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Exquisite Corpse


Exquisite Corpse, or Cadavre Exquis, to give it its original French title, started out as a surrealist writing game in 1920s Paris. The name comes from a line in one of the original games: “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” Penned by Andre Breton.

It’s quite simple really, you just write a sentence and then fold it over (leaving part of the sentence uncovered) and pass it on. The next person carries on where you left off. Obviously, you need a few people to do it. Four is a good number. At the end of the page, or whenever you feel like stopping, unfold the paper and read it as one complete piece. I can guarantee you it will be surreal.

You’ve probably already played the pictorial version of the game as a kid, (or with your kids). It’s the same principle – you draw the head and shoulders of a person or creature then fold it over. The next person draws the torso and the next draws the legs and feet.

I remember playing this game in a restaurant in Dublin once. Me and three friends/colleagues went for lunch at one o’clock and left at two. Not an hour later, but 13 hours later. (We had dinner as well.) We didn’t play the game for the whole 13 hours, but it did wile away the time between blinis and Bellinis. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, you should try it. It’s fun. I’ve played it at various arts groups over the years and it’s always gone down well. And, because a colleague of mine played it recently with her flatmates and I thought what they wrote was brilliant so I wanted to share it with the class.

“The clouds above parted, like the Red Sea, revealing the beautiful, chiselled face on the moon. The man who lived a monochrome and solitary life. The lonely lifestyle of a duck on water; the only ripple on the pond. What a privilege it is to revel in the wonder of nature – and forget, for a second, the pain of being alive. In contrast the joys make it all worthwhile. I sit on the edge pondering what I dreamt about last night. The shapeless figure slipping through the doorway, watching me sleep. I dream of my own life, of starting all over again, and doing everything the same. In monotony I finally found peace. Then I woke up. The crushing weight of reality on my eyelids, as I wrench myself from the dark. The worst thing about me is that I’m afraid to open my eyes again, to look up at the dark side of the moon, shining judgement down on me. I thought only Jesus could judge what was right or wrong, but this proved me “wrong”. Everything in my life had led to this point. It was the most important moment in all my time. I finally did it – I took a deep breath and forgave myself for the choices I made whilst just trying to please others. I should have just prioritised myself, it seems like everyone else does. I can’t be like everyone else – or do I risk becoming a shadow of my former self. Oh, how I miss how I blossomed in the sunshine.  Now I wither as the Seasonal Affective Disorder gets to me. I should get a lamp. Something to light the way, from the darkness of which I crawled.” 

I think Breton et al would have been proud.

And the relevance of Florence + The Machine?

This is a post about surrealism.

There doesn’t have to be any.

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Motes of my Mother


Motes of my Mother.

By David Milligan-Croft.

As I popped open the lid of the cylinder, 

A faint cloud of ash escaped from within. 

Motes of my mother floated in the morning sun. 

Drifting off into the atmosphere to settle who knows where.

Perhaps somewhere sunny, like Tahiti, she’d like that.

Or maybe just the bookshelf.

As I spooned some of her ashes into a small ceramic jar – 

A keepsake for my daughter – 

I felt the sudden urge to sneeze.

I froze momentarily, unsure whether to deposit her remains

Back into the large urn, or continue with my task,

And risk dropping some of her in the sink.

Or, worse still, blowing her onto the window.

I twisted my face to my shoulder

In order to stifle the impending sneeze

And lessen any resulting tremors.

It was while I was looking down

Into the larger urn that I wondered just how much

Of this ash was actually my mother. If, in fact,

Any of it was. How would I know if we had someone else’s ashes?

Would the remnants of her dna still cling to these dusty particles?

And, how much of the ash is human, and how much is coffin?

Do they take the brass fittings off first? Whose job is that?

If I dig deep enough, will I find a piece of shoe, or tooth, or bone?

So many questions.

Then I thought of my mother rolling her eyes and laughing 

And saying, “Silly bugger.” Or something like that.

Then the urge to sneeze disappeared.

And I carefully continued spooning the ashes 

Into the ceramic pot and gently closed the lid.

She’ll be safer with my daughter, I thought.

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The 10th Muse


There were nine muses in ancient Greek mythology. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, they were the divine inspiration behind human artistic and scientific endeavour. Calliope is probably the most well known, she is the muse responsible for inspiring heroic/epic poetry. Erato is the inspiration behind love poetry.

Because I love art, a couple of years ago, I promised myself I would do some form of art every day. Whether it be a few lines of poetry or prose, a sketch, doodle or a painting – or even taking a photograph. I think I do two types of art – conscious and unconscious.

