Tag Archives: Writing
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.
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’.
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
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.
Looks like I’m back on track for my quarterly review. Which is a bit tardy really, as I used to try to do a couple of blog posts a month. That’s the price of working in a hospital for a living, eh.
I still do art every day mind. (It’s a promise I made to myself a couple of years ago.) Now, when I say ‘art’, it can be doodling for 15 minutes, writing a piece of poetry or prose, taking photographs, or starting a painting.
And the reason I made myself that promise is because art is the thing I enjoy doing most. The key word there being ‘doing’. So I just concentrate on the process of doing art rather than the end result. Obviously, it’s nice when the end result turns out to be something you’re pleased with, but that isn’t the objective. The only point to it is to be lost in the process of doing something I love. I think they call it mindfulness nowadays.
Some people might achieve the same pleasure from meditating or gardening. For others, it might be walking in nature or reading. Whatever it is you love doing, try to make time for it – even for ten minutes, you’ll feel better for it.
Right then, what’s all that rambling got to do with these scribbles then? Well, I was getting ready for work one morning and I had about 15 minutes to spare, so I did a quick sketch with a felt tip pen. I then went over the lines with a paintbrush dipped in water so that the ink bled. And this is what came out. So I did a few more over the next few days and I was quite pleased with the process and the result. I appreciate they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I don’t like tea anyway, so there. I prefer fresh coffee.
A common theme in these pictures (and a lot of my other work) is that the person who is the point of focus is reacting to something unseen that is out of the image and it is up to you the viewer to wonder what that might be.
The last one I did, (which is the one at the top on brown paper), took a little bit longer because I thought about it a bit more and used soft pastel as well as ink and water.
Top tip: the coarser the paper, the more the ink will bleed. If you’re doing it on fine paper it probably won’t bleed much and you’ll just have a soggy drawing.
I’m going through a bit of a Greek mythology phase at the moment. I’m fascinated by the myriad of ‘minor’ deities they have to represent nature – they literally have thousands.
While going for a walk in the woods down by the river, I got to thinking about ancient Greece and – if I were alive back then – how many deities I would be walking amongst.
So I wrote a poem about it.
Hope you like it. Stay safe and well during these turbulent times under lockdown.
A WALK AMONG THE GODS
By David Milligan-Croft.
On my morning walk, the goddess of the forest
Spread her roots before me to form a stairway,
So that I may walk down the steep slope of the valley
To where the river naiads skittered above rocks,
Meandering over Gaea’s flesh toward the open arms of Thalassa.
The sun goddess winked and flickered through the branches,
Scintillating off the peaks of the river’s crown.
The sky goddess held up her sister
Enveloping her in a lustrous, cerulean blue cloak.
The goddess of the wind chastised the reeds on the riverbank,
Tousled the leaves in the trees and held aloft the birds,
Who sang their song to the nymphs and protogenoi,
As automobiles droned in the distance, oblivious to the rapture
Of the forest.
That’d make me the Devil then.
Oh well, I’ve been called worse.
Here’s a fun (yes, fun) writing game for kids and growed ups alike.
First off, draw around your hand.
No, the other one. The one you don’t write with.
Next, you’re going to write a word in each finger.
- Think of an object, (such as a lamp, table, doll, trombone, necklace etc), and write it in your pinky finger. Don’t think too hard about it, whatever pops into your mind.
- Think of a colour. Write that in your ring finger.
- Name a place. Could be a town, a country or somewhere specific, like a treehouse. Write that in your middle finger. (And, don’t show the middle finger to your parents.)
- Think of a shape. (Circle, triangle, hexagon, sphere, etc.) Write that in your index finger.
- Finally, think of an emotion. (Happy, content, isolated, frustrated, sad, etc.) Write that in your thumb.
Now for the writing exercise.
Write a paragraph that incorporates all of the words you have written in your digits.
They don’t have to be in the order that you have written them down.
And don’t overthink it. Just let it flow. The sillier and more surreal the better.
Once you’ve finished, read out your five things then read your paragraph.
As you can see in the example above, there are three completely different paragraphs using the same five words.
You might be wondering why there are two hands in the picture above. Well, because you can play it with a family member, (if they are in quarantine with you), or you can just overlap your own hand over your previous drawing and colour in the shapes that overlapping them makes.
So, there you go. That should take up about 15 minutes of their day!
Well, they could use the paragraph as a springboard to a longer piece of prose. Or, like the example, they could do several variants using the same words.
It’s good for creativity, prose, composition, spelling, punctuation, grammar and comprehension. (But don’t tell the kids this, or they won’t want to do it!)
Well, it’s been an eventful year, to say the least.
I’ve been doing a lot more visual arts this year, so I thought I’d do a month-by-month, blow-by-blow, pictorial representation of my year. (Lucky you.)
Actually, the reason behind it is to see if/how the images/moods have changed over the course of the year. And how that might correlate to my mental health.
As some of you know, I volunteer for an arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), which works with people with mental health issues. I am an ardent advocate of the arts as a medium to treat mental health, and wellbeing in general.
