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This review is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

CABARET SONGS TRISTAN TZARA, Chanson Dada: Selected Poems, translated with an introduction by Lee Harwood (Black Widow Press)

Born in Romania in 1896, Tristan Tzara established the Cabaret Voltaire while studying in Zurich during the First World War with accomplices Hugo Ball, Hans Arp, Emmy Hemmings and Marco Janco. It quickly grew as a focus for satirical protest against the war, and spawned a new artistic movement, Dada.

Tzara, both as a poet and as a personality, was dada's leading figure. He seems to have reacted to the untenable justifications for the war offered by Europe's political leaders by inventing his own illogic, whose unexpected diction, self-consuming syntax and paranoiac imagery both criticise and reflect the absurd turmoil taking place beyond Switzerland's borders:

thrust your fingers in the sockets so that the lights burst like grenades
the urubu watches us - you must return to the zoo of intellects
the urubu takes root in the orange ulcer sky
where are you going
juggles windmill hairstyles all the sea-eagles
are cankered
egg-nog

Although today the iconography of Surrealism, dada's successor movement, is more prevalent in advertising and in our visual culture, it is possible that it is now, in another age of casually justified war, that dada is more relevant. When words such as 'crossfire' and 'offensive' have given way to 'friendly fire' and 'pre-emptive strike', Tzara's reductio ad absurdum makes more sense than ever.

Tzara's non-linear imagination might have resulted in a mere chaos of sounds without focus, ...


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