I had a rather long drive to make this last weekend (well, long by Boston standards, only moderate by Southern California standards – I have found the relative scales differ quite a bit) – and I wound up tuning into an NPR show discussing the history, definition, and variations of nihilism. The whole show was interesting, but what caught my attention was a description of a type of poetry advocated by the Dadaist Tristan Tzara – basically, he said that he could create a poem on the spot by cutting up a newspaper article and pulling words from it from a hat at random. The Cut-up technique or Tzara Combinations have been with us ever since – and is one of many aleatory (introducing chance or randomness into the creative process) techniques. I was amazed to find a whole list of surrealist techniques, often aleatory, used to inspire creativity here! I am now seriously tempted to try some of these for illustrating-poetry-purposes (although my apartment is not equipped for some of them – see “bulletism,” for example).
But the Tzara Combinations was one I could comfortably try at home…
My “victim” article was a page from an old art book on El Greco (I figured you have to start with good material) – don’t worry – no art books were harmed in the making of these cut-up poems. The sheet came from a library sale where they sold off tattered and broken art books by the sheet to benefit the library. I asked for three random numbers from Matlab (to be precise, three pseudorandom integers from a uniform discrete distribution from 30 to 100) – and got 40, 59, and 95. These were how many words I was going to draw from the bag to make the poems. Without further ado, in increasing word-count order:
They are definitely random word assemblages – but there are a few gems in there I think I am going to try to work with – “National standards country” and “undoubtedly awkward Inquisition” are pretty priceless…It also sent me to the internet to look up who Laocoon and Charles Ricketts were and discovered that the Tzara combinations didn’t do a bad job of describing them!