, I have even gleaned some new truths within the text.)


When the full poem is laid out in front of you, DO NOT REARRANGE. Even if some of it doesn't seem to make sense, and a line seems to fit somewhere else better or doesn't rhyme, the point, as I said at the beginning, is to not involve your own sense of 'reason and logic' but to Embrace. That. Motherflippin. Chaos.

I'd Rather Carnage: a dadaist poem:


this one-size-fits-all life

he'll stare down the barrel of a .54

and your mouth is such a bore


i'd rather carnage

and the weather is such a bore

but it's the only way back home


lacing your shoes up, you race for the door

if rejection strikes once more

i'm at risk of getting a headache


you said "let sleeping dogs lie"

i'd trade it for yours

i'd better not go down that road


this battered old mind

and idiocy has shrunk him again

i guess i'll agree this time


and do you have a hand to feed me?




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