Exquisite Corpse: Folding and Unfolding Poetry

After completing their final exam last December, my poetry students contributed one line of verse to a collaborative writing activity known as the Exquisite Corpse. Exquisite Corpse, which derives from the French cadeayre exquis, meaning exquisite cadaver, was introduced as a Surrealist parlor game for activating and capturing the creative consciousness shared among a group of people.

Imagine partaking in a poetry relay where other poets contribute one line of verse, but you are able to read and required to elaborate on only the line presented to you. The line which precedes the line you’re given is invisible to you because it has been folded under the page. After writing your line, you conceal the preceding line by folding the page and giving the evolving poem to the next contributor who sees only your line.

Here is the result of the Exquisite Corpse experiment I conducted with my students (sounds like a mad scientist!). The students’ names are listed in parentheses at the line endings. It’s important to note that the students were not gathered in the classroom when they wrote their lines. Over the course of an hour, they randomly stopped by the classroom, wrote their lines, folded the page and departed. They said nothing to each other about the poem. Amazingly, Courtney, who wrote the final line about the sun setting, had no idea the poem had begun in a moment before dawn. Stranger yet, the second, third and fourth lines describe an auto accident, mentioning nothing about sunlight. Then, in the fifth line, the sun imagery suddenly reemerges in Drakirah’s contribution!

In the quiet space just before dawn (Paul)
the silence is suddenly shattered by a sound (Kristen)
of brakes screeching, glass shattering and horns blaring. (Jackie)
The car comes to a halt, void of all life. (Erin)
The sun peeks through the windshield, illuminating a heart-sunken slumber. (Drakirah)
My skin is warmed by the yellow rays. (Alexis)
They call to me, beckoning me home like waves to the shore. (Caity)
The smell of the water extracting from the salty sand. (Tailanaa)
A warm breeze envelopes my entire being. (Kenzie)
The sun could be my God. (Daphne)
My particles accelerate inside and I shine with celestial glory. (Sam)
The sun sets, painting the sky like an artist’s palette behind the old oak tree. (Courtney)

Try this exercise at a family gathering or in a coffee shop with friends and/or strangers. Launch an exquisite corpse poem with friends via email or texting. More often than not, the fragmented pieces of verse will coalesce into a poetic mosaic.

Here are a few first lines to get started:

  • At night my parents fill the silence by
  • Upon this morning’s warm breeze floats
  • We suppressed the argument at our son’s

Author’s Bio.: Paul Carney joined the English Dept. at M|State Fergus Falls in 1988. During his tenure at M|State he has taught courses in composition, literature, humanities, men’s studies, criminology, and creative writing. Carney has served two terms as President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of English. He is a former fellow and board member of The Minnesota Writing Project, the state affiliate of The National Writing Project. He is the developer and coordinator of Ready or Not Writing (https://www.centerforcollegereadiness.org/), an online program that invites high school students to submit their writing electronically to college faculty for feedback and support. In 2008, he created the Roadside Poetry Project, a project that celebrates the personal pulse of poetry in the public landscape (Http://www.roadsidepoetry.org). A writer of poetry and prose, his work has appeared in The Lake Region Review, River of Time, The Sun, and The Minnesota English Journal. When he’s not writing, he enjoys collecting old radios, planting trees, listening to jazz, and watching The Andy Griffith Show. He lives on an 8-acre hobby farm in Underwood, MN, where his lifelong quest for Mayberry has ended.

Creative Writing as Spiritual Practice

A while ago, I asked, if prayer, meditation, tai chi, and nature walks can be considered spiritual practices. Why can’t creative writing be a practice which awakens my sense of the spiritual? I began jotting what I considered spiritual thoughts into various notebooks I had strategically stashed around the house: on a bedside stand, in my office, in a magazine rack, and in my briefcase. Before long, I had a collection of jottings that lead me to write a piece called “In Search of Wholeness.” I shared the piece with several writers in my church, who meet every third Sunday morning to share our writings.

Our protocal is simple:

  • We write individually as a spiritual practice on our own schedule.
  • We share our work only when we are ready.
  • We do not critique work that is shared.
  • We encourage one another and try to understand.
  • If the author considers their work, spiritual, it is spiritual.

I was introduced to the concept by Minnesota writer, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, who had written a book titled Writing as a Spiritual Practice. Elizabth was one of the “teaching artists” from The Loft Literary Center, which sponsored the event held on the beautiful campus of St. John’s University Campus near St. Cloud. She now does her workshop on Madeline Island, Wisconsin. On her website, Elizabeth encourages creative writers with this statement, “May the rigor of learning to write well deepen your insights, widen your relationships, and enlarge the sacred presence you bring into the world.”

