“It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled,” wrote Surrealist poet and painter André Breton in 1924. Using Breton’s surrealist manifesto as an inspiration, twenty unconscious minds were tapped in the MLC Gallery on Wednesday, July 22, as Dr. Mark Silverberg (Associate Professor at the University of Cape Breton, and MLC Research Associate) led a creative writing workshop built around surrealist collaboration games developed by Breton and others.
After an introduction to the theories of surrealist collaboration, the group of Ryerson students, staff, and writers from across Toronto worked together on a series of short games or “experiments.” The group started by practicing automatic writing, and were then encouraged to spontaneously call out words for the rest of the group to incorporate into their work. Next, the famous “exquisite corpse” game. Each participant would write a line of poetry, then pass their poem on to the next person – sometimes the previous line was visible, sometimes not. People then worked with different prompts: evocative words, or instructions like “write the opposite of the most recent line, whatever you take that to mean”. Participants were surprised to discover how complete some of the final poems felt when read in the entirety.
In the final activity, pairs worked together on a two-part poem. Warmed up by the previous games, people who were strangers hours before felt free to work together closely, and the sight of couples swapping email addresses to continue their collaborative work was a highlight of the evening.
Feedback on the workshop was wonderful to read; one participant wrote about how “freed” they were by the experience, another about how glad they were “to explore the infinite possibilities of writing.” With this in mind, the MLC hopes to run follow up sessions when Mark rejoins us in the Winter Term.