Cut up your words

My Poetry School course this term is Ancient Tongues and Hybrid Texts. I’m revisiting my love of Old English and exploring how I can manipulate and combine ancient and modern words to create ones. I’m fascinated by how our minds make meaning,by imprting and amalgamating despite the apparent disparity between the texts. So far, I’ve written a poem about a man trapped on an island, a spell to be used when applying make-up and I’m in the middle of a piece about body dysmorphia and the lies we are told about what a perfect body really is (hint- you just need one that works)

For this piece we’re exploring the idea of Meddle English – a phrase used by Caroline Bagvall as the title of her book – and how modern English is a construct of French, Latin and Anglo-Saxon. From this comes the application of the cut-up technique (pioneered by the Oulipans and made famous by David Bowie). Our assignment was to take an article, cut out and cut up various words. The results are fascinating. Having my feelings about the article in mind made it easy to create words that I felt would work well in my final piece, and again, the import of meaning happened naturally, highlighting the fact that it’s sound and shape that carry meaning rather than specific letters. None of this is new of course, but it’s been good to experiment for myself.

I’m enjoying learning about a sort of sideways technique. My last two courses were very much around form and rhythm, and I’ve benefited hugely from them, but moving sideways into a new way of looking at language has reinvigorated my creativity. It’s exciting to create something that is new – new to me at any rate.

I’m in that same round of submitting and waiting, and after a flying start to the year I’m in a bit of a doldrum, with all the usual doubts about validity creeping in. I’ve found this course has brought the enjoyment back and moved me out of my sad fug of feeling useless. I’m not alone, many writers I admire have the same experience. The perennial downside of social media is just as prevalent in the writing world as anywhere else. Some days it seems like everyone in the world is winning a prize or having something published, then someone pops up feeling exaclty as rubbish as me, and with the same fears. Very often they’re “proper” writers who I read, admire and follow. I have to remind myself that the snapshots of life on social media are far removed from reality.

Here’s to cutting up words.

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