This month, our writing group at the Unitarian Church of Underwood is hosting Minnesota author, Karen Hering, who recently published her book titled Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversations Within. Rev. Hering serves as consulting literary minister at Unity Church – Unitarian in St. Paul. Karen’s literary ministry is popular within Unitarian – Universalist circles as well as with writers from other religious traditions. For more information, see Hering’s website: http://www.karenhering.com.

For more information about her workshop being held in Underwood on Sunday, May 18th, see the Upcoming Events section of this Lake Region Writers Network website. The public is invited to this special, low-cost writing workshop. All experience levels of writers are welcome.

Author’s Bio.: Luke Anderson started writing poetry and memoir after retiring from a career managing nonprofit organizations. He calls himself a “late onset writer.” His work has been published in The Talking Stick, The Otter Tail Review, The Northwoods Press newspapers, the Lake Region Review and has received several literary awards. He is retired and lives in Battle Lake. He is a member of the Fergus Falls Writers and a founding board member of the Lake Region Writers Network, currently serving as President of the LRWN Board.

Southwest Minnesota Read Local Program

The Marshall Area Fine Arts Council is soliciting published writing for its Read Local Program. Books in the program will be offered for sale at the MAFAC store in downtown Marshall for the 2014 Summer Offering running from June 1 – October 31, 2014 on a consignment basis (75% – Author / 25% – MAFAC).

The authors of books included in the program will be expected to participate in a minimum of two promotional events in Marshall, MN during the time period. MAFAC will attempt to coordinate these events with additional promotional activities hosted by local education, community and media organizations. The author or publisher of any book is eligible to apply to participate in the program including fiction, poetry and nonfiction, but there will be an emphasis on Minnesota Authors.

The Selection Committee will give special consideration for books published by authors residing in the Southwest Minnesota region or books with a regional focus in plot or setting. Applications not selected for the Summer 2014 Session will be put into a registry located with the collection called “Other Books You May Like” for customers to find via the book’s or author’s website.

Additional information can be found at http://www.mafac.net/read-local.html.

Crossing Arts Alliance Call for Submissions

The Crossing Arts Alliance (TCAA – Brainerd, MN) invites visual and literary artists to submit original work for the BEHIND THE BRICKS community art project. Artists, photographers and writers from the community may select a piece of artwork created by a Crow Wing County Jail inmate and create a companion piece (writing to art and art to writing) that reflect the mood, meaning and/or feeling of the original work.1

Artists can select a piece of inmate artwork at the Crossing office, 1001 Kingwood Street, #114, Brainerd Minnesota, April 22 through May 2, Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. or by appointment calling 218-833-0416.  Deadline for submissions is August 1. 4

The BEHIND THE BRICKS exhibit of original work with the companion pieces will be displayed at the Crow Wing County Jail for staff and inmates and at the Q Gallery, Franklin Arts Center, 1001 Kingwood St #222 in Brainerd, from September 25 – October 11 for the greater community.  An opening reception is planned for September 25.

3BEHIND THE BRICKS was designed to bring access to the arts as a vehicle for communication to a traditionally underserved audience. Instruction to develop artistic skills in inmates of Crow Wing County Jail began in the fall of 2013, where inmates began creating both visual and literary artwork.

A book of selected inmate artwork will be published by RiverPlace Press of Brainerd and will allow the artwork to be shared and distributed to a larger audience. The publication will be launched to the public at the September reception exhibit in the Q Gallery.2

Crossing Arts Alliance activities are funded, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and grants from Brainerd Service League, Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union, Kohl’s, and the Anderson Family Legacy Fund. For more information visit www.crossingarts.org.


The audience for the LRWN blog varies from university professors to creative writing teachers to high school teachers, memoirists, genre writers, librarians, bloggers, those who just love to read, and those wonderful folks who are brand new to writing. For most of those listed above, the world of writing is an ordinary part of every day.

But it’s not ordinary for new writers. For many new writers, entering the world of writing doesn’t even seem like a remote possibility, but rather it is a presumptuous, crazy aspiration. Meeting authors and beginning to write is a hand trembling, heart pounding, impossibly unbelievable, extraordinary dream. We should remember that.

The desire to write stories began one Christmas, when I was eight. Santa had given my older brother a white rocket with red fins and the letters USA decaled on the side. I wrote a story about a mouse commandeering that rocket and flying it to the moon. My mother was proud; my brother told me not to touch his stuff.