Many years ago, I visted the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and you could see the gradual decline in his mental health through his work.
Whilst I’m no Van Gogh, I am trying to see if there are any similar patterns to my own work.
Let’s have a look, shall we?
And before I forget; Have a Happy New Year and an absolutely spectacular 2020.
Oh dear… that’s not a good start.
That’s a bit more positive. Birthday trip to Haworth, West Yorkshire, (home of the Brontes’), with my daughters.
Pros: Part of an Arc exhibition. Cons: Became homeless.
Ee, it’s grim up north. Charcoal sketch of an L.S. Lowry.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
Think I can see a pattern emerging.
I guess a lot of things are obvious in hindsight.
The road to recovery.
Signs of improvement.
There are always reminders.
A change of outlook.
As you can see, it’s been a tumultuous year.
I feel very fortunate to be able to experience the last day of it. That would not have been possible were it not for the actions of my dear friend, Siobhan Costigan, over in Australia. Her, and my friends, family, NHS, Stepping Hill Hospital, Pathfinder, AA, The Wellspring and Arc have all played their part in saving my life and helping me to recover. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
As of 31/12/2019, I am 140 days abstinent. I feel completely blessed that I have been able to experience 140 days on Earth with my daughters, family and friends that I might not have been able to. I am truly a lucky man.
I wish you all a magnificent 2020; may the forthcoming decade bring you everything that you hope and dream for.
If you, or a loved one, are going through a difficult time, there are organisations out there who can help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength that you have managed to hold on this far. And remember, if things get so bad, go to your nearest A&E dept., they will take care of you just like any other patient.
The Samaritans call 116 123
NHS call 111 or 999
Alcoholics Anonymous call 0800 917 7650
I’ve written a couple of pieces of flash fiction, about 100 words apiece. The first one is about the state of globilisation and the trashing of the planet. The second is about refugees in the Mediterranean.
Heaven or Hell?
When I was floating around in the uterus, the Universe asked me a question, “There are two worlds you can choose to live in: The first has rivers, lakes and oceans teeming with all kinds of fish. It has mountains and forests where wild animals graze. It has fertile fields where you can grow all manner of crops.
“The second is ravaged by war, famine and inequality. Corporations strip the planet of its resources for their own profit. 1% of the population controls 98% of its wealth. But you will not be one of them.
“So, which will it be? Heaven, or hell?”
The boat is taking on water. There is no land in sight which they could swim to. There’s no coast guard on the horizon, nor search and rescue helicopter in the stormy sky. There are no life jackets for the refugees on board. The fifty-four men, women and children who fled war, famine and persecution are crammed into a lifeboat meant for thirty. They cling to hope like they cling to the gunwale slipping beneath the surface of the inky-black sea. The children search their parents’ eyes pleadingly. “It’s going to be all right, isn’t it, Mama?”
This one is from a notebook going back to 1998.
It needed considerably more tinkering with than some of my previous ones.
If anyone else is suffering from writer’s block, I would definitely recommend revisiting some of your old notebooks or files to help ease you back in. It’s part editing, part writing.
By David Milligan-Croft
After a tearful embrace at passport control,
I walk through the departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle.
I head to duty free to pick up a carton of cigarettes,
And a giant Toblerone. I don’t know who the Toblerone is for,
But it’s getting close to Christmas, and a giant Toblerone
Always comes in handy at Christmas.
I pick out some Chanel sunglasses
To give to you on my next trip over. I know you’ll love them,
Because I saw you trying them on once at Heathrow,
On our way to America. Then,
Out of nowhere, I am engulfed by your essence.
A surge of adrenalin makes my heart pound and my legs almost buckle.
I spin, dizzily, to see if you are there. I scan the crowd,
Trying to spot your beautiful face amongst the throng of passengers.
Then I am consumed by sorrow, when I realise
I am standing beside the Yves Saint Laurent perfume counter.
For more of my poetry, click on the image below.
Whilst rummaging through a musty old cardboard box, I came across some more notebooks.
I found a couple more poems whose jib I liked the cut of so I reworked them. This is one from around 2003.
Driven to Distraction
By David Milligan-Croft
I am trying to avoid your gaze,
When you look up from your desk.
I am trying to ignore you,
When you stand by the water cooler.
I am trying not to notice the way your auburn hair cascades
When you lean over my desk.
I am trying not to inhale your Poison
As you glide by the photocopier.
I am trying not to notice your smile
From across the boardroom table.
I am trying to avert my eyes,
When your slender ankles clip-clip down the corridor.
I am trying to be ambivalent,
About the new dress you bought in Paris.
I am trying to dismiss your emerald eyes,
Framed in dark-rimmed spectacles.
I am trying to be oblivious to the way you laugh,
The way you think – even the way you blink!
And, try as I may to ignore these things,
I carry them with me, every moment,
Of every day.
Although the above poem isn’t in my collection, if you liked the style of it you can find more of them by simply clicking on the cover image below.