A Long History of Generated Poetics: cutups from Dickinson to Melitzah

Kokinshū 606:
Keeping this longing
Hidden within is what hurts –
With only me to hear my sighs
~Ki no Tsurayuki, 9th century

Another evening’s sighs:
Have I forgotten
This hidden longing
Is mine alone to suffer
As days become months?
~Princess Shokushi, 12th century

Literary Forms of Argument in Early China, Joachim Gentz and Dirk Meyer, page 119

… How could I dare not answer them with some word of instruction to you; for, what could I say and tell and with what can I justify myself!? [1] For how can my heart rouse me to open my mouth and speak words which are not true against the Rule of the Creator? Have I, a slithering worm cursed among people, complained against Divine Providence? And, who is this and what is this that I should express opinion on such matters? It is very true that I have learned how to commit sin against G-d: I have sinned and transgressed before Him. Only in this am I able to justify my actions and to rectify my deeds, only in this: that I am in truth guiltless before the Lord, my G-d and of my fathers. And, I have not done evil against my G-d. Also, if I have spoken out of the bitterness of my soul words which are not true, my feet have not yet stumbled and my steps not slipped [2] for the reason of having read at that time horrible and awful things which all ears would resound upon the hearing of them [3], and people would not believe it if it were told [4].

Then, my soul being cast down [5] and my spirit poured out, bereft of words, I am unable to write down everything that was in my heart, because it was not consoling that I had requested; neither words of succor did my soul desire. For does not my letter demonstrate what lay then upon my spirit? But, now I am not true to myself now that my soul has returned to its tranquility. I shall understand my foolishness and I shall never return to folly [6]. And of you shall I ask that you write me also in the future (more) letters such as these, letters of preaching and knowledge, letters of wisdom and understanding. For your last letter, with its flowery language, captures the heart as do the beautiful words of our holy prophets. Its content is deep and requires exactness, and its utterances are sayings of beauty [7]. Please make known to me knowledge so that I may know. Pray, give me understanding so that I shall understand, and you should know that you will not sow good seeds among thorns and thistles, and that your sagacious words will not become lost into nothingness. I shall tie them around my neck [8] and bind them around my throat [9]. I shall inscribe them upon the tablet of my heart, and together with your memory they shall never depart from me.

Behold your brother, wishing you peace.

1) paraphrased from Gen. 44:16
2) from Psalm 73, verse 2
3) phrasing from Samuel I, 3:11; Kings II, 21:12 and Jer. 19:3.
4) from Habbakuk 1:5
5) from Psalm 42, verse 6
6) from Psalm 85, verse 9
7) from Gen. 49: 21
8) from Proverbs 6:21
9) Proverbs 3:3

Biblical verses are sewn into the text of the poem and come to serve a variety of functions. In point of fact, the lines of distinction between the decorative and the generative aspects of quotation are blurred in the extreme. Just as a quotation beautifies, it also amplifies. The sources become the basis for almost unbridled creativity, and, at its apogee, the art of applying these verses blurs the distinction between the extrinsic and the intrinsic.




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