Monthly Archives: January 2010

Surrealist Games

[Information derived from A Book of Surrealist Games, Compiled by Alastair Brotchie, Edited by Mel Gooding, 1991 Redstone Press, London]

Surrealist games were created to liberate the artist from the constraints of rationality and discourse by substituting logical processes of creation with indeterminacy and chance. In order to liberate the self from common sense, the bourgeois status quo and the constraints over the imagination by the quotidian, Surrealists discovered alternate sources of inspiration in dreams, poetic reverie, games, automatism, and through a trance induced by the “systematic derangement of the senses,’ as Rimbaud prescribed. Surrealist games were able to elaborate complex insights into the human psyche and unconscious by allowing a “convulsive beauty” to reign over organized thinking. One of the various Surrealist purposes was, as Julien Levy declares:

To exploit the mechanisms of inspiration.
To intensify experience.

The Book of Surrealist Games, compiled by Alastair Brotchie (Shambhala Publications, Inc.1991) gathers games and exercises that could only have been discovered in obscure magazines and journals. It elucidates on techniques used by André Breton, Rene Magritte, and Max Ernst and allows us to play and take part in the mysterious and profound.

Some of the Language Games illustrated by Brotchie are Automatism, Chain Games like the Exquisite Corpse and Opposites, and Dadaist Poetry.


Atomatism is the basic and most prominent form of Surrealist writing. It relies on the automatic dispensation of ideas and images without explicit censorship. Ideally these texts follow very little revision. To begin, open yourself to a state of ‘receptiveness’ and allow whatever thoughts to flow, without putting restraint on what appears beneath the pen. Brotchie suggests that if you get stuck, to begin the next word with the last letter of the previous word.

Exquisite Corpse

This is perhaps the most popular Chain Game among young poets. It requires at least three to play. The first writes a verse or sets down an article with an adjective, folds the paper to conceal what he or she has written, then passes the page to the next poet to add a new verse or a noun. This process is repeated onto the next poet who continues by writing the third verse or by writing a verb, then another article with an adjective and finally a new noun. The result should please and surprise!

Brotchie claims that the game got its name from the first verse produced this way:

The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.


For a minimum of three players, the first player writes any sentence, question, or statement and shows it to the next player. The second player then must write the exact opposite of the statement, word by word. The first statement is conceiled and passed onto the third player who must negate the negation of the first sentence.

Here is an example composed by M Sandoz, F R Simon, and M Zimbacca

When my mother swigs champagne.
My father’s corpse gets drunk on chianti.
Our mother’s infants dry up tearlessly.
The moribund waters of my fatherland.
An infant dessicates our universe.
An old corpse waters their afterlife.
Two infants absorb what precedes death.

Dada Poetry

Tristan Tzara says:

To make a Dadaist poem

Take a newspaper.

Take a pair of scissors.

Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.

Cut out the article.

Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.

Shake it gently.

Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.

Copy conscientiously.

The poem will be like you.

And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Explore some more and Have Fun!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jan 11 Meeting: Forms

Poetic form refers to the description of a set of rules or guidelines that a poem must follow in order to fit a certain type. The rules may influence the number of lines, the meter, the rhyme scheme, and other attributes. The Word Shop gathers an interesting list of poetic forms. I offer you a few that we discussed in last week’s meeting.


The Sestina consists of six stanzas made up of six lines each and an additional three line stanza. It follows a complex structure which alternates the end words of each line in the following stanzas. Typically it reads as follows:
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

‘Sestina’ by Elizabeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

‘Histoire’ by Harry Mathews

Tina and Seth met in the midst of an overcrowded militarism.
“Like a drink?” he asked her. “They make great Alexanders over at the Marxism-Leninism.”
She agreed. They shared cocktails. They behaved cautiously, as in a period of pre-fascism.
Afterwards he suggested dinner at a restaurant renowned for its Maoism.
“O.K.,” she said, but first she had to phone a friend about her ailing Afghan, whose name was Racism.
Then she followed Seth across town past twilit alleys of sexism.

The waiter brought menus and announced the day’s specials. He treated them with condescending sexism,
So they had another drink. Tina started her meal with a dish of militarism,
While Seth, who was hungrier, had a half portion of stuffed baked racism.
Their main dishes were roast duck for Seth, and for Tina broiled Marxism-Leninism.
Tina had pecan pie a la for dessert, Seth a compote of stewed Maoism.
They lingered. Seth proposed a liqueur. They rejected sambuca and agreed on fascism.

During the meal, Seth took the initiative. He inquired into Tina’s fascism,
About which she was reserved, not out of reticence but because Seth’s sexism
Had aroused in her a desire she felt she should hide – as though her Maoism
Would willy-nilly betray her feelings for him. She was right. Even her deliberate militarism
Couldn’t keep Seth from realizing that his attraction was reciprocated. His own Marxism-Leninism
Became manifest, in a compulsive way that piled the Ossa of confusion on the Pelion of racism.

