Paris Note #2: Word Games

As I’ve mentioned already, I spent last week participating in the Paris Writers Workshop. Not only was I lucky enough to receive a Patricia Painton Scholarship to help with that nasty exchange rate, but I also won a prize in another conference-related event!

Last Friday night we celebrated the close of the week, and the 20th year of the conference, and 10 years of co-director Marcia Lèbre’s service to the program (Marcia is pictured to the left), with a “Surrealist Dinner” on the rue Racine. And in keeping with the evening’s theme, we all joined in a game of “Cadavres exquis” (“Exquisite corpse”).

I wish I still had the directions that we received, but since I don’t, I’ll rely on Wikipedia to provide a decent enough substitute:

Exquisite corpse (also known as “exquisite cadaver” or “rotating corpse”) is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. “The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun”) or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed.


The technique was invented by Surrealists in 1925, and is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Henry Miller often partook of the game to pass time in French cafes during the 1930s.

It’s a lot like Mad Libs, just without the intervening printed words. You come up with ALL the words yourselves. The first team member might be told to write down a pronoun. The folded paper goes to the next person, who is instructed to come up with an adjective. And so on.

At our table, my new friends (and workshop classmates) Jill and Karen formed one team; Jill’s husband and I made up another. Jill and Karen’s exquisite creation (“Our fertile kidneys festered like clockwork”) captured first prize; the one that emerged from my collaboration with Mr. Jill (“Her French mustache jumps where no one else could see”) was the first runner-up!

It was an amusing and appropriate way to end a week at the Paris Writers Workshop!

The prizes: books (bien sûr!).