“Scarlet Lips and Sharp Teeth”: The Young Writers Experiment with Exquisite Corpse Stories, Monsters, Blackout and Erasure Poetry

Today marks the fourth day of the 2021 Young Writers’ Workshop! The week has flown by, the young writers have made the most of each day. This morning began with the writers answering the question, “What is your favorite ending to a book or movie?”

The morning question paired well with our first activity, in which Dustin, one of our instructors, asked the young writers to write an exquisite corpse story. One by one, the writers were challenged to contribute one sentence to a story in one minute. There was also a twist to the exercise! At random intervals in the exercise, our instructors gave the young writers one object to include in their sentence. The writers met the activity with creativity, humor, and lots of sensory detail! Read the young writers’ two exquisite corpse short stories below.

Exquisite Corpse Story #1: “The Job Interview”

How strange; Alex swore he had left his keys on the counter. He started to look everywhere. In desperation, he began looking everywhere, even in the cat’s litterbox. But when Alex glanced at his red alarm clock, he discovered his keys were trapped inside! There was no way to retrieve them, and his job interview was in 20 minutes.

Alex thought to himself, I DON’T WANT TO BE SWEATY FOR MY INTERVIEW! But I guess I have to walk…

The location wasn’t too terribly far off, and he would have made it alright, had it not been for the punk gang he ran into who decided to mug him. But before anyone could make a move, a blaring siren cut through the air.

A firetruck sped onto the street, the fire chief yelling out the window, “Alex, climb aboard! We can’t have you late for your interview!”

So Alex, grateful to his saviors, climbed aboard. Alex had never ridden in a fire truck so he was glad his car keys got stuck in his alarm clock.

They hand him a Javelin “Here you can use this to get off.”

Alex looked at them confused. “Can’t you just stop the truck?” Alex asks.

“Nope we’ve got a fire to take care of.”

Alex sighs. As we pull up to the office building where my interview will be, Alex leaps off the fire truck, using the javelin to help him balance. With a deep breath, Alex walked into the office building, unnoticing of the striped pajamas and slippers he had left the house in.

Suggested objects: a red alarm clock, a firetruck, and a javelin

Exquisite Corpse Story #2: “The Room”

         I was so close to the front of the line. “Oh my gosh,” I complained to my mother. “How long is this going to take?”

         Just as the man was about to take our tickets, he muttered something about taking a break or whatever and left, leaving us to wait for his replacement to come over and finally let us in. My mother looked at her watch – five minutes had gone by – and I was about to die of boredom. But then a tall lady in sunglasses and the ticket taker uniform walked up, a blue coffee cup in hand. She took our tickets and pointed to the third door from the left. Strange…Everyone else had gone in on the right.

My mother and I went into the door. It led us down a long hallway, no light at the end of the tunnel, and we finally got to the door. A man stood there, tall and imposing. “Oh, it’s you.” He scowled. “You’re not supposed to be here.” But the door behind us shut with a resounding click; there was no way to leave.

I started to panic. “MOM. What is happening? Why’re we here?” We were just supposed to get on that dumb ride, but now we’re here. I start banging at the door. As the man motioned for us to follow, we nervously walked further into the dark room.

Right as I started to calm down a little, a skateboard appeared under my foot and took my feet out from under me. As I hit the floor, everything went black. I sat up in shock glancing around the room for any sign to prove what had just happened. I lay back down on my pillow drifting off into what would hopefully be a less chaotic dream.

Instead, I am back in the room. My mom is sitting next to me, I slowly sit up. There is still no light. How do we get out?

I notice a set of uneven parallel bars across the room from where I sit. Can I squeeze through them? I walk to the bars hoping I can get through them. I squeeze through the bars easily; my mother does the same.

“Do you think we can get through there? Pancakes are ready,” my mom says.

Huh? I jolt awake again to the delicious smell of cooked blueberry pancakes and maple syrup. All is well.

Suggested objects: a blue coffee cup, a skateboard, and uneven parallel bars

After the exquisite corpse activity, the young writers were asked to recreate photos of Olympic athletes in celebration of the upcoming summer Olympics. The writers used their pets, household items, and ingenuity to recreate the Olympic images. They all deserve gold medals for their creativity!

After lunch, Amaranth Borsuk – today’s visiting writer – stopped by and discussed erasure poetry with the young writers. Amaranth is a poet interested in the textual materiality of poems; she is an associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell where she also serves as Associate Director of the MFA in Creative Writing in Poetics. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in Writing Technologies, Journal for Cultural and Religious TheorySlope, and Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion. Amaranth’s poems have recently appeared in the Los Angeles ReviewSeattle Review of BooksViz: Inter-ArtsBombay Gin, Bat City Review, Berfrois, and Chicago Review, among other journals.

Amaranth shared strategies on how to create erasure and blackout poetry with the young writers. First, the writers looked at examples of blackout poems; they thought about how the images, sounds, and words in the poems inspired emotional reactions.

The writers then took pages from novels we sent them in advance – such as Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein – to black out or erase certain words and generate a poem from the remaining words. They made haunting, beautiful, thought provoking poems out of their pages!

“Deformity, displeasing, born with fear…Shall I give you a light?”
“Mr. Jekyll had long been a lover of Mr. Hyde.”
“Silence strained, the opposite of warm.”
“Such a friend I once had.”

At the end of the day, the young writers answered the question, “What are you most looking forward to in the Olympics?” Checkout their responses in the image below!

There’s only one day left of the 2021 Young Writers’ Workshop! If you would like to attend the young writers’ reading tomorrow (Friday, 6/25) from 2-3pm, you can register at this link: http://tinyurl.com/2021ywwreading. Don’t forget to follow the Young Writers’ Workshop on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

Until tomorrow,

Adri Gordey

YWW Program Assistant

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