In my teens I spent two summers working with the Youth Conservation Corp in the Superior National Forest and the BWCA. I kept detailed journals that my naïve youthfulness knew I would need when I wrote that bestseller about my experiences. Positive I was compiling potential Pulitzer material, I even remember telling a dear friend to keep the letters I wrote to her because when I was famous they would be worth something. It’s okay to laugh here, really–I can take it. There were novels in my future, scads of them. I just knew it.

Then life happened. Marriage and a daughter. Quilting and crafts, church and volunteering, Brownies, dance lessons, swimming lessons, skating lessons, starfish costumes with hand-sewn spangles, birthday parties, lazy afternoons at the lake, road trip adventures. And I let my writing become rare and sporadic. Oddly guilt ridden, too. Perhaps because my readings tended to exact the same reply from my non-literary husband: “You have too much time on your hands.” The more of that I heard, the deeper I tucked the desire to write. Time, after all, is a commodity a stay-at-home mom might have too much of. But if there is none left over for me–for you, then really, is there too much?

The less I wrote, the further away the possibility being a writer became. Eventually it was something too amazing, too impossible to even dream about. Writing a novel would be like becoming a movie star; nope, sorry that ship has sailed. Then one day at Target I came across a book by one of my favorite authors: Stephen King. Except this book wasn’t a horror story, it was titled On Writing. I paged through it with a trembling hand, then placed it back on the shelf. I stared at it. My heart beat with anxiety. Is it possible? Could I be so presumptuous? I finally remembered to breathe, then took the book back off the shelf and placed it facedown in my cart. I underlined and scarred it with notes as I waited for my daughter at a Fargo track camp, glancing around to ensure no other parent could see what I was reading. I didn’t want even strangers to think I was so bold as to presume to be a writer.

But the more I read, the more the impossible became possible. Even to this day reading that Stephen King book evokes the heart-thumping trepidation I felt as I finally stepped into the writing world.

I devoured that book, then those by Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, and James Frey. Anything I could find related to mystery writing in particular. I took free online writing courses from Barnes and Noble: mystery, fiction, screenwriting, and forensics. Dozens of books and writing magazines later, I attended a summer workshop, which led to a crazy big adventure to the University of Wisconsin- A Weekend with Your Novel. (Disoriented, I ended up driving the family minivan out onto a dark pier, “Why is there water on both sides of the road?” (but that’s another story). The first LRWN Conference led to joining the Fergus Falls Writers group, then joining the LRWN Board and chairing the annual writer’s conference.

And suddenly, I look around amazed. Here I am immersed in the writing world and thinking of myself as a writer. How did that happen? Somewhere along the way, as I read and learned and wrote, I also changed. From a trembling housewife with impossible dreams to someone who thinks it just might happen.

I know you are out there, too: reading this and hoping. George Eliot said, “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” Welcome to the extraordinary.

Author’s Bio.: Lois Reff has published a monthly motivational newsletter since 2002.  She enjoys learning about and writing in the genre of fiction.  She has participated in several Barnes and Noble writing workshops, and the Weekend With Your Novel workshop at the University of Wisconsin.  She is an active member of the Fergus Falls Writers’ Group.  She is currently working on a mystery novel. She and her husband, along with six pets, live north of Fergus Falls by Jewett Lake. Lois is serving as the LRWN Conference Director.



Book TV

Who’s familiar with C-SPAN? You know, the cable television channel that broadcasts proceedings of the federal government along with other public affairs programming. C-SPAN is an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

I suppose, some people are C-SPAN junkies much like I am when it comes to the Food Network’s show Chopped or getting the latest from The Weather Channel.

I guess, I just don’t find legislators pontificating from podiums riveting. But hold the phone just a minute! It turns out C-SPAN defines public affairs TV as more than government driven. Who’s familiar with Book TV? This is the name given to weekend programming on the cable network’s C-SPAN2.

Primarily the programming begins at 8:00 a.m. eastern time on Saturdays and ends at 8:00 a.m. eastern time on Mondays, times when the U.S. Senate is not in session. The programming focuses on non-fiction books and authors. It includes interviews with authors along with live coverage of book events around the country.

The focus is mainly devoted to the subject areas of history, biography and public affairs. What’s amazing is that about 2,000 authors are featured every year; there have been as many as 60,000 titles covered in a year.

Do know that the production style of Book TV is “no frills.” It focuses on panel discussions, book signings, lectures, seminars, and visits to bookstores along with the author interviews. It is weighted toward the subjects of government, politics, and history. As with other C-SPAN programming, live viewer call-ins are featured which allow writers to hear directly from their readers.

You can find information on specific programming at the website booktv.org. In addition to C-SPAN2, Book TV can be viewed via live streaming on the C-SPAN website. An iPhone app streams the audio portion only.

