exquisiting with nathalie handal

This week’s poem, “White Trees” by Nathalie Handal, provided the first line to an exquisite corpse exercise I conducted with my classes this week. An exquisite corpse is a writing game created by surrealists and is conducted in a group setting. Each person writes down a line of poetry, then hands their paper to another person who then writes a line based on the previous one on the page; the paper then gets folded so that the first line is tucked away and only the most recent line is visible. The paper exchanges hands again, the poem growing line by half-glimpsed line.

Handal’s first line (When the white trees are no longer in sight) lent itself to a number of interesting following lines. One particular exquisite corpse poem started:

When the white trees are no longer in sight
I close my eyes and see the black ones
with large white fangs taunting me

black-and-white-branches-tree-highI feel the spirit of Handal’s poem lends itself to this particular exercise because of its logic and progression. Line by line, the poem deploys its images and metaphors, each one a turn down the hallway of the poem, a turn that leads to only more hallway, no doors or rooms. As the reading experience grows and the mind tries to gather a narrative from the lines, a lyrical logic takes over, and, instead of a linear narrative, what is evoked is the feeling of what is present slipping out of sight. This pattern of impression and shift of thought contains a spontaneity and surprise similar to that experienced in the writing of an exquisite corpse.

White Trees – Nathalie Handal

When the white trees are no longer in sight
they are telling us something,
like the body that undresses
when someone is around,
like the woman who wants
to read what her nude curves
are trying to say,
of what it was to be together,
lips on lips
but it’s over now, the town
we once loved in, the maps
we once drew, the echoes that
once passed through us
as if they needed something we had.

*

from Love and Strange Horses (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010)

Read more about the poet here.

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