When I consciously do something, I think about what it is I want to paint, how I want to paint it, materials, medium, etc. And I have an image in my mind’s eye about what I want to achieve. Invariably, I am slightly disappointed with the finished piece because it never lives up to the ambition of my imagination. The enjoyment was in doing it in the first place.

The second type is my unconscious art. I pick up whatever is at hand and just express myself without thinking about it. Whether it be in words or brushstrokes. I tend to get more satisfaction out of this kind of work because I don’t have any preconceived standard I was hoping to meet in my mind.

And it is this work that I sometimes question whether it is actually ‘me’ who is doing it. Or, rather my unconscious connection to the rest of the energy of the universe that my own sub-atomic particles are inextricably linked with. My Divine Muses, if you like. I am merely a conduit to put the marks on paper, canvas, or pizza box lid. (My muses do like a lot of pizza.)

Yeah, I’m aware that all sounds a bit pretentious and hippy-trippy, but you can’t escape the fact that our subconscious selves have an awful lot to say if you only let them speak.

Anyhoo, here’s what the muses wanted me to say recently…

Frida Kahlo inspired by the novel “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver.
Inspired by The Gorillaz and the war in the Ukraine.
‘Noodle’, inspired by the Gorillaz and Euterpe.
‘Peppa loves jumping in bloody puddles,’ inspired by a recent court case in Russia over copyright.
Inspired by patients at Stepping Hill Hospital where I work.
Ditto for this one.
And this one.
Inspired by the Divine Proportion, or Golden Ratio.
Inspired by Ourania.
Inspired by Melpomene.
Inspired by Polymnia.

I am very passionate about the act of ‘doing’ art being the most important aspect of it, rather than the end result. I see the benefits of this in patients with mental illness all the time. Yes, it can be insightful, but it doesn’t have to be. It can just be mindful, cathartic, meditative, expressive. And most importantly, you don’t have to be good at art to do it – it’s about the process, not the result.

Because, when you open yourself up and let the muses in – be they divine, subconscious, or Earthly, that’s when you really feel the joy of doing art.

Oh, and the 10th Muse?

For me, it’s the Golden Ratio.

More on her another time.

I don’t think there is a muse of epic tidying.

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Ebb & Flow


EBB & FLOW

By David Milligan-Croft.





It begins with tingling pinpricks

In the wrist. Moving slowly

Up through the spongy muscle

Of the palm. From there, it spreads

Its spiky tendrils into the burning cul-de-sacs

Of my fingers.

Until the numbness sets in.





Somewhere outside, a piano is playing

A delicate melody. Vibrations of sound

Floating in the balmy August air,

Drifting off into the universe.





Meanwhile, across the galaxy,

Two spiral nebulae collide,

Stripping charged electrons from their atoms.

Ionised oxygen and magnesium sending 

A kaleidoscope of colours crashing,

And burning in the lightless void.

The beauty and violence of a star

Forming to give birth to new worlds, new life.





Then the ant. The curious ant

Pads across the table.

Its antennae probing the wall

Of flesh that is my hand.

It’s checking to see if I am safe to traverse.

Cautiously, it crawls over my palm,

Up my numb fingers. I feel nothing,

And everything, at the same time.

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A You-Shaped Hole.


A You-Shaped Hole.

By David Milligan-Croft

I was going to text you

This funny meme I saw.

It was of a dog frantic to see its owner,

Who’d just come back from uni,

To see her folks.

The dog scampered up

To the young lady wagging

Its tail, yapping and licking her face.

It got so excited, it literally fainted!

The girl laughed.

I know how much you love dogs

So I figured you’d appreciate it.

But then I remembered you’re dead.

And I felt overwhelmed by this enormous

Bubble of emptiness and silence.

There was this huge you-shaped hole

Inside of me where you used to live.

I sat for a while staring at the message

Until the hole filled up with chores

And thoughts about trivial things 

I had to do that day.

Then I pressed send

And went to wash the dishes.

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Winter Haiku


A skin of verdant

moss conceals the wet dry-stone

wall on misty moor.

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Reflections of Lockdown


There’s an exhibition going on at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery where I have a few pieces being exhibited. Nine, to be precise.

The exhibition is called ‘Stockport Together Again’ and was curated by Arc and Stockport Council to showcase the creativity of Stopfordians during lockdown.

The exhibition was opened on September 25th by Arc’s Artistic Director, Jacqui Wood and Stockport’s Lord Mayor, Adrian Nottingham. And runs until the 14th November. So, you still have a couple of weeks to get down and see it if you’re in our neck of the galaxy.

