Exquisite Collaboration Poem: Into the Forest

“Gretchen and The Bear” by Carrie Anne Noble is available now from WordCrafts Press.

As part of the online book launch party yesterday for “Gretchen and The Bear”, by my friend, the delightfully talented Carrie Anne Noble, I invited readers to contribute to a collaborative poem.

Ten people participating, providing five random sentences in response to five prompts. I then arranged the sentences according to a pre-set pattern to create the poem you’re about to read. Note that no one saw what anyone else was writing, and that no verse contains more then one sentence from the same person. You can read more about the prompts and how they were arranged at the end of the poem.  Here’s what they created:


Why do chipmunks never shut up?
Because of the overwhelmingly negative reaction, she was given a five-year extension.
If only my intentions automagically became reality…
Then we would be so happy
I wish I lived in a forest with giant trees and a hammock to myself way up in the leaves.

Why the cummerbund?
“Because I said so” still rings in my ears.
If only I could see the future
Then I would tromp through the woods without worrying about other bears or bees, but I’d probably always be hungry.
I wish that I could stay there forever.

Why can’t we all focus more on gratitude?
Because your soul is so very bright
If I were a bear, I would be a very hairy, scary bear.
Then, the magic appeared like sparkling diamonds.
I wish more people knew the healing power of the garden.

Why does your heart sing?
Because that is the way God made me.
If I had ever been there, the magic would have no power.
Then you’ll know who your real friends are.
I wish cats could talk.

Why would I ever leave the forest?
Because, you know without the magic my life would be ebbing.
If I prune the butterfly bush harshly, it only comes back stronger.
Then the sunlight broke through the rain and the whole world shone as if it were all new again.
I wish for a world where all people overflow with love for others.

Why can’t I?
Because I said so.
If flowers could bloom anywhere that they willed, where would they choose?
Then she reacted, and unbelievably, my words and my tone emerged from her body.
I wish we could move through time as easily we move through the other three dimensions.

Why wouldn’t I?
Because we are friends, the world is a happier and more exciting place.
If I could travel back in time, it would be tempting to consider making different choices in hopes of controlling a different outcome today.
Then a distant cousin appeared out of nowhere.
I wish I were a moon beam

Why is it both sad and happy to finish a book that you totally enjoyed?
Because fear is at the root of too many decisions, my life feels half lived.
If we could all read each other’s minds, would the world be a better place?
Then everyone smelled like pine trees
I wish I didn’t need to keep paying these lawyers.

Why do deer flies and horse-flies swarm and divebomb me when I’m trying to take a peaceful walk in the woods?
Because of you, I am a better man.
If I ever get the laundry done
Then I vomited.
I wish everyone’s life were as fulfilling as my own.

Why do so many things taste like chicken?
Because strawberries taste best in June
If you see the Piggly Wiggly, you’ve missed it.
Then I understood everything.
I wish I knew why.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


Carrie the Bat
Philip R. Frey
Mindy Wells Hoffbauer
Jessica Parbel
Lisa Godfrees
Tracy Gerhardt-Cooper
Crystal Hayduk

The contributors hail from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Texas, New Jersey, and Michigan.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


This project is based on the Exquisite Corpse, a technique created by Surrealists in the early 1900s, in which participants add to a work one bit at a time, with no one seeing what the previous participants contributed.

I call this format a Word Collage. Ten people participated in this poem. Each provided five random sentences in response to five prompts:

one sentence that begins with the word “If”
one sentence that begins with the word “Because”
one sentence that begins with the word “Then”
one sentence that begins with the word “I wish”
one question that begins with the word “Why” and ends with a question mark

I then took the lines from each person an ordered them Why, Because, If, Then, I wish. I didn’t ask for them in this order to avoid having people try to purposely make their sentences connect to each other. The randomness of this project is what makes it beautiful.

Then, in a round robin style, I built the verses of the poem, taking one sentence from each person so that no one person had two of their sentences in the same verse. (Why came from person 1; Because from person 2; If from person 3; Then from person 4; I wish from person 5; the next Why from person 6; the next Because from person 7; etc).

What was left was a weird and wonderful exploration of thoughts, feelings, and sensory delights that, when pieced together according to a pre-set format, created a word tapestry of group mind.

I purposely left the contributions exactly the way they were submitted (except for one obvious typo) and didn’t edit to make things “make sense”,  because with as the reader places different emphasis on words and phrases, like a multi-faceted diamond, the poem changes a bit each time you read it.

The point of an exercise like this, which I also do when I lead creative workshops, is to encourage people to explore new artistic adventures they might otherwise avoid. Poetry? Only poets can write poetry, right? Nope. Whatever the contributors provided was the right answer, there was no editor or judge, and it all worked together exactly the way it should. They couldn’t fail! What a freeing way to look at creating.

It is what it is. Let’s keep creating! The response was so great to this prompt that I had to stop submissions for this poem and create a different prompt; so stay tuned for the second poem.

Click here to read the series Exquisite Poems done during the Covid lockdown.

To learn more about my workshops, visit my website.

To be part of future poem projects, follow me on Facebook @joannebrokawwriter or join my mailing list by filling out the form on my website.

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