Next, what? Food finished, drinks drunk, bills paid – what racism
Might not swamp their yearning in an even greater confusion of fascism?
But women are wiser than words. Tina rested her hand on his thigh and, a-twinkle with Marxism-Leninism,
Asked him, “My place?” Clarity at once abounded under the flood-lights of sexism,
They rose from the table, strode out, and he with the impetuousness of young militarism
Hailed a cab to transport them to her lair, heaven-haven of Maoism.

In the taxi he soon kissed her. She let him unbutton her Maoism
And stroke her resilient skin, which was quivering with shudders of racism.
When beneath her jeans he sense the superior Lycra of her militarism,
His longing almost strangled him. Her little tongue was as potent as fascism
In its elusive certainty. He felt like then and there tearing off her sexism
But he reminded himself: “Pleasure lies in patience, not in the greedy violence of Marxism-Leninism.”

Once home, she took over. She created a hungering aura of Marxism-Leninism
As she slowly undressed him where he sat on her overstuffed art-deco Maoism,
Making him keep still, so that she could indulge in caresses, in sexism,
In the pursuit of knowing him. He groaned under the exactness of her racism
– Fingertip sliding up his nape, nails incising his soles, teeth nibbling his fascism.
At last she guided him to bed, and they lay down on a patchwork of Old American militarism.

Biting his lips, he plunged his militarism into the popular context of her Marxism-Leninism,
Easing one thumb into her fascism, with his free hand coddling the tip of her Maoism,
Until, gasping with appreciative racism, both together sink into the revealed glory of sexism.


The Villanelle blog, has a worthy collection of villanelle poems along with a helpful explication of their form. 

‘Drawing After Summer’ by David Shapiro

I saw the ruins of poetry, of a poetry
Of a parody and it was a late copy bright as candy.
I approach your metal mouth, you put it close to me.

By the long column of a summer’s day
Like a pair of wild cars on the highway
I saw the ruins of poetry, of a poetry.

The doll within the doll might tell the story
Inside the store: the real estate you could not buy.
I approach your metal mouth, you put it close to me.

Violin lies on piano and makes reply.
Hunted words. Gathered sentences. Pencils too heavy to carry.
I saw the ruins of poetry, of a poetry.

The history of time-lapse photography
Is a student exercise. Throttle the sky.
I approach your metal mouth, you put it close to me.

The moon moves outward failing to grip the roadway.
I see you stuck in the ground like a dictionary.
I saw the ruins of poetry, of a poetry.
I approach your metal mouth, you put it close to me.

‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ by Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary darkness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said.
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)


A Haiku is a compact poem made up of three lines with varying syllables. The first line contains five, the second seven, and the third five. Formally, they adhere to nature as their subject.

Consider this translation of a haiku by Basho:

At the old pond
a frog jumps,

tr. R.H. Blyth
And this lovely ‘Frogger’ rendition of the age old haiku.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Voices of Poets

When read, style, tone, performance, and approach can transform the way we view a poem. Many of our favorite poets were still alive by the age of recording, and we often miss out on watching them read their own work. Enjoy this bunch and do post any additional great readings!

(warning, explicit)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Meeting Jan. 4th, 2010

Welcome to those who came to the inaugural meeting this January 4th! There were a few questions left unanswered from our discussion and I hope to address them briefly.

First off, the infamous and perhaps shortest poem in our modern canon was written by none other than Aram Saroyan:


-Aram Saroyan

This supplementary article has some lengthy commentary that unpacks the controversy and meaning that is packed in Saroyan’s seven letter poem: You Call That Poetry?

Enjoy these exquisite minimalist poems by the poet:


My shoes are under the table.



The telephone just rang.



Today is Thursday.


Note! The asterisks were added to denote a new poem. Read more of his work in: (A More Truly Complete) Minimal Poem

Concerning PURPOSE (in almighty capitals) in poetry, perhaps a combination of both insight and pleasure is most delightful. As Sir Phillip Sidney would say that poetry is “a speaking picture with this end, to teach and delight.”

*(((((((Here is a ‘purpose’ driven poem by Amiri Baraka))))))*

Political Poem
by Amiri Baraka

(for Basil)

Luxury, then, is a way of
being ignorant, comfortably
An approach to the open market
of least information. Where theories
can thrive, under heavy tarpaulins
without being cracked by ideas.

(I have not seen the earth for years
and think now possibly “dirt” is
negative, positive, but clearly
social. I cannot plant a seed, cannot
recognize the root with clearer dent
than indifference. Though I eat
and shit as a natural man ( Getting up
from the desk to secure a turkey sandwich
and answer the phone: the poem undone
undone by my station, by my station,
and the bad words of Newark.) Raised up
to the breech, we seek to fill for this
crumbling century. The darkness of love,
in whose sweating memory all error is forced.

Undone by the logic of any specific death. (Old gentlemen
who still follow fires, tho are quieter
and less punctual. It is a polite truth
we are left with. Who are you? What are you
saying? Something to be dealt with, as easily.
The noxious game of reason, saying, “No, No,
you cannot feel,” like my dead lecturer
lamenting thru gipsies his fast suicide.


As to Ezra Pound, has a brief and concise introduction.

————–(((Listen to Ezra Pound reading his own work)))——————-
(((and a brief explication)))

Explication Com A Usura

Please post any additional poetry for discussion.
Write on!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized