Archive for the ‘Randomized Writing’ Category

The Randomized Exquisite Corpse

March 19, 2010

I know in at least one class in graduate school, we played a randomized version of “The Exquisite Corpse,” the famous collective poetry and/or image-making game invented by the Surrealists. I decided to recreate it this week, as I am currently teaching a creative writing unit to 12th graders (perhaps surprisingly, they are taking to it well).

The Rules

I divided them up into groups of 5, and assigned the line pattern of “Adjective Noun Verb Adjective Noun,” with articles or prepositions to be filled in only on a basis of strict necessity. Each member of the group was assigned one of the words by the rolling of a ten-sided die; 1-2 was first adjective, 3-4 first noun, and so forth. Each was to compile a list of 4 of each of the words. Then, we started making lines, once again using dice as a randomizer. The student who had rolled ‘first adjective’ rolled a 4-sided die; a roll of 1, take the first word from your list, 2, the second word, so on. This would result in 3 lines produced randomly, and a 4th line made up of the leftovers. The 4-sided dice were passed around the group until a line was made, then articles, or occasionally prepositions, were inserted. I tried to add that there should be no proper nouns, but a few slipped into the final product (I have chosen not to list any of those results that used proper nouns).

The Results

Posted with the permission of all students involved


The sleep-deprived portmanteau slurred a large apple.

The legless millstone smoked a colorful textbook.

The flexible miter box hallucinated a bushy watch.

The starstruck falchion sundered a powerful collar.


Pink sunlight whispers to a rubbery heart

Stuffy archways panic thick ships

Gorgeous blackbirds tenderized slippery dogs

In watery dungeons exists curvaceous fire


A sharp thicket subjugates the subtle rudder

While the hellish follicle defecates in the flamboyant staircase

The smoky peaks imbue the smooth river

And vivacious aglets smoke, unimpressed, a filament


The intimidating vodka coagulated many sorry bananas

As a fortuitous manicure trusted the dessicated hangar

The enigmatic swingset stabbed the virginal mother

And an isolated incubus deep-fried a torn apple

I particularly like the last lines of numbers 3 and 4, especially an incubus deep-frying an apple, because it carries with it a whiff of Prelapsarian Demonology (the latter of which is something that sneaks into my own poems here and there).

The Purpose

Why did I make my students do this? To many of my students, “poetry” means “feelings.” I try to teach them that yes, poetry may convey emotion but if we’re writing it, it’s probably a better idea to start with words. This game makes them work with nothing but words, and it helps move us along in thinking about poetry as word-play.