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!


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