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The History of Exquisite Corpse

Add a line to the Exquisite Corpse Poem (started in 2000!)

What is Exquisite Corpse?

Exquisite Corpse is a writing game that originated in the Surrealist movement of the early 20th century. The game involves a group of writers who each contribute a sentence or phrase to a collective work without being able to see what the other writers have written. The result is often a strange and nonsensical composition that can spark the imagination and creativity of the writers involved.

The Origins of Exquisite Corpse

The exquisite corpse, also known as the "cadavre exquis" in French, was originally a Surrealist drawing game that was first played by the Surrealist artists in Paris in the 1920s. The game is believed to have originated with the Surrealist artist André Breton who was a leading figure in the Surrealist movement. Breton was inspired by a childhood game in which he and his friends would take turns drawing on a sheet of paper, with each person only being able to see a portion of the previous drawing. Surrealist artists and writers, including Andre Breton and Yves Tanguy, would gather together and play the game to generate creative ideas for their own works.

The Name: Exquisite Corpse

The name of the game comes from one of the first phrases that was drawn by the group during a game. The phrase was "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau" (which translates to "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine"). This phrase was drawn by several of the Surrealist artists, including Breton, Louis Aragon, and Paul Éluard.

The Purpose of Exquisite Corpse

The game of the exquisite corpse quickly became a popular pastime among the Surrealist artists, who would often play it at their gatherings. It was seen as a way to to break free from the constraints of traditional art and to explore the unconscious mind, to tap into their collective unconscious and to create art that was unexpected and spontaneous. The Surrealist artists would also play variations of the game, such as drawing on separate pieces of paper and then combining them to form a single image.

How to Play Exquisite Corpse

The game involves several people drawing on a sheet of paper, each person only being able to see a portion of the previous drawing. The resulting image is often strange and unexpected, with body parts and objects drawn by different people coming together in unexpected ways.

The game of the exquisite corpse is not just limited to drawing. It can also be adapted into a writing game, in which participants take turns adding to a poem, each person only being able to see a portion of the previous contribution. This can lead to some fascinating and unexpected narratives, as different voices and styles come together to create a unique poem.

Here's how to play exquisite corpse as a writing game:

  1. The game works best with at least three people.
  2. Decide on a theme or prompt for the story. This can be something as simple as "a day at the beach" or as complex as "a journey through time and space."
  3. Each person should take a piece of paper and write the first line of the poem, based on the chosen theme or prompt. This should be done without showing the paper to anyone else.
  4. Once everyone has written their contribution, the papers should be collected and shuffled. Then, each person should take a turn reading the previous contribution and adding their own line to the poem.
  5. This process should continue until the poem is complete. The final poem will be a unique and unexpected collaboration, with different voices and styles coming together to create a narrative that is unlike anything that could have been created by a single person.

How can playing Exquisite Corpse help writers today?

Today, modern poets can enjoy the Exquisite Corpse game by gathering together with a group of fellow writers and taking turns adding lines or phrases to a shared composition. The game can be played in person or online here @ Add to the Exquisite Corpse poem!

Playing the Exquisite Corpse game can be a fun and exciting way for poets to challenge themselves and develop their creativity. By contributing to a collective work without being able to see what others have written, and seeing how the collective work evolves over time, poets can push themselves to think outside the box and come up with unique and unexpected ideas. Poets can gain a better understanding of the different ways that individual writers contribute to a collaborative work and the ways in which different perspectives can come together to create something truly unique.

The game of the exquisite corpse has had a lasting influence on the Surrealist movement and on modern art. It's a fascinating part of literary history and a valuable tool for modern poets looking to challenge themselves and develop their creativity. Many artists have been inspired by the game and have used it as a starting point for their own creative explorations. The game continues to be played by artists and non-artists alike, as a fun and intriguing way to create unique and surprising images. Whether played in person or online, the game provides an exciting and engaging way for poets to generate unique ideas and explore the creative process.

More Exquisite Corpse history, from wikipedia:

André Breton writes that the game developed at the residence of friends in an old house at 54 rue du Chateau (no longer existing). In the beginning were Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, Benjamin Péret, Pierre Reverdy, and André Breton. Other participants probably included Max Morise, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Simone Collinet, Tristan Tzara, Georges Hugnet, René Char, Paul Éluard, and Nusch Éluard.

Henry Miller often partook of the game to pass time in French cafés during the 1930s.

from Wikipedia, Exquisite Corpse