Gathering Materials

Writers should be like DJs rifling through stacks of old vinyl in a record shop looking for something to sample. When on a dérive, pop into a secondhand book shop, charity shop or market book stall and buy any cheap books that catch your eye. The good thing about this approach is you start with the material: when you get to making the poem, you've already got the words you're going to be using. James Joyce worked like this when he was writing Ulysses. “I have the words already,” he said. “What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence.” He would ask friends to pick him up books on various subjects, from which he would compile lists of words and phrases that could be rearranged into sentences for his book. He wrote to Frank Budgeon: “If you or Sargent can pick me up any handbook cheap on Freemasonry or any ragged, dirty, smudged, torn, defiled, effaced, dogeared, coverless, undated, anonymous misprinted book on mathematics, or algebra or trig. or Eucl. from a cart for 1d or at most 2 ¼d tant mieux.”


  • Go to a bookshop / book stall and buy a selection of books.
  • Or go to the library and photocopy pages from a selection of books.
  • Try to select a variety of different types of texts: e.g. mixing non-fiction, scientific or reference books with popular fiction or lyrical poetry works well.
  • You can then use cut-up methods to mix the texts together.