"Driftwood at the River's Edge" by Peter Wortsman

  • "Driftwood at the River's Edge" by Peter Wortsman

Like driftwood, words, phrases and severed sentences come floating by. Part fisherman, part scavenger, I spread my net and rescue these bits of debris from the deep. I can’t say why certain severed statements catch my eye. Floating fragments of meaning, they sparkle and speak to me. And by a peculiar lure beyond my conscious ken, they sometimes come together. The pairings are not always opportune. Some sniff at each other’s nether parts in passing, as dogs do, and promptly part in pursuit of other more enticing scents. But on occasion something clicks. This is my second published assemblage of such felicitous couplings. Some readers may relish the result. If not, just toss it back into the tide.

Turning to the instinctive and tactile art of cut-ups reminds me of how a simple process with text itself can prompt such a depth of discussion and thinking, and open up the author’s otherwise empty mind.
—Sarah Tremlett
This poet’s cut-up poems […] find their roots in Dada poet Tristan Tzara’s méthode découpé, and shares scissors with William S. Burroughs’ cut-up method by which the gunman-junkie-novelist made new poems from old material. Wortsman’s approach differs though from his forbears. Central to both Tzara’s and Burroughs’ programs was production by chance encounter — Tzara advocated drawing cut-up words from a hat; Burroughs cut pages into sections, rearranged them, and sought out interesting juxtapositions. The products of these chance operations intermittently provided revelatory insights and proved capable of expanding past poets’ oeuvres by rearranging their language in a manner reminiscent the Musikalisches Wurfelspiel, or musical dice game, attributed to Mozart, by which one could compose a near infinite variety of waltzes from a small body of musical text. Rather than relying on chance as a generative device, Wortsman reads his source material prophetically, scanning texts, selecting words and phrases that attract his attention, and turning these to his ends. […] …emotionally rich and truly original.
—Marc Zegans
Peter Wortsman self-deprecatingly refers to his cut-up poems as ‘strange assemblages,’ which is what I myself might have referred to them as before I encountered them. But, much to my amazement, they read to me as real poems—poems written with the startling help of a muse I myself would hardly have believed in before I read them. But I most certainly do now. These are works which, indeed, have, magically, been able “to find a form that accommodates the mess.” But what they create is anything but a mess… It is truly, much to my surprise, pleasure and amazement, art.
—Michael Blumenthal, the author of ten books of poems, including CORRECTING THE WORD: POEMS SELECTED & NEW, 1980-2024, forthcoming from The Ravenna Press.

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/

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