{pf: p7 make exquisite corpses! er…}

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge in the month of March! Here’s the scoop: We’re doing an ekphrastic dodoitsu! The humorous dodoitsu form has four lines with a 7-7-7-5 syllabic pattern, and its topics are usually love or work. There’s lots to riff on wryly about love and work, right? Are you in? Good! You’ve got a month to a.) find an image for ekphrastic inspiration, and b.) craft your creation(s), then share your offering with the rest of us on March 25th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

Yes, poetry peeps we will indeed make exquisite corpses! Eventually. Wow, that’s just not a sentence a well-placed comma will save, is it? Oh, well…

This exquisite corpse challenge was one I wasn’t quite sure about to begin with — I’ve tried writing exquisite corpse short stories before, and it’s like the worst sort of Mad Libs. Our group has a bunch of rule followers in it (*raises both hands*) so we tend to try to counteract that by being light on the rules. We didn’t try for patterns or anything – each writer was responsible for a single line, and that was that.

The Poetry Sisters came up with an order of operations – who starts, who finishes, do we want a topic or a pattern, or how are we doing this? – and then the texts begin to fly.

Liz: Okay, here’s my line. Wait… I might want to shorten it, if you haven’t started yours or sent it on…?

Me: Oops, too late.

EC Group Draft

This month, odd one out, running short on days and sleep,
This month, past meets pride, roots ripped from native soil still somehow grow.
The once-bright future dims. Shadows grow
But there, near canyon rim, in broken light
the yearling hawk shrieked in futile fury
and the steel-edged clouds looked away
trees bow and bend on a blustery day
that rattles old oak leaves down the street.

The imagery is stunning – broken light through canyon rims, yearling hawks, steel-edged clouds and trees bowing and bending. A rattle of leaves on asphalt finishes us – and we’re moving out and away from where we began.

This month, Liz begins, and then gathers images of time and light and rest — things from the natural world as well as things which are impacted during this winter month. I echoed the same two words as I began my line, because I am all about the pattern and though we had decided against sticking strictly to one, I couldn’t help myself. I also assembled elements from the natural world as well as adding symbolic elements from February – the Lunar New Year, celebrated largely by Asian communities, and Black History Month.

…And then I passed my line on…

… to Kelly who is Anarchy with aquamarine hair. She was not here to follow my lead – and I honestly, I couldn’t expect her to be. For those following along, the whole point of the exercise is Different lines, even though I was clinging with my teeth and my fingernails to Same.


This comes up time after time after time. Some of us are deeply uncomfortable with things like blank verse, unrhymed verse, long or prose poems, and a lack of guardrails in the form of meter and syllabic requirements… and the rest of us like to construct our plane while it’s taking off. It often makes collaborating on a single poem very difficult (witness that we haven’t attempted that since…2018?), but it also often gives us unexpectedly strong results when doing something wholly off-the-cuff and new… like this.

And helpfully (?) the second step in our exercise was to… revise and resubmit. Rotate, wring, and repeat – and snip these phrases free like decoupage. Take this cloth and from it cut a whole new dress… Yes, I think we’ve exhausted our metaphors, but look how awesomely we did it! – Laura’s version is here, and Liz came up with this. Sara’s variation is here, and Cousin Mary Lee took a whole new direction. Andi‘s variation is here, and Kelly’s edited us here. Michelle K joins the fun and even brings a band. Carol V. worked in another variation on a Corpse and played along as well. Finally, Tricia’s poem is here, and she’s hosting the rest of the Poetry Friday crew this week, probably (hopefully?) sans additional corpses. More Poetry Peeps may post throughout the day – I truly can’t wait to see where else this project takes my fellow poets – so check back as we round up all the …um, corpses. (Cue lines from Monty Python: Bring out your dead…!)

We had a great group of words, to begin with, but it took a while to feel comfortable cutting anyone’s lines – even though we all agreed that we were wholly free to fold, spindle, and mutilate the original. Eventually, I came up with an initial stanza:


It’s this month – odd one out,
Running short on days and light and sleep,
All this month, past meets pride,
Roots ripped from native soil still grow by leaps,
And rising, shriek defiance like a hawk,
That dervished by the wind, still grips its rock.

(It was brassy-loud and bold, and I liked it – but a few of us had talked about writing a new draft another day, to see how the lines and words moved us in a new moment… so, I waited. Sure enough, Wednesday, I didn’t feel like that bright and brassy winner, so wrote a new stanza:)

As this month’s brightness fails,
Emergent beauty stripped to steel-edged gray,
Shadows, grown bolder now
Erode late winter’s crisply bright display…
As sabers rattle, we get Cold War chills,
In broken light sift scraps to find goodwill.

Not the most… upbeat conclusion. Here, the fresh wind doesn’t rattle us and turn us around. The emergence of brightness has shifted to steel-edged gray. But, even broken, the light persists.

San Francisco Zoo 21

Now more than ever, when things feel like a tsunami about to break over our heads, we needs the world of words to warm us, nourish us, and keep us going. So friends, as always, tell your stories. Write your poems. Say your piece, and sing your songs. Be well, and do well. Stay warm, in this last gasp of winter, and find the peace and beauty in this world – and as always, don’t forget to share it. Happy Weekend.

23 Replies to “{pf: p7 make exquisite corpses! er…}”

  1. Oh, how I love reading your process posts. I admire, I nod, I get lost in it all, I think to myself, “I could never do that!” and then I wish we could sit down together and have a cup of coffee. The process and variations are fascinating to me. Brava to you all.

