"Borrowed Words" by Peter Wortsman

  • "Borrowed Words" by Peter Wortsman

Like a farmer rotating his crops, Peter Wortsman periodically ploughs words back into the mulch of meaning. Romanian émigré DADA poet Tristran Tzara (aka Samuel Rosenstock, 1896-1963) gave it a name: cut-up (or “découpé” in French). Wortsman reverts to cutups when he's too distracted, depressed, dumbfounded or deranged to write in the regular manner. As the isolation of virtual lockdown during the seemingly interminable Covid-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, Wortsman, a modern-day monk, languishes in the solitude of his cell, longing for meaningful communion. Absent belief in a transcendent being, cutups take the place of prayer.


Peter Wortsman turns his attention to random printed words—as he might to a stranger’s face on the street, a curious artifact in a dusty shop window, or a dreamed glimpse of a hypothetical counter-reality—and makes poems of them, or finds the poems that were hidden in the spaces between them. Untied from their contexts, set loose in the air, the words are allowed to regroup into new and urgent communications. It is the most serious kind of play, animated and fully alert. In Borrowed Words, fragments become a portal into deep space.
—Geoffrey O'Brien, author of Where Did Poetry Come From and Who Goes There
Reading Peter Wortsman’s cut-ups in Borrowed Words is like going on multiple blind dates, exhilarated and terrified by what might be waiting for you. Above all, you will encounter the unexpected, which shouldn’t be confused with the random. All of the scraps of thoughts and images in this book pass through the consciousness of a master poet, so the trick is to relax into these cut-ups and to rely on your intuition. Sourpuss rationalists are cordially encouraged to stay home.
—Peter Johnson, poet and editor of The Prose Poem, an International Journal.
Peter Wortsman's collection, Borrowed Words, is a truly fine read. He has done a superb job of creating an original fully integrated piece using his perceptive version of the cut-up method. Wortsman's poems scan beautifully on the page, Each is elegant, manifestly human, and deeply insightful, and the thematic development of his verse displays wisdom, subtlety and restraint. Reading Borrowed Words unfolds like a marvelous Côtes du Rhône with some bottle years to it—tremendous goût de terroir, subtle and varied layers of flavor, a potently present through line from nose to aftertaste, and a welcome roughness around the edges that lends tactility to his lines.
—Marc Zegans, author of Lyon Street and other books of poems

Peter Wortsman


Author of work in multiple modes, including fiction, plays, poetry, and translation from the German, Peter Wortsman was a fellow of the Fulbright (1973) and Thomas J. Watson Foundations (1974), and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin (2010). His work has garnered a Beard’s Fund Short Story Award and an Independent Publishers Book Award, among other honors.

Twitter: @Wortsman

Facebook: @peter.wortsman

Instagram: @peter_wortsman

Website: https://www.peterwortsman.com/


Like a farmer rotating his crops, Peter Wortsman periodically ploughs words back into the mulch of meaning. Romanian émigré DADA poet Tristran Tzara (aka Samuel Rosenstock, 1896-1963) gave it a name: cut-up (or “découpé” in French). Wortsman reverts to cutups when he's too distracted, depressed, dumbfounded or deranged to write in the regular manner. As the isolation of virtual lockdown during the seemingly interminable Covid-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, Wortsman is "a modern-day monk languishing in the solitude of my cell, longing for meaningful communion." Absent belief in a transcendent being, cutups take the place of prayer.

Photographs of the author by Jean-Luc Fievet
Ghost photographs by Peter Wortsman
Directed and edited by Dennis Callaci
Sound by Jacques Bernard Wortsman

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