Cut-Up About Bowie and Poetry
I am writing this on the 9th January, the day that sits between the date of David Bowie’s birthday and the date of his death. My thoughts are drawn to DB and his music at this time of year, and like so many others, I play his music and think about his lyrics. The Poetry Society has been asking people on Twitter to give their favourite DB lyric. The whole lyric/poetry debate could be explored at this juncture, remember Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 and just recently Faber published the lyrics of Kate Bush in a volume called How To Be Invisible (exposing,, is how I would rate some of those lyrics on the cold bare page). Whether or not Bowie’s work is considered poetry is up to the individual, what I would say is much of his work is poetic.
To see a great bit of footage of Bowie putting the cut-up method into action go here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1InCrzGIPU
Bowie obviously had an interest in language and its flexibility. We know he was a practitioner of the cut-up technique at times: the “deconstruction of a primary text using the random cutting up of words and phrases to form new sentences and thus a new piece of writing”. (http://www.faena.com/aleph/articles/cut-up-the-creative-technique-used-by-burroughs-dylan-bowie-and-cobain/)
Anyway, the point is in the weeks after Bowie’s death, I wrote a poem called ‘Believers’ that borrows from him, and I initially took the cut-up route. However, the poem took on shape and meaning that takes it beyond merely referencing DB lyrics, to make its own points. I don’t want to close down possibilities within poems by over-explaining work, interpretation is for the reader. And so why I wanted the poem to appear early in my collection The Space Between Us, as a marker of tone and direction, and what I think the poem says is for a reader to decide; after all, as the man says, “I can’t give everything away.”
See how many references you can spot in the poem I wrote …
Beneath the English evergreens that wait for you
we shadowbox our past.
The blackest of years
plays hollow through the night.
Roughed up and frightened,
we need an axe
to break strange doors
we find ourselves behind.
to keep believing,
because there’s nothing else
that we can do.
(from The Space Between Us, Cinnamon Press).