Whilst I have selfishly only included my own work in this post what really came across strongly about the work on show, was how bright, colourful and optimistic it was. Which was slightly surprising given the theme of the exhibition.

Each piece is 12″ x 12″ and done on the inside of a pizza box lid. (I ran out of canvas during lockdown.) Fortunately, I had elasticated pants for my expanding waistline. The frames are 16″ x 16″. They are done mainly in acrylic with some elements of soft pastel and collage.

The significance of the dates on this last one is they are the date my mother was born and the day that she died earlier this year. I think about her every day. The flower petals in the paint are from the arrangement on her coffin.

Anyway, these nine portraits represent some of the art I produced every day during lockdown.

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The Runes of Scars


Well, hello there.

It’s been a while.

Just thought I’d share a few haiku with the class.

Languid river flows

past weeping willows and pink

cherry blossom trees.

_________________________

Vapour trails scratch the

deep, blue sky – a pair of larks

glide without a trace.

_________________________

Was it a petal

or a butterfly, caught on

a summer zephyr?

_________________________

Then, there’s this…

I tried to flesh it out into a haiku. But the more words I added, the less powerful they became. So, I’ll leave it alone.

Suffering is written in the runes of scars.

__________________________

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Blackout poetry – as mindfulness.


What Blackout Poetry actually is, versus what I think it is, could be two completely different things. I could Google a definition of it, but I can’t be arsed.

My interpretation of Blackout Poetry is where you take an original piece of text, then ‘black out’ the majority of the text to create a new piece of text. Kind of like what Mi6 does to official government documents.

I reckon folks got a bit bored of doing this after a while, so they started adding colour and doodling around the highlighted text to add a bit of spice to it.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, the original source material for my Blackout Poetry is a Harry Potter novel by J.K. Rowling. Now, before J.K. fans become apoplectic with rage for desecrating one of her sacred tomes, in my defence, the edition I had was damaged beyond use. (I.E. Some of the pages were waterlogged and were illegible.) Plus we had another copy.

As we all know, books are only meant to be read. Unless it’s a colouring book. In which case, you can, well… colour it in. Or a sketchbook. You can’t really read that either. Or a photography book… Look, the point is, I don’t advocate destroying perfectly readable books for the sake of art. Unless, of course, it was written by Piers Morgan.

The text you leave highlighted – or legible, doesn’t have to make sense if you don’t want it to. The point of this exercise is to practise a bit of mindfulness.

Just pull out a few words that speak to you then doodle around them. You can use felt tips, pencil crayons, watercolours, pastels, collage, acrylics, whatever you like.

You can do abstract shapes, geometric patterns or something more illustrative and representative.

Bit of a cheat this one, as I haven’t really highlighted any text, just used it as a background.

Obviously, actually composing a compelling piece of blackout poetry out of existing text can be quite challenging, but that’s not really the purpose of this exercise. This is to lose yourself in the act of creating something new and different out of something that already exists. A creative springboard if you like.

The original text doesn’t have to be from a book either. You can use a newspaper or magazine. Or your granny’s will. Whatever’s handy.

I’ve done this mindulness exercise with patients at the hospital, adult art groups and children alike.

And remember, don’t worry about the end result, it’s the act of doing that’s important. Losing yourself in the process is the objective.

Now get out there and start ripping up your mam’s latest thriller.

(Top tip: start from the back.)

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Things I stole from Sylvia.


My daughter and I went to visit Sylvia Plath’s grave again in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire at the weekend. (I know, it’s just one thrill ride after another at our house.)

It was a stunningly sunny day and I took the liberty of stealing a couple of leaves from her grave as a memento.

Now, some people might consider that tantamount to desecration.

I must add, however, that if you look at the picture I took of her grave back in March versus the one I took last Saturday, you could argue that I was merely ‘pruning’.

31st March 2021
17th July 2021

Whatever side of the felonious fence you sit upon, here’s a photo of Exhibit A.

Anyhoo, after sticking the leaves in my sketchbook and pondering them for a while, I decided to write a poem about them.

So, here it is

Lady Lazarus

by David Milligan-Croft.

A leaf stolen

from Sylvia Plath’s grave.

I wonder if the atoms

from her decaying, mortal flesh

have permeated terra firma?

Her nutrient-rich essence

seeping into the soil

absorbed by the roots,

rising up through the stem,

branching out into the veins.

Verdant leaves vignette to aubergine,

unfurl to the scintilating light,

as though – with eyes closed –

she stretches out her slender arms

to the glorious, morning sun.

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