the madman’s inkwell (poem constructed using William Burroughs’s cut-up technique)

dread the chains no longer

for the grace has fallen!

and many a land of poverty.

pose them to submission,

sanction the mystical obscurity

of a former age

how rich a cluster

of attitudes liable

to feel baffled

formidable only

in awful truth

Deadly terrors the stars now clasp

immortal hands threw down the spears

and the night

divided for us

the judgement of the lordly ones

could once twist the sinews

thy heart began

collocations of grave devotion

what wings dare he seize?

aspire the fire?

jostle against chaos

our first impulse distinguished

to mutter some statement

of cosmologised disguise

Eternal reason be borne

its proper act and end,

the elaborations it invites,

an array of books,

doctrines testify to the profound

dread grasp

what the anvil dares illustrate,

existence as a cosmic drama

the gloss of the human story

must decay

now free to confess

arrogance unbounded

lost in shining light

the creator smiled

with ferocious strength

with the smile of daybreak

throwing light beyond question

the spirit water’d heaven

convincing the divine spark

in the distant deeps of thine eyes

of instincts revolutionary

welcome again!

to an age of paradox

an impregnable,

divinely-ordered world

united, mortal body



and in tears…

time and death break down…

silent, invisible

and in thy well of broken sentence

Infant Sorrow imagines

Its first experience of danger

the world walk’d,

transformed, bewildering

among the lapsed souls

weeping, wooing

selfish father

chained in night

here afore thy sight

outward eyes

the mind descries

absorb’d by vacant mind

feelings… still

metaphors firmly

vision bestows

the vast temple buried

beneath all these things

this Universe within


striving against

bound and weary

upon the gate of the tongue


these abstract commandments

of Heaven and Hell


into the emotional reality

of the Ancients!

Call for fires!

For heaps of smoking ruins in the night

For splendour!

For Glory!

Abrupt bursts of words!

slumber my fears

eclipsing curse of God’s relation


we see…

into the life of things.


NB: this cut-up poem was constructued using 2 old and worn books which I found on top of a paper bin: the pelican guide to english literature #5, and Carl Becker’s The heavenly city of 18th C philosophers. The cut-ups is a method popularised by William Burroughs which involves cutting up / taking apart existing texts and rearranging / reformulating the words in order to make a new text. This was seen as a process of redistributing power. It was used in the formation of his most iconic text The Naked Lunch, and many other artists / musicians / authors have since implemented the technique in their creative process (David Bowie was one of the most glaring examples – the cut up method was crucial to many of his lyrics – see here for a short clip of Bowie using the technique). There are different approaches to using the technique (fold-in method, cut a page in 4 and re arrange the sections, line by line cut-ups etc. etc.), and even Burroughs and his artist friend Brion Gysin (the original creator of the method) often alter their usage of the technique and even apply it to various different media such as video and audio clips. Many and most of the fragments of text here came from William Blake, as well as some George Crabbe, Burns, and the final few lines were from Wordsworth, as well as a hefty amount of the critical texts. The poem was channeling a lot of Nietzschean ideas, Zarathustrian ideas, and these were somehow intensified by the incorporation for the most part of Blake whose work was deeply suffused in theology and myth – the conflict of these 2 figures, in text and in thought, came to expose the underlying power of the cut-up. It is a method which exposes the frailty of language, and unveils the word as facade which can be broken apart and reconstituted, and with this, so can the reality that the text presents…

the original cut-up before I typed it up

2 thoughts on “the madman’s inkwell (poem constructed using William Burroughs’s cut-up technique)

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