Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry Break: Rebby Sharp's "Exquisite Corpse" Poetry?

"Lay me down in cuttlefish sepia"
Rebby Sharp

Yesterday, I blogged about the sung poem "Automatic Bifocals" and linked to a website by one of the poem's collaborators, Rebby Sharp.

This morning, I took a closer look at her website, which sets the lines of her poetry not to music but to images like the one above. Or perhaps she first created the images and then composed a line of poetry to accompany each one. I wasn't sure from what she writes:
The main purpose of this site is to share these drawings in the form of slideshows. Each drawing is accompanied by a phrase. These phrases are assembled in the manner of an exquisite corpse poem.

These images are drawn in an automatic way with indelible marker and filled in with oil pastel color. This method was inspired by and approximates pictures that I produced on the enjoyable KidPix software. I have been making outline drawings for a long time.
I'm also not sure what she intends by saying that the "images are drawn in an automatic way," but perhaps she means that she doesn't reflect in advance upon a concept of the any of the images and thus outlines them 'unselfconsciously', afterwards filling them in arbitrarily with colors. The method seems to work for her. At least, I enjoy the often brightly odd but usually cheerful images. (Your mileage may vary.)

Ms. Sharp's poetry apparently follows a similar principle of composition, setting out an arbitrary sequence of lines, each one of which itself seems to have been written not to express self-conscious sense but to reflect surrealistic nonsense. Here's one example, from a sequence associated with the image above:
Lay me down in cuttlefish sepia
My Landau sleeps in the deep peat
Systemic bra propellant
King Oliver's figurative description
The brutality of several initials
Prevail sweet butter in these times of oleogarchy
The virtuous love of big white clouds
"I must hover!" cried the kestral
Stumping for the estatic now
The tongue of a bell may exceed three feet
Wrongward wind down Judas Tree Lane
Sketch my plentiful wings
Rising island serenade
Fly-by-night spot checks
Elusive fiscal sobriety
My stupor, your torpor
Ovipositor thinking
Paleophonic distress
The tune of flaxen locksmiths
Surrealistic nonsense these lines may be, but I find great, humorous sense in some of them, e.g., "Prevail sweet butter in these times of oleogarchy." I imagine this line began with an unexpected pun on "oligarchy" and was written to reflect what "oleogarchy" might mean -- a tyranny of margarine, I presume. The line seems unconnected to its corresponding image, but you can take a look on Ms. Sharp's site for sore eyes and see for yourself.

For the record, Ms. Sharp tells us that she composed the lines of her poetry "in the manner of an exquisite corpse poem," and she has linked to Wikipedia's entry by way of explanation:
Exquisite corpse (also known as "exquisite cadaver" or "rotating corpse") is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. "The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun") or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed.
Or so said Wikipedia as of this morning, but a wiki entry is something of an exquisite corpse itself and could change by the time you access it to check, as each collaborator alters the composition.

According to Alastair Brotchie and Mel Gooding in A Book of Surrealist Games (Shambhala, 1995, 143–144), the expression "exquisite corpse" comes from a phrase written when Surrealists first used the method: "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau." In English, this reads as "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine." That sounds rather like a blasphemous allusion to the promise of the wine to be enjoyed by the resurrected saints at the eschaton's heavenly feast, a sacred meal already enjoyed proleptically through the eucharistic bread and wine (cf. Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).

But back to Ms. Sharp. Although the exquisite corpse method of composition apparently requires collaboration, she does not say if she had a collaborator in her poetic compositions (though she did collaborate with Jon Graham on their poems in Hydrogen Bums). If not, then I wonder if these poems on her website are, technically, exquisite corpse poetry.

A variation on the method, incidentally, might be implemented by selecting recognizable lines from famous poems and arranging them to form exquisite nonsense. Perhaps I'll try that myself sometime . . .

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8 Comments:

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Isn't the collaborator the visual artist?

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ms. Sharp did the artwork herself, but I'm not sure about the 'poems' since they're called "exquisite corpse" poems, which would seem to require a collaborator, but I also don't know how closely Sharp was adhering to the 'ex-cor' compositional method.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:43 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

I am reminded of the work of Don Van Vliet, AKA Captain Beefheart. HEre, fro example, are the lyrics to the song "Bat Chain Puller":

bat chain puller
[several repeats]
a chain with yellow lights that glistens like oil beads
on its slick smooth trunk
that trails behind on tracks and thumps
a wing hangs limp and retrieves
bat chain puller puller puller
bulbs shoot from its snoot and vanish into darkness
it whistles like a root snatched from dry earth
sod bust and rakes with grey dust claws
announces its coming in the morning
this train with grey tubes that houses people's
very thoughts and belongings
[several repeats]
this train with grey tubes that houses people's thoughts
their very remains and belongings
a grey cloth patch caught with four threads
and the hollow wind of its stacks
ripples felt fades and grey sparks clacks
lunge into cushion thickets
pumpkins span the hills with orange crayola patches
green inflated trees balloon up into marshmallow soot
that walks away in faulty circles caught in grey blisters
with twinkling lights and green sashes
drawn by rubber dolphins with gold yawning mouths
that blister and break in agony in zones of rust
they gild gold sawdust into dust


You can find a collection here.

 
At 4:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Malcolm, I had forgotten about the Captain.

There is a similarity, but Beefheart's lyrics make more sense and have more continuity than I'd expect in ex-cor verse.

I have the image of a subway train, for whatever that's worth . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:21 AM, Blogger Rebby said...

In the 80's my word writing was for song lyric application used in Orthotonics, of which I was an original member,Butterglove of which I was a guest singer and Skeleton Crew of whom I am a great fan. Candle Mambo by the Captain inspired lyrics in part to Big Head, an Orthotonic's original.

 
At 5:31 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Well! There you are, then...

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Ms. Sharp, for visiting and providing the interesting details.

If one lives long enough, or so I'm discovering, one's path sometimes crosses again a place visited in younger days -- I was listening to Skeleton Crew back in the mid-80s, in Fribourg, Switzerland (as I mentioned in the previous blog), and here I am again, nodding in recognition.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, meet Ms. Sharp. Ms. Sharp, meet Malcolm.

Malcolm used to be in the music business as a sound engineer, but he now has a sounder job as a computer programmer.

Jeffery Hodges

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