  2. First off, I love that you called me ” Anarchy with aquamarine hair.” The funny part is, I thought I WAS following your lead, since I read your line as being about Black history month, and wrote my line accordingly. And thankfully had no idea that Liz also used “This month” or I might have fallen into line.

    1. @Kelly: I wrote that line picturing you spitting tea. 😆
      You could have NO WAY of knowing what was going on, I knew that — but it still strikes me as funny that we collectively had such consistent approaches, for the most part. The hawk endures!

  3. Quite a process you all went through and then emerged! Love these two lines, “Roots ripped from native soil still grow by leaps,
    And rising, shriek defiance like a hawk,”
    The tenacity and perseverance of that plant, your line with so many layers… But ah that last poem spoke to me and especially the closing lines, the
    “Cold War chills,”
    In broken light sift scraps to find goodwill.”
    and hope this goodwill happens quickly and stretches far and wide, thanks Tanita!

    1. @Michelle K.: I’m still cracking up that you found a band to go with all the madness. What a great name!

      Yes, indeed, here’s to that goodwill, whatever scraps we may find, and plant, and water so they grow and take over… soon.

    1. @Barb Cooper: Thank you. One of the enduring things about the community of letters is that we literally create something from nothing, every time we pick up our (metaphorical) pens… It always serves to remind me of what else we can do.

  4. And we all, watching, get to learn from all of you! One can always learn from READING other people’s poems, but what makes a challenge like this so informative is getting to read about everyone’s PROCESS…and as Liz says, Tanita, you excel at unveiling process, detail by detail, without ever becoming tedious. Thanks for taking the time. I’m partial to the first stanza, and
    “Roots ripped from native soil still grow by leaps,
    And rising, shriek defiance like a hawk,
    That dervished by the wind, still grips its rock.”

  5. Tanita, I love this space, and your sweet, open, and funny take on life and poetry. It was so cute how you explained how Kelly was not following your lead! Love it. Though not upbeat…your closing line ends with hope: “In broken light sift scraps to find goodwill.” Light will keep finding a way!

  6. Tanita, I fell asleep over my computer last night while trying to respond to Poetry Friday friends. I thought I wrote a response but it must have flown into cyberspace when I closed my eyes. LOL Anyways, here I am. Besides your poems being loud and bold or offering a sliver of hope amongst Cold War chills, the ending paragraph hits me: “Now more than ever, when things feel like a tsunami about to break over our heads, we needs the world of words to warm us, nourish us, and keep us going.” As for this month’s challenge, I broke the rules and had to go with a very modified version since I did not have time to converse with a group of colleagues. If you stop by you will see what I mean. I always love the Poetry Sisters’ challenges and the results of your conversations produced amazing nuggets of poems.

    1. @Carol V.: Oh, how did I miss yours?! Thanks for the heads up. You came up with a novel way to get all the lines you needed, and your gathered lines had that same, ready-made poem vibe that ours did. It’s so weird how it can work to make a new poem out of pieces!

  7. I read Tricia’s last evening, am fascinated by the process, reading both of your explanations & maybe especially how you all worked together but are unique in your poetry approach and preferences. The day to day changes in feelings happen, don’t they? And sometimes the sadness and worry permeates everything. Your changes show that subtly but beautifully, Tanita. I find hope in ““still grips its rock”.

    1. @lindabaie: Thank you. I keep thinking at some point I’ll learn to just write unaffected by anything, but so far… nope. And, really, in poetry especially, I think our external worlds matter – otherwise we become entirely out of sync with our audiences…

  8. Well, first — your narration of our process always slays me, and this month was no different. Thank you for the way you capture it so beautifully, with humor and truth and curiosity and love.
    And your poems! I love “still grips its rock” so, so, so much. And those cold war chills… oh, Tanita.

    1. @Liz Garton Scanlon: I was still reworking the final lines to the second stanza/version off and on — I felt the Cold War chills were perhaps a tad dramatic. But, then Thursday … and posturing ended and the violence became widespread instead of covert and denied, and I couldn’t have revised another word if I were paid… Here’s to clinging to the rock wall of our original canyon, and sifting goodwill in slivers of light.

  9. My favorite lines of yours: “As sabers rattle, we get Cold War chills,
    In broken light sift scraps to find goodwill.” I am always impressed by how you fling around those descriptive phrases and then find something of hope!

  10. I was going to try to pick a favorite, but I can’t. I vacillate between the “shrieking defiance” + “gripping rock,” and “sift[ing] scraps to find goodwill.” The brightness of this month (year?) is definitely dimmed and here in Ohio the “winter’s crisply bright display” is half-melted and crusted with crud. The light may be broken, but as long as we can still find even a bit, let’s follow and amplify it.

    1. @MaryLee: Isn’t dirty snow the worst? And somehow, in a littered neighborhood, cracked sidewalks and everything look even worse in a bit of gray drizzle. Even as it’s verrrry cold, though, I’m grateful for the return of winter sun here. Here’s to following the light, indeed.

  11. Look at you, managing two variations. I love “still grip its rock” as the ending for the first one! And “stripped to steel-edged gray” in the second. The rest of us talked a good game, but I (at least) didn’t get there as far as doing more than one poem. I may be one of the Chaos Lovers, so it’s not lack of Rules that throw me, but I get deep deep into the polishing, and don’t want to come up for air and start afresh. You’re so right about how much we learn from one another.

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