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Thursday Prompt #11: Automatic for the Poetry

July 15, 2010

This week’s surreal prompt comes from Nicole Nicholson. It’s a hefty prompt, but well worth the challenge!

“I believe in the value of the subconscious mind, especially in providing the raw materials for artistic works. So did the Surrealists of the early twentieth century. This week, you’ll be digging into your subconscious mind for your poetry.

The Surrealistic cultural movement placed heavy emphasis on using the subconscious as a source of creative and artistic inspiration. In fact, the movement’s founder, André Breton, defined Surrealism itself in his 1924 work “The Surrealistic Manifesto” as follows:

“Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.” (from the New World Encyclopedia entry for Surrealism)

Basically, what he meant was initially accessing the subconscious without editing, judgment, restrictions, or limitations. And out of this central idea came several Surrealistic creative techniques, including automatic writing.

Surrealist automatic writing works like this:

“Sit at a table with pen and paper; put yourself in a ‘receptive’ frame of mind, and start writing. Continue writing without thinking of what is appearing beneath your pen. Write as fast as you can. If, for some reason, the flow stops, leave a space and immediately begin again by writing down the first letter of the next sentence. Choose this letter at random before you begin, for instance, a ‘t’, and always begin this new sentence with a ‘t’. Although in the purest version of automatism nothing is ‘corrected’ or re-written the unexpected material produced by this method can be used as the basis for further composition. What is crucial is the unpremeditated free association that creates the basic text.” (from Surrealist Games by Alastair Brotchie)

So for this week’s prompt, do just that. Choose a letter of the alphabet at random, then sit down (either with a pen and paper, or with a blank page of your word processing software), clear your mind of any preconceived thoughts/notions/images, and just start writing or typing. If you get stuck, then stop and jump down to the next line: begin writing the next sentence with your randomly chosen letter. Write for about ten minutes.

Now, you have your written material. You have the choice of either a) posting your unedited poem, b) turning the raw material into a poem by only modifying minor elements such as punctuation and line breaks, or c) using the raw material and modifying it as much as you need for a new poem. If you like, you can post your unedited writing session along with your finished poem if you do either b) or c).

Have fun digging into the back of your mind this week…you may surprise yourself when you’re done.”

  1. July 15, 2010 7:46 am

    thanks, Nicole!
    I’m had a little trouble writing lately — this looks like just the jumpstart I needed.

    • July 15, 2010 7:46 am

      “I’m had” — yeah. a little trouble writing…

      • July 15, 2010 7:47 am

        and I forgot to mention — now I am off to find my old rem cd!

      • July 16, 2010 12:32 am

        (Actually, I liked it that way!) (odd?)

  2. July 15, 2010 9:14 pm

    you know where to find the “off” switch on my internal editor? I’ve lost the instruction book.

    • July 16, 2010 12:43 am

      I do actually know one method that makes the internal editor go silent. (no kidding) Should I say? Or maybe it could be one of the prompts another day? (good question, no fooling)

      • July 16, 2010 5:41 am

        Hi, Neil. Back among the living?

        I was a dismal failure at marathon novel writing NaNoWriMo, primarily because I couldn’t stop myself from trying to make the thing “right”. Hard to get the 1700 words per day when you polish as you write.

    • July 20, 2010 8:25 am

      I know how you feel.

      I thought of this prompt because it’s the exact opposite of how I tend to write. I usually compose and then edit as I go, which means first drafts are almost polished and done. What I have come to understand is that what I’m actually doing (and what any writer is doing) is mining their mind for raw material, and I shape it as it comes out. This time, let it come out first and shape it later.

  3. July 16, 2010 12:44 am

    Interesting prompt Mallery/Nicole. Thanks. Did one little bit already but may do it a time or two more, just to see.

  4. July 17, 2010 7:13 am

    Wow! This could prove to be interesting. Thanks for the prompt, I can’t wait to get started. First, a letter!

  5. July 20, 2010 8:42 am

    I am going to leap onto

    I have five random letters which should be enough to carry me through, eh?

  6. July 20, 2010 5:04 pm

    I’m going to try this as well.


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