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Workshop: The surrealist game

In this workshop video, watch Rebecca and Kate create a short poem by playing the 'Surrealist Game'.
I’m here with Kate Clanchy, and we’re going to play a little game. It’s called the Surrealist Game. Why is it called that, Kate? Well, legend has it that it’s played by the surrealist painters. So Salvador Dali did those paintings, you know, of the watch melting in the desert. There’s a familiar poster. And other images which kind of combine ideas. So their pictures look very realistic in their detail. But they always are things that could never be. Right. So it’s about combining things that are ideas, things that are abstract, with things which are concrete, which is things that you can sense. A concrete noun is one that you can feel, or smell, or touch, or hear. Air is concrete.
People are always surprised to hear that. Because you can feel it. But also, I suppose tables– Tables are concrete. Buses are concrete. Right. Pies are concrete. And then abstract, which, of course, is all the ideas, so all the -isms, all the school subjects– racism, or sexism, but also chemistry. And also, all your feelings. So love. Kindness. Kindness. Meanness. Sorrow. My favourite is schadenfreude. [LAUGHS] Abstract. Abstract. OK. So if we can touch it, it’s concrete. If we can’t, it’s abstract. That’s right. It’s really good fun to play it with a group. It’s hilarious and also quite moving. But you can play it on your own. You can pick those two bits of yourself.
Again, I mean, I think one of the things we’re taught to do to separate out the abstract bits of our brain and the concrete bits of our brain. But in a poem, you can bring them all back together. So what do we have to do? Well, you start off by tearing a piece of A4 paper into four. So in this case, we’ve got cards. And there we go– four bits of paper. And then on your first bit of paper, if you could just think of a concrete noun.
And then just pretending you’re the dictionary for a moment, just write a definition of that noun.
And then, we think of an abstract noun.
And then, again, channelling the dictionary, a little bit harder, we define what this is.
I think what we do now is if we can get a couple of magic extra contributions from the crew. Sure. Yeah. Yeah? Right. OK. Here we go. So what do we do? So now we’ve got a pile of nouns, and we’ve got a pile of definitions. And what we do is we take the first noun that comes off the top of our pile, and I’ll take the first definition, and we’ll see if we can find a poem. OK. Ready? I’m ready. Here’s the first noun. It’s a camera. A camera. Camera is intense happiness, a feeling. OK. Deja vu. Deja vu is a negative emotion.
Belonging. Is the condition of believing that circumstances will improve.
Sadness. Is a machine for capturing images.
And hope.
Hope is the feeling of having been here before. We’re writing a poem about making a film. Isn’t that interesting? OK. A hare. Is a sense of love and home.
Confusion– That was the original definition, wasn’t it? Confusion is clothing for the head. OK. Nice one. Yeah, I like that. A penguin. A penguin is a sharp and dangerous weapon.
Joy. Is a flightless bird which lives in the frozen ocean. Oh, I really like that. Sad, though. It is sad. A sword.
Is an organ over the body. Whew. A hat. Is a mammal often mistaken for a rabbit.
Skin. Is the state of feeling lost with too many options. Here we go. So if we were going to turn that into a poem, what are the images that we’d pick? Camera– I mean, it is a poem about filming, isn’t it? And about seeing things. And deja vu and things coming back. Yeah. And the feeling of belonging and the sadness. Hope is the feeling of having been here before. Confusion is clothing for the head. And joy is a flightless bird which lives in the frozen ocean. Which will we take? Which are very powerful? The joy is a good one, isn’t it? I really like that one. Let’s have that one, have that one.
Confusion is clothing for the head, I like. We can get somebody putting their confusion hat on.
A hat is a mammal often mistaken for a rabbit. [LAUGHTER] Do we want that one? I don’t know. It’s quite sweet. Camera– a camera is intense happiness. And sadness is a machine for capturing. Those two– Those two and I– something. Yeah, they are. And you’ve got that feeling of– if we just take the belonging out for the moment. A hare is a sense of love and home. Sadness is a machine for capturing. So maybe that a nature documentary maker, isn’t it? Yes. Confusion– joy is a flightless bird. The flightless bird goes– Yeah. Goes in somewhere. And that– Where do you want that? In there. Something like that? Yeah. Yeah. Camera is intense happiness, a feeling.
Deja vu is a negative emotion. A hare is a sense of love and home. Joy is a flightless bird which lives in the frozen ocean. Sadness is a machine for capturing images. Maybe you can have this confusion up there. Do we need the hat? It’s quite nice. We’ll take just that. Just that? Yeah. Poems can be short as well as long. Long– and that could be a poem on its own about hats. Confusion is clothing for the head. A hat is a mammal often mistaken for a rabbit. So that’s a poem about hats. There’s something I like about the rhythm of those words. Yeah. A hat is a mammal often mistaken for a rabbit.
Do we take the hare out of there? I mean, it’s quite nice. But that’s a poem, isn’t it, about making a film, about moving forwards. Moving forwards. A camera is intense happiness. Deja vu is a negative emotion. Joy is a flightless bird which lives on the frozen ocean. And sadness is a machine for capturing images. Some of the patterns that have come up through the kind of random distribution of cards are really interesting, aren’t they, that in our poem, we’re starting with the camera, and we’re ending with a conventional definition for a camera. But we’ve seemed to have gone on a strange journey in between.
So if you play this game, you can, you know, do, like, a little haiku with one of the images, or you can write a huge multiple thing, or you can just spark off the surface to write in any way you want. Great. But we would encourage you to play this game and play it with your friends, play it with the people around you, or play it on your own. But it’s a wonderful way of getting started. And it’s a lot of fun. It is.
When writing poetry, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
In this workshop, you meet the author of ‘Patagonia’, Kate Clanchy. Kate and Rebecca will introduce you to the ‘Surrealist Game’, where the abstract meets the concrete to form new and unexpected connections between well known ideas and descriptions.
We’ve added an additional video transcript for accessibility which some of you may find useful.

Task (15 minutes)

Using a pen or pencil and one or more pieces of plain paper, we want you to try this game at home and practise the concept of forming these connections – this will help you prepare for the next Step in which you’ll begin your poem titled: ‘The View from Here’. Note all your ideas in your journal and share any interesting ones that formed. Consider and write your response to the questions below in the discussion area.
How did you find playing the game? Did you come up with anything interesting after playing it? Could you see the start of a poem forming at all?
You can also watch Kate use the same game in a classroom setting. You can find the link at the bottom of the Step.

Course tip

If it’s helpful, you can slow the video down and/or turn on the subtitles in the settings – found at the bottom right-hand corner of the video. Alternatively, you could make use of the transcripts to help you capture any information.
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