121. Chanson Dada: Tristan Tzara

Dada. D-A-D-A.

In college, I dragged a few friends to a dada performance. It was terrible, in that it was dull and unlike what one might expect (entertainment!) and that was the point. Everyone in my life HATES such things because they don’t get the point, but getting the point is the point (or not getting any point is the point?!). One friend commented, “I don’t like performances where I am afraid for my life.”

Ingrid Sundberg has a great blog full of middle school literature information; she is a self confessed “conference junkie” and note-taker. At one conference author M.T. Anderson spoke about using experimental writing with children. You can read about it here. He mentions Kurt Schwitter’s poem #25. That type of poem is fascinating to me, but I cannot find a text or performance online. Instead, I give you classic Tzara to chew on.

musical performance of Chanson Dada by Noise 292

But dada is a great topic for middle school students. They are so…. random. Their brains go from one thought to another without a blink (my classes are full of kids starting questions with, “I know this off topic, but….”). And, you get to throw their world off (instead of being the iconoclast pushing another Dickinson poem on them). There is a lot of good stuff out there, and a lot of interesting video performance pieces on Youtube.

For you social scientists out there, dada ties into nearly everything. From a reaction to the horrors of World War I (concrete) to a precurser of revolutions ranging from communism to punk rock, dada is a great introduction to nearly any paradigm shift you might teach.

Beware! Kids will use dada to claim that anything they do is poetry. Lies. They are just lazy. The dada poets worked really hard in getting their chaos just right. Sounds. The way one word leads into another. Costumes! Poetry is hard, even for dadaists. And even their easy ones–bag poem–were original; it’s been done now: try something new.

Check out this video on the history of dada.

It really captures the movement.

Chanson Dada
Tristan Tzara’s
Translation from French by Matthew Rothenberg

this is the song of a dadaist
who had dada in his heart
he tore his motor apart
he had dada in his heart

the elevator lugged a king
he was a lumpy frail machine
he cut his right arm to the bone
sent it to the pope in rome

that’s why later
the elevator
had no more dada in its heart

eat your chocolate
wash your brain
gulp some rain


this is the song of a bicyclist
who loved dada from the start
she therefore was a dadaist
like all with dada in their heart

but her husband on new year’s day
learned everything & in a crisis
sent to the vatican right away
their two bodies in two suitcases

nor the bicyclist
nor the man
was ever happy or sad again

drink some bird’s milk
wash your sweets
eat your meat


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