Author’s Bio.: Ann Hermes holds a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism, a B.A. in Speech Rhetoric/Public Address, and an M.A. in Philanthropy and Development.  She has been a television reporter, TV anchorwoman, and a writer/producer of multi-media presentations.  She currently is the Artistic Director for Lakes Area Theatre producing weekly, half-hour radio theatre shows, which are broadcast on 15 radio stations across Minnesota. She also operates her freelance business, Choice Voice, providing writing services for multi-media productions, voice acting, and on-camera acting services.

Writer’s Schlock

Seldom, have I attended a writer’s conference, workshop or reading when someone didn’t ask one or both of the two big questions about writing:

1) – How do you deal with rejection?
2) – How do you deal with writer’s block?

I will take on both of these questions and preface my remarks by saying that what works for me may not work for you. However, as writers, we glean what we can from the fields of fellow writers and editors, proofreaders and publishers. So, take what you will, use what you can and forget the rest.

I once sat in the cab of a pickup truck with Norman Maclean. I had just returned from an overseas tour in the Marine Corps and had on my well-worn combat boots. We were overlooking a field where a combine was working at bringing in the wheat harvest.

Norman looked down and said, “You’ve walked some miles in those boots.”

I nodded and said nothing. We watched the combine as it spun on its front wheels, preparing to make another round, its massive grain-head churning hungrily in anticipation. I was thinking about how Norman had just accepted a large monetary offer from Robert Redford for his memoir A River Runs Through It after having rejected other offers for equivalent money because he did not like how the screen writers had depicted his brother. I wanted to ask him how he had dealt with all the rejection along the way toward his now renowned success and fame. For some reason I polar-ended the question.

“How do you deal with acceptance?” I asked.

He laughed heartedly, and said, “Carefully.”

We’ve all heard it before; “Rejection is just part of the game.” This is true. However, I believe it is better to focus on what you can learn from these inevitable rejections rather than bemoan them. My exposure to rejection started early in life. Having a father who was an English professor got me interested in books and writing at an early age. When I was about nine years old, I “self published” a book that ran roughly two dozen pages. Bound with corrugated cardboard and illustrated by the author himself. It was certainly due to rest alongside the great works that filled my father’s bookshelves. While sitting in my father’s office one day, I presented the autographed, first edition to him. He flipped through the title page and author’s acknowledgements, then began reading at chapter one. The first line went something like this: “They were wet and cold. . . “ Without turning another page, he handed the book back to me. “Never,” he said, “begin a sentence, let alone a paragraph, let alone an entire book, with a pronoun.” It was the harshest, but certainly not the last rejection I would receive in my career.

That’s tough love from an old-school English professor, and I can’t say that it didn’t hurt, but by God, by the end of the day – I damn sure knew what a pronoun was.

Now, as for writer’s block:

I can say that I have never suffered from writer’s block. But, saying so does not mean that I don’t deny its existence. I have successful, writer friends that have confided in me about their hang ups. The suggestions on how to proceed and helpful anodynes as well as placebos for the ailment are abundant.

Maybe it’s not that I haven’t suffered from writer’s block, but more on how I have avoided it or deal with it when I come upon it. I combat it with what I like to call, “writer’s schlock.” Sounds kind of funny, but here’s how it works. If for example, you have a character moving down a bank of a river and cannot find a motivation to move that character to the other side – you are stuck. Well, why not have a winged unicorn come down to fly your character across the river on a rainbow bridge? Reread it, and yes, it is utter “schlock.” Then ask yourself how you would write it better. Usually, there is a snippet of useful prose in amongst your schlock. Sure, unless you are writing children’s or fantasy, the winged unicorn and the rainbow bridge are a bit much, but in this situation, having your character coming upon something that will get them across the river is workable. Maybe not a winged unicorn, but maybe a conventional bridge, boat or shallow ford is more believable and fitting. I will sometimes spend countless hours and thousands of words on nonsensical verbiage. Sitting there and just hammering out schlock that I will go back to and work over and eliminate 97% of as I move toward a working draft.

The main thing is this; that when you may otherwise be stuck – with “writer’s schlock,” you are still putting words on the page. You are still scribbling or typing. This, of course, in my opinion and experience, is the single most important part of the process. Or as Norman Maclean once told me – “You keep putting one boot in front of the other. You just keep hammering away.”

Author’s Bio.: Paul Gremmels is a freelance writer and essayist, whose work has appeared in numerous publications and mediums. His most recent success was winning the 2013 Prairie Gate Literary Festival’s essay writing competition. Paul lives with his wife, Ann, on a farm in rural Pope County, Minnesota.