Tristan Tzara created quite a stir when in a public event he created an automatic poem. Tonight we will discuss form without form, perhaps creating a further stir.
Hi, welcome to form for all. I am Charles Miller. It’s a bit ironic that I’m hosting tonight, since I have never been one to talk about form or use form in my poetry. However, I’ll use the opportunity afforded me to explore what form is.
In many ways, the techniques used by the Dadaists, foremost proponent of whom was Tzara, take us back to the origins of why poetic form itself exists, why it might be necessary to ask that question or not, and even what a poem is.
As a sidenote, this topic comes at an interesting time. I’ve been thinking about it since being asked to host the form, and then at a poetry group that I participate in, a fellow poet described the very technique that I’m going to describe tonight. Needless to say, I found it very synchrenistic, and perhaps that in and of itself is a good omen.
Tzara scandalized everyone in one public performance by pulling words out of a hat and arranging them into a “poem”. Obviously this outraged many whose idea of poetry assumes that it follows certain patterns that must be adhered to.
Tzara’s “method” would seem to be nothing more than a parlor trick to outrage the French bourgeoisie. However, in various forms, it caught on in various shapes throughout the years. The French surrealists adopted aspects of it, most notably the idea of spontaneity. That idea later became a method for the Beats, such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Another Beat writer, William S Burroughs, refined and extended Tzara’s method. He would take large typewritten sheets, cut them into halves or eighths and then rearrange them to form new sentences and word blocks. He called this the “cut – up” method.
For today, I’d like you to use one of these methods to create a poem. That is, cut up some text – it doesn’t matter what text – put them into a container, pull them out and arrange them into a poetic form. Or you can take full pages and rearrange the parts and form a poem that way.
Welcome to the avant-garde, again. I hope it’s an enjoyable ride for you.