Why Some Write (Cut-up Homage to W.S.)


Why Some Write (“Cut-Up” Homage to W.S. – the voice in English-speakers’
heads when we do write)

If the way to death is not lighted
by recorded fury, a syllable of strut, the brief stage
of fools told, this last candle of sound,
then life’s but time told
by a shadow, a to-morrow
that frets all yesterdays, and to-morrow,
full of dusty nothing, and
to-morrow, poor hour, a day-to-day that creeps
an idiot’s pace, a player
at walking, a petty tale of out, out.


Here’s a poem for a very cool dVerse Poets Pubd prompt by Charles Miller that challenges one to use techniques developed both by the Dadaists and the Beats – that is cut-up poetry, mixing and matching words from other texts.

I confess to not being hugely comfortable with cut-up poetry – I’m very big on narrative and direct meaning–so I decided that if I did this exercise I was going to give myself a head start by using some very good words. In this case, I took Macbeth’s soliloquy –“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” from Act V, Scene V of Macbeth. I’ve tried to use all/most of the words – I may have a few more “a” and less “upons”. Being a woman, I also substituted “a” for “his” at one point.

It’s a fun, if challenging, exercise. For me, what was especially interesting in this, was how close the meaning has stayed to good old Shakespeare’s – even though I did try to mix the words up a bit. At any rate, I urge you to try the exercise and check out the other poets at dVerse.

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39 Comments on “Why Some Write (Cut-up Homage to W.S.)”

  1. brian miller Says:

    a syllable of strut….ha…love that…got a little stray cats going on here….smiles…the candle of sound, nice sense mix there too…life being time told as shadow…def full of great lines tonight…i need to go read the original again….

  2. henna ink Says:

    Dang, girl. This is freaking awesome. 🙂 I knew you’d feel uncomfortable with this, but you totally rocked it!

    I love this part:
    “by recorded fury, a syllable of strut, the brief stage
    of fools told, this last candle of sound”

    And this:
    “poor hour, a day-to-day that creeps
    an idiot’s pace, a player
    at walking, a petty tale of out, out”

  3. Mary Says:

    Nice job, Karin. This was a hard exercise for me, as I like direct meaning as well. You DID choose some “very good words” (Shakespeare was a great choice) and used them well. I like “this last candle of sound.”

  4. Wyeth Bailey Says:

    It’s like a Shakespeare mash-up with someone more modern– not sure who . . . You, I guess ! 🙂 I really like the method you chose: a way to structure the unstructured, or at least provide a safety net.

  5. You’ve done an excellent job with such an intriguing exercise.

  6. Chazinator Says:

    As you say, this does stay very close to the original. Pretty amazing, considering that you used the method you did. Are you now a bit more comfortable with it 🙂

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha. Well I did cut up. I think it’s interesting for poems. I still have trouble with the longer pieces–am thinking of Burroughs specifically. I just found those books very hard to read straight through, but I’ve honestly not looked at them for a long time. K.

  7. claudia Says:

    very cool…i wasn’t so comfortable with the task as well…it takes quite a bit of letting go and guess we all strive to put meaning into our work..a great exercise though and really like where it took you..and excellent source as well

  8. Rowan Taw Says:

    You’ve got a whole lot of great word combinations here – love “a syllable of strut” : )

  9. MarinaSofia Says:

    Yes, I understand your discomfort with cut-up poetry. I used to feel it myself, But I see it now as a wonderfully liberating exercise – it creates all sorts of new pathways and synapses in the brain!

  10. Akila Says:

    Interesting and I guess you enjoyed the journey!

  11. I agree that the method was really hard.. but I certainly will use it in the future… what a great way to get around writers block… I think your poem worked really well, and to me the original text never came through until I reread and found a few similarities.

  12. Kelvin S.M. Says:

    ..aww, Shakespeare was my old world hero but i didn’t dare use any of his works for the exercise… but you did… in cleverly way without losing to much Shakespeare’s essence here… loved it.. smiles…

  13. nico Says:

    I’m with you–I prefer direct meaning, so it’s tough to let go even a little to allow words to stand for themselves and force the reader to decide what to make of them. But its fun to see just what can happen, such as

    a to-morrow
    that frets all yesterdays

    Nicely done!

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. I’m not really against the technique for poetry. Some writers, like Burroughs, used it for whole books/novels – and that’s where I find myself more critical. I think it is very difficult to sustain length. k.

  14. Fantastic! Yes indeed, it’s amazing how close in meaning it stays to the original, despite the (very vibrant) rearrangement.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Rosemary–yes – it really is mixed up and yet the words still seem to take one to the same place. Perhaps because I started with one the way to death and the Macbeth is basically about that too, but it surprised me too. k.

  15. David King Says:

    Clever. I like what you did here – I will also confess that I’m not that comfortable with cut up poetry – but it can be fun!!

  16. Yousei Hime Says:

    Wonderful. Shakespeare blended into anything makes a delicious dish. Going back for a second helping. 🙂

  17. Wow, K ~ Very well done ~ I specially like the opening verses, recorded strut, the brief stage ~ I can appreciate the challenge of the process but you know what, the final output has your voice still ~ You have distinct way of weaving words ~


  18. ds Says:

    Love this! “A syllable of strut” indeed. Wild Willy would be proud. You have done yourself proud. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  19. bostonpoetry Says:

    There’s no better way than to use a master for prompting, and this came out masterful. Great Dadaist work here. If I were to quote a favorite line, I’d have to quote it all because it all sincerely stands out as a single moving piece. -Mike

  20. bostonpoetry Says:

    oh.. also, you nailed the ending. I love a strong ending to a poem. =)

  21. hedgewitch Says:

    This is really really neat, k. Sorry I missed it earlier–am just getting caught up. It does have the weight of the words really showing up in every line, yet it twists them around so that we have to really listen to them–not sure if that was a focal point of DaDa/Beats, or just looking upside down and sideways, but either way, this is quite a compact and effective poem, and musical as well.

  22. Truedessa Says:

    Just read this through and I say well done..I really like these two lines..

    of fools told, this last candle of sound,
    then life’s but time told

  23. kaykuala Says:

    then life’s but time told
    by a shadow, a to-morrow

    That’s life to be surreptitiously tormented but kindly dealt with by your touch! Dada cuttings can be quite fun! I found it so when I did mine. Nicely K!


  24. hypercryptical Says:

    Well done from me too.

    then life’s but time told
    by a shadow,

    this speaks to me.

    Anna :o]

  25. janehewey Says:

    tomorrow full of dusty nothing. You’ve got me pondering why I write. I enjoy your use of to-morrows repetition and the crisp cadence of this stout poem. Like Hedge, I assumed it was Wallace Stevens for W.S. though It was pretty clear shortly into the piece it wasn’t. I am happy to read your take on this prompt. I’ve been away from blog, but look forward to more soon. have a nice weekend, karin.

  26. Marya Says:

    This is superbly executed!

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