Cut-up Method (or Technique): Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the cut-up method (or technique) that was used by William S. Burroughs, the Dadaists, and others.
Author:
Publish date:

This week's form, the cut-up method (or technique) is a type of found poetry that has its roots in the Dadaists but was popularized by William S. Burroughs. There are multiple ways to use the cut-up method, but here are the two most popular:

  • The straight cut-up involves cutting words of a complete text and randomly rearranging them into a new text
  • The fold-in method involves taking two linear texts with the same spacing and folding them over and next to each other so that the first half of one line folds in to the second half of the corresponding line to create a new line

While these are the two most popular ways of applying the cut-up technique, there are no rules against experimenting with other variations.

*****

The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms

Play with poetic forms!

Poetic forms are fun poetic games, and this digital guide collects more than 100 poetic forms, including more established poetic forms (like sestinas and sonnets) and newer invented forms (like golden shovels and fibs).

Click to continue.

*****

Here is an example of a Cut-up Method poem:

Five House Slaughter, by Robert Lee Brewer (using Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five as a source text)

All this happened, "Poo-tee-weet?"
The war parts were talking.
One guy I knew was green and coffin-shaped,
another guy an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses.
And so on. No traffic of any kind.

I've changed all the leafing out.
I wandered out onto the shady street.
It looked a lot like Europe was over.
There, the door was unlocked.
I went back in the suburbs.

Note on method:

For the example above, I took the first half of the first 10 sentences in Slaughterhouse-Five and matched them up with the second half of the final 10 sentences in the novel. I made conscious decisions about where one half ended and the other began. Plus, I modified punctuation as I wished. So it was not completely random. 

I actually used a cut-up method for my poem "Eavesdropping," published in the DMQ Review, in which I copied down overheard bits of dialogue from people while I was traveling. After writing down all this random dialogue, I cut it up into pieces and "wrote" the poem.

Anyway, it's a fun form to play around with and could make for a fun poetic activity at a workshop or open mic, whether you use books, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, or other language as your source material.

Here are a few other found poem forms to investigate:

How to Not Write in the Pandemic, Early Days

How to Not Write in the Pandemic, Early Days

Novelist Rebecca Hardiman gives us an insight into the obstacles that cropped up for writers at the start of the 2020 global pandemic.

7 Tips for Writing Police Procedurals That Readers Love

7 Tips for Writing Police Procedurals That Readers Love

Mystery and crime novelist Russ Thomas explains how best to create a police procedural that will hook your reader and keep them coming back for more.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 560

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an alien poem.

3 Tips for Writing with a Co-Author

3 Tips for Writing with a Co-Author

Shakil Ahmad provides the top 3 things he learned while co-authoring the book Wild Sun with his brother Ehsan.

Viet Thanh Nguyen | The Committed | Writer's Digest Quote

WD Interview: Viet Thanh Nguyen on The Committed

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses the challenges of writing his second novel, The Committed, and why trusting readers can make for a more compelling narrative in this WD interview.

Dinty W. Moore: Poking Fun at Hell and Dante's Inferno

Dinty W. Moore: Poking Fun at Hell and Dante's Inferno

In this post, Dinty W. Moore shares what inspired his most recent book To Hell With It, what lesson it taught him, why writers should have fun with their writing, and more!

Arisa White: Putting the Pieces Together

Arisa White: Putting the Pieces Together

In this post, Arisa White shares how she was able to piece together her past with her present, how some works freed her to write, and more!

Adapt vs. Adept vs. Adopt (Grammar Rules)

Adapt vs. Adept vs. Adopt (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use adapt vs. adept vs. adopt with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.