Home-Made Glue and the Creative Process Behind “Night-Time Skin Ritual”

words pasted onto paper

After doing a cut-up last week using my own work and the WIPP nuclear waste warning poem, I decided I really enjoyed the cut-up process and the kinds of work it generated. I wanted to do something playful for Valentine’s Day using whatever advertising I could get my hands on. Unfortunately I didn’t come across any fliers or other paper ads in the wild, so my only source was the SF Weekly.

I hand selected the ads for events happening on February 14th in the SF Weekly and then cut out interesting phrases with scissors. I wasn’t satisfied with the variety of phrases and selected an advertisement for a beauty cream from the Tatler, and cut phrases I liked using a box cutter. I used a box cutter because I couldn’t find my little scissors and the big scissors didn’t have enough precision. All the cutting probably took almost an hour.

Then I put all the cut-outs on a big cookie sheet and used a variety of randomizing techniques. At first I arranged the cut-outs into little piles by size and chose from each pile in turn. I didn’t like the results. I removed a couple of cut-outs from the mix that I thought were too boring or repetitive. Then I tried stirring all the cut-outs together, and then sprinkling them gently onto the cookie sheet, to scatter them randomly. Some flew onto the floor. I then picked up the pieces that were on the outermost edge, clockwise, and put them down in a shoebox lid. After one turn around the clock I repeated the scattering process. Snippets that fell onto the floor were also deemed to be selected.

I modified the placement order for too un-random feeling randomness (like when two things appear in a row that used to be in a row in the original text), but mostly left the words and phrases as they came.

Once the shoe box lid was full, I decided to glue the phrases to a blank piece of paper. I couldn’t find any glue so I decided to make some paste glue using a little bit of flour and water and heating it up in the microwave. I added too much flour and made a gluey dough. When I tried to thin it out by adding more hot water, it just got lumpy. It turns out making glue is a lot like making French sauces, and once the flour has been activated with hot water, you can’t dilute it further. I put the bad glue in the compost.

I tried again with less flour in my paste mixture. It boiled over in the microwave and was too thin. I made some more very thick paste and added it bit by bit to the too-thin paste, which did work. I microwaved it again and it boiled over again. I had to transfer the glue to another container and wash the whole microwave.

Although the glue making was messy it probably only took about 15 minutes.

I got a piece of printer paper and attached it to a clipboard. I used a toothpick to spread glue on the back of each phrase and glued it down onto the paper.

There were more paper snippets left, so I repeated the process twice more. Then I transcribed and photographed the results.

People think that the worst that might happen with poetry creation is some spilled ink or accidental pencil stabbing, but I make much, much bigger messes as part of my poetic process.

And that’s how I wrote Night-Time Skin Ritual.