Exquisite Corpses


San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford’s Facebook status messages are queries for the world, not just for his friends. In a special Rumpus bricolage, we are pleased to present Ariane Conrad’s take on the brilliant Slow Poetry of Morford’s Wall.

Finding a new poet
Is like finding a new wildflower
Out in the woods. You don’t see
Its name in the flower books, and
Nobody you tell believes
In its odd color or the way
Its leaves grow in splayed rows
Down the whole length of the page. In fact
The very page smells of spilled
Red wine and the mustiness of the sea
On a foggy day—the odor of truth
And of lying.
And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only
in your dream there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

(—Linda Pastan, “A New Poet”)

I’m an equal opportunity poetry consumer. I don’t care which school or movement birthed it: plain language, fancy—I just want to Get It without breaking a sweat. I’m happier still to get yet More on my second (third, fourth) pass, or when I hear it read aloud. Above all I want to feel my innards free fall, or succumb to an “oh,” a chuckle, a nod. If the punctuation hogs my attention, if the words are f/barfed up from Google searches and spam, forget it. It’s not your garish necklace that makes you an artiste, poem.

All the more amazing, then, my discovery of (verily, my addiction to) a new type of quasi-conceptual poetry: let’s call it Facebook bricolage. Consider the following, from my favorite bricoleur, Mark Morford. In his columns, Mark’s all opulent word orgies, but here, in his Facebook status box, he’ll offer one simple, provocative question, and then sit back and let the several dozen active voices from among his several thousand “friends”—let’s call them co-poets—do the rest.

MM: Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?

You don’t want to know.
Er, it’s not what it looks like!
Ok, I’ll stop…I didn’t know that anyone could see me.
I have no idea. Does anyone really?
Same thing as you only upside down.
You’re not the boss of me!
Sometimes it’s best to not think and just do
You know –exactly what I’m doing
Who in the hell are you to ask?
Don’t worry, I’ll clean it off!
MOM! What are you doing here?
Oh, sorry…I thought you liked that.
Oh man, I knew I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it.
The back stroke
Sure you wanna know??

MM: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Time to take over the world?
Yes, you naughty boy. I thought that earlier.
I need a haircut. Where are my pants?
Do you know what I know?
Probably not.
Possibly maybe
What? You’re monitoring my thoughts now?
Why isn’t it Friday already?
God I hope so
Please pass the…
I think so, but where are we going to find 5000 waffles and a catapult?
Never, no way, uh-uh.
What’s for dinner?

MM: It’s times like this I really want you to turn to me and say

You can go ahead of me in line since you only have 3 items
Check mate. Bend over it’s my turn.
I love you no matter what.
Paper over plastic.
What would Jesus do?
Don’t worry; it’s just a little prick.
Is that a banana in your pocket, or…
Every thing’s going to be all right. Rockabye. Rockabye.
Do you want fries with that?
Spit or swallow?
You can control the remote tonight.
You’ve got something stuck in your teeth.
We’ll always have Paris.

MM: Is there some reason you won’t?

‘cause I promised I wouldn’t
it’s complicated
Yes, because you’re in media
The voices in my head tell me not to
Because nobody has given me a good reason to do it
Oh, I will…trust. Just you watch.
Only because you didn’t say “please.”
I can’t remember the password, for one. And the server is down.
Is there a reason you asked?
Yes. It’s because of something you did.
Don’t want to, that’s why…
Persuade me.
An unlimited number of them.
I might get fired if I do.
Cuz you haven’t asked yet, silly
I can’t afford to
Oh but I will.
How can you be so sure I haven’t?

MM: Is that really you?

All day long.
Not today
Always darling
Computer says no
Along with my evil twin!
Do not look at the man behind the curtain
They’re all me.
Is it ever?
Yea, I know I look different, but it’s me.
Which me are you pointing to?
Who were you expecting?
Take me apart to see

MM: Are you sure you know how to handle one of those things?

Sure, as long as it’s wet.
Handle it… I was born with it!
Yeah…I’m a natural!
I’ve had a lot of practice with it.
Yes. Are the batteries fresh?
Only one way to find out.
The consensus seems to be that I do…
Won’t we have fun finding out??
I thought you’d teach me
Only with rubber gloves on.
Here- hold my beer…
Not at all. I just close my eyes and push buttons.

(Note: these were lightly edited to remove repetitive and verbose posts and stuff. Friend Mark on FB for the unadulterated threads.)

All that sweet splendid spontaneous ordinariness! Like a potluck dinner. Like 57 channels with a li’l sumptin’ on each one. Like the call & response in a Baptist church.

And yes, I’m calling them poems, because that’s how they make me feel. Maybe they even fit within the new movement for Slow Poetry, this big tent, non-prescriptive, please-just-let-it-relate-to-life thing I’m reading about:

“Dedicated to promoting communication, commons, and communion, Slow Poetry offers ways for authors to share strategic insights and information about the geographic, social, environmental, and political situations of their diverse areas of influence. As a de-centralized platform for a description of reality, poets (and others) are free to contribute to the anarchic nature… More politically, SP encourages poets (and others) to imagine how communication in various degrees and situations creates system awareness, responds to interruptions, or prepares spaces (more humbly) for reflection.”

Collaboratively-written poetry generally sucks; the surrealists Breton and Eluard and their buddies played a game they called the Exquisite Corpse, in which everyone contributed a line, to wacky but just not remotely moving results. I’ve done the same thing in poetry courses and found it a big ole waste of time and individually-strong voices. In Facebook bricolage, no structure’s imposed, but something in them (Twitter-training?) keeps the co-poets to mostly pith and a frisky pace. Lots are flirty; many are witty; some are daily; a few are nerdily earnest. (Ok, I admit, this last describe my contributions to the fray.) There’s no formality, no verklemptness, because no one presumes to be writing poetry. And that’s what makes it shine.

You suppose I’ve gone and ruined it?

Ariane Conrad is a writer, editorial consultant and collaborating author known professionally as The Book Doula. She collaborated with Van Jones on the New York Times bestselling The Green Collar Economy (Harper One, 2008), with Christabel Zamor on HOOPING! (Workman Publishing, June 2009), and with Annie Leonard on The Story of Stuff (forthcoming in Spring 2010). Follow her on Twitter. More from this author →