William Burroughs invents cut-up poetry
On this day in 1914 the author William Burroughs was born. The son of wealthy parents, Burroughs was one of the group of enfants terribles of post war American letters who became known as the Beat Generation. Burroughs developed a heroin addiction as a student and never successfully overcame it. His peculiar disjointed writing perhaps reflects this.
He is best known for his prose work The Naked Lunch which is basically a series of chapters mostly unconnected, that Burroughs said could be read in any order. It was the subject of an obscenity trial and banned in some US states. Burroughs also popularised the cut-up poetry technique whereby existing texts are cut up and rearranged to form new works. In one example (Fear and the Monkey), Burroughs has taken a poem by English writer Denton Welch and added “a pinch of Rimbaud, a dash of St-John Perse, an oblique reference to Toby Tyler with the Circus, and the death of his pet monkey.”
Here is an anonymous taste of cut-up poetry that includes a line of Milton, a line of Pepys, a dash of Epictetus and some contemporary advertising:
The book you have in your hands,
Confers the most benefits,
By seeking to reduce regulatory burdens,
The spirit of Plato to unfold.
Full of rag-tag and bobtail,
Dancing, singing and drinking,
By which we are able to bear
What comes to pass
Without being crushed or depressed thereby;
I used your product and have never looked back.
Today I ask for understanding of the shortcomings of others and the ability to find the good in people and to appreciate their unique talents.