Cut-Up Poems, the Process

I’ve been on another cut-up poem-writing kick, and I thought it might be fun to show how much these can evolve from the original. Looking at this process might also be helpful in editing poems that aren’t cut-ups as well. I’ll use my most recent cut-up as an example.

When I begin a cut-up poem, I first go through several magazine pages and circle words or phrases that stand out to me. I then quickly put them together into an arrangement that at least makes a little logical sense. Here’s my first attempt at this poem:

Free People

Signature spaces from the earth’s
great prosperity, endless strength
of extraordinary women.

Venus in velvet, from my kitchen tables
sees ivory and black through a woman’s eyes.
There’s always time in an echoed pattern
of operations. Don’t miss the elephant man.

Our work requires us to live in a circular universe.
There is no “the end.”
The northern borders should never appear
on a movie screen. No two are seeking
majestic details, the smallest movement of our dreams.

Develop trust in deep lavender
home accessories, limited edition world
of side-show performances. Electric
mechanics and sprinkled stardust
of a grim world of compassion and moral courage,
made to order, the ghosts of growing up.

These blurred lines in the middle of downtown!

______________________________________________________________________________

I really liked the lines “endless strength of extraordinary women,” “Venus in… from my kitchen table,” “there’s always time in an echoed pattern,” “the smallest movement of our dreams,” “develop trust in deep lavender/home accessories, this limited edition world,” “electric mechanics and sprinkled stardust,” and “a grim world of compassion and moral courage.” Other lines, like “don’t miss the elephant man,” and “these blurred lines in the middle of downtown,” obviously had to go.

I next pulled a theme out of the poem (a strong woman who is perhaps trapped in conventionality), and used it to direct my first edit. For this edit, I deleted, added to, and rearranged my original lines at will, still trying to somehow keep all of my favorites:

A Grim World of Compassion and Moral Courage

She creates signature spaces
from man’s great prosperity, a testimony
to the endless strength of extraordinary women.

Venus in Lilly Pulitzer, from my kitchen table
surveys a bachelor’s black and white scarcity.
In a woman’s eyes, there’s always time
marching in the endless pattern of designer wallpaper.

The borders of the set never appear
in her movie screen life, the majestic details
so dream-like they cannot be touched.
“Develop trust in deep lavender
home accessories,” she preaches,
“In this limited edition world
of made-to-order performances, haunted daily
by the ghosts of growing up.

A personalized world, to be made over daily
by the smallest movement of our dreams!”

_________________________________________________________________________________

This version obviously still needed some work. The subject and plot were still too nebulous, and some of the lines seemed forced and unnatural. The woman in this version reminded me of a Barbie doll, and it was this that I used to direct my next and final edit. Unfortunately, drastically switching my subject meant I had to lose some of my favorite lines (“In a woman’s eyes, there’s always time, marching in the endless pattern of designer wallpaper.”), but I think the end result was certainly worth it. In the final version, you can still see many of the lines and themes from the first, but hopefully now in a fully-realized, coherent poem:

Daughter’s First Barbie Doll

Her signature breasts
are larger than her hips – a testimony
to the endless strength
of extraordinary women.

Venus in orange celluloid
from her cardboard box
smiles at my crayon-marked walls,
the food-crusted dishes in my sink.

The borders of the set
never appear in her movie-screen life,
the majestic details too small
for adult fingers to hold onto.

Will my daughter develop trust
in bright pink accessories,
in this limited-edition world,
haunted by the ghosts of growing up?
Or will she see it

a personalized world,
to be made over daily
by the smallest movement of her dreams?

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