Poetry Break: Rebby Sharp's "Exquisite Corpse" Poetry?
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.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.)
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.
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 sepiaSurrealistic 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.
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
The tune of flaxen locksmiths
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 . . .