{National Poetry Month} On Exquisite Corpses

On Exquisite Corpses by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Poetry is not usually a team sport. There is a beautiful community of poets, and we are drawn to each other and discuss our work and the condition of the world. But Poetry itself has always felt predominately individual.

To prove this assumption wrong, I sat down this afternoon with the poets I attend school with and we began our poems, then relinquished them to each other. To fate. Like giving your baby to a friend you’re somewhat in contact with for a few years to see how they raise it. And then your friend gives away your baby to someone you have no contact with. And then that person gives it to another.

Let me explain.

Exquisite Corpse is a sort of ‘game’ of poetry. An icebreaker at parties. A way to change it up, I suppose. What you do is you begin with writing one or a few lines (sometimes a stanza) of a poem. Then you give it to the person next to you, they read what you have, and write a few lines based off of that to continue the poem. This is where things get interesting, because they then fold the paper and give it to the person next to them that can now only see what they wrote, not your original piece. Repeat. Each person is only writing based off of the line they read of the person before them.

Thus, giving your baby away, and it being raised in a potentially completely different way than you planned. It may end up a serial killer when you wanted it to be an artist sans psychopathic tendencies. What a shame. But how exciting to see how it turned out! You can, of course, blame the person in front of you for giving you skewed information if one part doesn’t make sense with the rest of the poem, but more often than not when you read the whole poem aloud, it has morphed into a surprisingly cohesive and most definitely diverse piece.

The form was pioneered by Andre Breton while he was exploring the possibilities of chance. It was coined ‘Exquisite corpse’ for the first line ever produced by this method: “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”

Surrealists loved to play word games, and both they and Dadaists “courted the mistique of accident” (according to Hirsch’s Poet’s Glossary) in what are called Aleatory Techniques. Aleatory comes from the latin Alea, a dice game.

For example, I set out and sent around and gathered up this poem to make a bouquet of flowers from the fields of different minds:

The brighter days slow into eternal dusk,

and we are living in sunsets that bring an

eternal contemplation: I am not one to have revelations,

but the stars beg me to differ;

I loved the moon once,


the sun and moon have their mouths full, arms

wrapped around in a sort of eclipse

that decorates, dominates the sky and

shifts my eyes out of focus,


there’s an unearthly tension as the sun is tugging on the sky

There’s a strange fascination in watching our world become bathed in the vespers of prolific light

But I’ve always longed for nightime breaths that swallow more sleep than I’m used to.

Light is never still, it seems.


Collecting soft and still

like dust on the sleeves of travelers, this heavenly light becomes so commonplace.


So spit your hate, put it out with the heel of your shoe.

The cops won’t catch you if you sweep the ashes under the rug.


I am choosing to leave a trail of sunlight as my evidence,

disembodied forensics and fragmented truth.


This evening stroll,

cigarette discarded and casting embers of its own,

has become something otherworldly and

somehow dangerous.


You’ll notice that the part about cops and spitting hate is the divergent piece, that sort of dice roll incongruent with the rest of the results, which delights me more than actually disturbs me, because these are the sorts of things that no writer in their right mind would purposefully choose to include for the sake of preserving continuity. I, of course, save the last few lines for myself for a recovery period, but I did not feel the need to do too much. This exercise spurred quite a few more poems among all of us, and we started each of our own poems and began passing them around, while listening to an interesting choice of classical music in one end of the room and rap dubstep beats on the other end. I’d like to list some below, and read as many as you choose.

Sometimes I feel like National Poetry Month leaves a bunch of people struggling as to what to do for it. So few places offer concrete creative options, asking/inspiring beyond reading poetry. Well, I’m not much better, but not out of spite– it’s just that so many poet’s have their unique and quirky process, and there is not many things that are concrete. But I enjoy playing a good round of “Exquisite Corpse”, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. It allows for a group of people to laugh and experiment and ultimately create a piece to share and wonder over the results. The different approach disallows poets used to having complete control from having it, leaving it up to some fortune.

And as Surrrealists say, “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” or “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”

Before signing off for today and leaving all you guys to it, I’d like to thank the following poets and associates of mine [Mikayla, Rosie, Addie, Claire, Nadia, Marah, Jackson, Jayden, and Maddie] who I trust as the phenomenal writers they are for contributing to these poems and jumping onboard with this project: I do not know what I would do without you guys!


You decay with such alarming delicacy

a skeleton springtime

set in reverse.

You were never really alive enough

to expire with the grace you deserved.

Like a frost come too early

for all beauty to perservere.


But you always were a fighter–

what contradiction be found in your resistance

and you simultaneously slip into ruin

(death) we whisper and ignore parentheses.

we picked funeral flowers

for you.


Because everything shall cease to exist,

we scattered the petals.


Your wall is permanent,


silent stone eyes of angels on your gravestone;

security cameras?

Eyes of god, maybe?

What’s there left to watch?



I wouldn’t have to deal with the heat of your hands in mine

if my apartment caught on fire.

After all, fire’s the clean type of disaster,

and it couldn’t do you justice for this to end like that.

You, after all, were made to stitch wounds without tying threads,

leave me to fester

without a second thought.

Unsterile needles and shattered issues

are scattered among my memories of you,

and all I have are memories–

you are not around to make my own wounds fixed,

though even living, I think you preferred to see me bleed.

So I’ve stitched my scraped knees

with thread I stole

from the hems in your jeans.

I assumed you didn’t need anything else sewn.


thoughts? would love to hear them...

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