Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rebby Sharp on her creative process . . .

Rebby Sharp
ca. 1997/8 with
(Image from Sunset Strip)

A few days back, I posted an entry on Ms. Rebby Sharp's poetry and art and openly wondered about her creative process, specifically, how she went about writing the "exquisite corpse" style of surrealistic poetry that accompanies her paintings at her website:
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.
Since I was curious about that technical point, I contacted her to ask:
One question that arose [in my post on your poetry] was about your "exquisite corpse" methodology. Wikipedia says that an ex-cor poem is a collaborative effort, but I wasn't sure how closely you adhered to that model. Perhaps you could satisfy my inordinate curiosity?
Ms. Sharp did indeed satisfy my curious question by graciously explaining:
I wrote each line as if I were making an exquisite corpse with someone like Jon Graham. Opening a book at random, choosing a word or phrase then quickly making the phrase is also similar to "automatic writing". . . since I was alone, I was trying to include a type of outside influence. After the pages were filled I began to loosely assign a line to each image compiled in groups by size or something, then made a "poem" that suited. I thought the result had an element of sympathetic collision that I find so attractive in E.C. writing. So Wikipedia has steered you correctly [about E.C. writing], [but] no other person was involved [in this case]. The surrealists remain a major inspiration to me in traversing the known/unknown, the coincidental/intentional and whimsy so that I cited one of their major recognizable contributions to the written word. This is the first I have written about the process.
I am honored to have the scoop on Ms. Sharp's own words concerning her creative process. I seem not to have been so far from hitting on her method when I wrote:
A variation on the [exquisite corpse] 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 . . .
Ms. Sharp, however, explored a variation that preserved the surrealists' reliance on a stochastic creative process by opening books at random to find a word or phrase for inspiration.

By chance (so to speak), as I was returning on the subway yesterday evening from a long day interviewing prospective Ewha students, I happened to be reading an NYT review by Gregory Cowles of Jonathan Lethem's recent novel Chronic City and came upon these words:
Lethem . . . once composed an entire essay about artistic appropriation by using sentences pilfered from other sources.
Well, what is a quote but a creative, if acknowledged pilfering? I've often sought sources for a single theme explored among variations. In the midst of these variations the theme was always ingeniously and excitingly retrieved, if I do say so myself. But I'll acknowledge Cowles on Lethem's artistic appropriation: "Another World," New York Times (October 22, 2009). I'll also some day 'write' that poem compiled with lines pilfered from famous poems.

But back to Ms. Sharp, who mentioned -- in a comment to my blog entry on her poetry and art -- that she has also written lyrics for music. She didn't specifically state that she also sings, but I elsewhere noted via link that she has performed the vocals to her own songs. By searching further, I found her voice online singing "Just in Time" at the blog La Folie du Jour, along with a brief, retrospective review of her album of twenty years ago In One Mouth and Out the Other.

Ah, the winged victory of words, over and over and over . . .

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At 11:23 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

There has been a wonderful exhibition in Leeds on the surrealists. It had an original ex corpse poem. What emerged though was how derivative the surrealist movement became...far from free association.

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

Interesting; so it's part exquisite corpse and part cento.

At 3:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Similar with surrealist painting, Eshuneutics -- Dali became banal. It's too easy to juxtapose incompatible objects, for example, but hard to attain, and maintain, the integrating shock effect.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Brandon, you taught me a new word today: "cento."

I now know what to call my proposed writing project.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:18 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I was returning the favor, then; I hadn't heard the term 'exquisite corpse' until you mentioned it in your previous post on the subject.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Let's consider this one of those chance meetings of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.

Jeffery Hodges

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