Where is the heart of the imagination? Can it live in a single word?

An extraordinary session last evening with the “core salon”—names you’ll begin to recognize here: Melody, Blake and Kristina—wonderful people; questing minds and creative souls all.

Our extra-conversation exercise for the evening was a lightning-round version of the Dadaist “Exquisite Corpse” exercise, in which each person in the group adds to a device ( a story or a drawing, typically), sometimes without seeing what came before it.

Our variation was E.C. poetry. All parties were permitted to see, and to draw upon, what went before…with the ideal of a one-word contribution (and a limitation of no more than three; Blake publicly cheated once, adding four)…punctuation and building of stanza structures at the will of the current “owner”, no editing of previous entries permitted (I cheated once, changing a punctuation and suggesting a choice of a word I couldn’t read.)

Although each of us served as the starting point for each work, and circulated the cards simultaneously around the table, interestingly, “ownership” is the wrong word for our roles in the exercise, because the collaborative effort takes on a life beyond any individual’s ability to own anything. With each word, new meaning emerged and evolved. We laughed. We challenged one another and ourselves to discover the direction hidden in the words, to change it, deepen it. We threw curves in the way of the easy progress, with an outlandish or unexpected twist, or a finalizing, defining use of punctuation. We chided one another affectionately for taking an easy road to the end. The mission of the exercise was not to forge a cohesive work, but to let the poem find its place through the psyches, spirits, and imaginations of the participants.

And each of these small, invigorating miracles was accomplished with (for the most part) a single word. A single, powerful word with the energy to change the course of a flowing river. An example of what the writer faces in every sentence through the course of the several-hundred-page flowing river that is a long form work (or the even pithier disciplines of the short story or graphic novel.)

Each “poem” found its own rhythm, it’s own message and its own stopping point on the cards stained with food and colored by laughter. And each realized itself in perhaps ten minutes. By the time we got to a discussion of how to end, we realized that the end was already there. Each was read aloud by whomever was holding the card at that moment. Whoa.

Want to see the results of this extraordinary exercise? Check back, I’ll be posting the texts and images shortly.