Friday, April 17, 2009

The Dada Lady of the Sonnets

[Shakespeare: The First Folio portrait (1623)]

Take a newspaper. Take some scissors. Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem. Cut out the article. Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag. Shake gently. Next take out each cutting one after the other. Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag. The poem will resemble you. And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

- Tristan Tzara, "Recipe for Making a Dadaist Poem" (1919)

Shakespeare's Sonnets were first published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609, and dedicated (by the publisher) to a certain "Mr. W. H." This may have been William Shakespeare himself (albeit with a misprinted last initial). Who knows? Speculation on the identity of the mysterious "W. H." has never ceased for a second.

As we approach the four hundredth anniversary of their appearance (and the 393rd of the Bard's death on 23rd April, 1616), surely it's time for Dada to put in a word? Tristan Tzara's famous "recipe" of 1919 is, after all, approaching its own 90th anniversary ...

So Happy Birthday, Bill & Tristan (& Mr W. H., for that matter)!

Here are the rules of the game:

  • Each group of three should choose an envelope
  • All of you cut up the sonnet inside into its separate words
  • Put them back into the envelope and shake it up
  • One of you should take them out and read them aloud one by one
  • The second should paste each word on a sheet of coloured paper
  • The third should type it onto a computer screen
  • When each line has reached approximately 10-11 syllables, start a new one
  • You should end up with 14 lines in arbitrary order
  • Congratulations, you are now a master of the sonnet form!

So, to explain, this is the cut-up game we'll be playing in class on Tuesday 21/4 (Michele Leggott & Helen Sword's stage 3 English course Poetry off the Page).

If any of you at home would like to play it, too, feel free to send me the results, or (better still) leave them as comments at the bottom of the page.

No comments: