Surrealist Imagery Poem: Tuesday Tryouts

03 Jan

7:33 a.m. — Atlanta

Here we are in our brand new year and the jet lag [west to east is murder] had me still up at midnight, watching CSI: N.Y. and David Tutera and his wedding show…it was late. There wasn’t much on. As I sat thinking pleasurably about writing the first TT of the year and trying to feel sleepy, the thought slipped through my mind that there are fifty-one more weeks. That would be fifty-one more prompts. Good grief! I banished the thought hastily while planning to find more images, quickly.

I hope you all are well. I had planned to take it easy on you, until I saw the flurry of poems, comments and general all-round ready to go-ness in the past couple of days. So, no mercy. Alright, maybe a little. Let’s play.

In comments on one of her poems, Irene, of Lost in Translation, and I thought doing something with surrealism might be fun. Back in the twilight days of Wordgathering, when I had only a couple of followers, and noone posting poems yet, I offered an exercise based on the Surrealists, as a type of list poem. I am updating the post for today’s prompt. I would love to see what you do with this.

I want you to focus on the Surrealists’ use of imagery, which bordered on the absurd, but to them was a truth.

Some of the images below are James Penha’s* and some mine. Read through this list of  images of the kind the Surrealists enjoy:

a sink full of Brussels sprouts
a dripping faucet
a young girl sings a song in the attic
the sound of someone swallowing
a wall made out of fur
the smell of wet dog hair
a bell ringing once every ________
a knife covered with sugar
cobwebs breaking across a face
a scorpion inside a head of lettuce
a doctor with a head that looks like a cabbage
a voice shouting, “One more time for our dead friends!”
a voice whispering
the sound of cotton wool being pulled apart
a boy watching static on television
a mother and child sharing a cigar
a hairless dog
a ball rolling down a hallway
a girl who has no tongue trying to speak
an upside-down tree
a black lake

In the next 12 minutes, make up as many of your own surrealistic images as you can, to add to this list. If you have difficulty, look at some surrealist paintings which to you may look wacky, but to the artists represented a truth about what they depicted. Look closely. Look again. Jot down what you see.

Why practice surreal imagery? Because it is fun. More importantly, if you, like I, have difficulty letting go of convention and the real, this is good practice.

You can go one of a couple of ways. Select a series of images from the now expanded list that seem to you to work together in a surrealistic way and create a poem. Or, choose one image to place within a poem, or to spark a poem.

Here’s my stab at a series of images:

A Walk Through the Park

Mickey Mouse in the nude
walks a balloon dog
along a red river
uphill to a black lake
and an upside down tree
where an egg hatches
a mushroom and cheese omelette
with hash browns on the side
of a pink tiled wall
behind which a young girl sings
“We’re off to see the Wizard”.

Can I do something with the poem? No, but the exercise forces me to be unconventional with imagery and I need that, so take up your pens, pencils, and keyboards and let’s see what Surrealism does for you.

I shall see you Thursday for Thoughts, and Friday for the roundup of this week’s prompts.

Happy writing everyone.

*The exercise is one  originally given by my friend and former colleague, Jack Penha [writing name James Penha, poet, and publisher of The New Verse News]


Posted by on 03/01/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , ,

59 responses to “Surrealist Imagery Poem: Tuesday Tryouts

  1. anl4

    03/01/2012 at 9:54 am

    I like your prompt, and what you wrote, I will think about it. I feel like an arrow has just flown by me, perhaps later?

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 10:24 am

      Anytime, annell. The post is always open. I would be curious to see if writing surreal images is harder, or easier, for an artist.

      Good to see you, no matter what.


  2. The Happy Amateur

    03/01/2012 at 11:10 am

    Hi Margo, here I go:

    The forecast is grim, but a young girl is singing,
    They say, ‘Cats and dogs,’ but they sure are mistaken,
    It’s not what she sees from her dim attic window,
    It is raining men! She’ll forget her umbrella…

    Thank you for the prompt, I had fun!

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 11:35 am

      Hi Alexandra!

      First in for the New Year and with a fun piece. I particularly like “She’ll forget her umbrella…”


      • The Happy Amateur

        03/01/2012 at 11:51 am

        Thank you, Margo, I kind of like that line myself, it makes me smile 🙂

  3. wordsandthoughtspjs

    03/01/2012 at 11:27 am

    Hi Margo, I like this prompt, and I am off to look at some Dali paintings. So, I may add to the list. See you with something soon.

    It is great to have you back!

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 11:41 am

      Dali should present plenty of fodder for surreal imagery, Pamela. I do love Dali. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

      Another possibility I just now thought of as an option, is to take a single surreal image and use it against a real situation, or description. The same would work with two or three images, as if they are metaphors for what is written.

      Thank you for letting me add to my post through commenting to you,Pamela!

      I am so glad to be back.


  4. Traci B

    03/01/2012 at 12:30 pm

    Dali came to my mind immediately. A former coworker had a calendar with his art featured, and my recollection of the melting clocks sparked this:


    Clock melting
    into calendar melting
    into sand glass melting
    into beach melting
    into ocean melting
    into horizon melting
    into galaxy melting
    into eternity…

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 1:29 pm

      Very cool, Traci! I love it. I’m already thinking if this can be worked into a prompt…or maybe I will hug it to myself and work on parallel poems!


    • vivinfrance

      03/01/2012 at 6:34 pm

      A vast concept as good as Einstein’s relativity.

  5. b_y

    03/01/2012 at 12:37 pm

    Nice thing to kick off a sludgy day. I have a little difficulty with the distinction between surreal and absurd, and my images frequently stumble back and forth along that line.


    In the flood the barn floats past the horse,
    the wishing well’s a dimple in a pond
    skateboards roll on water wheels
    dogs climb trees: the good thing has become too much.

    too much, and much too much
    a deck of cards, but fifty-two of one
    canned goods that overflow the kitchen, turning bookend
    I wear chess pie and hollandaise
    in stretch pants, seams blown out like curtains
    from an unscreened postcard window,
    and write my future, memos with a spoon

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 1:37 pm

      Barb, I’m thinking absurd carries a quality of ‘Oh, come on!’ where surreal doesn’t give the same quality of silliness. Hmph…I wonder why.

      Except that your first stanza seems more absurd, where the second, where the images might sound absurd, I get a feeling of surreal. Now I am going to have to look at the dictionary…absurd: ‘The condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people’s lives have no purpose or meaning.’ Origin: Latin absurdus dissonant, senseless.

      Senseless might be where the difference lies. Surreal = beyond, but the surrealists were looking for truths, therefore sense.

      Well, that was fun.

      Chime in, if anyone reads this and has thoughts.

  6. markwindham

    03/01/2012 at 2:22 pm

    Not sure I have it in me to be a surrealist, imagery and meaning definitely in need of work. But, a romp into imagination emerged anyway. This will require some more thought….

    Thanks for the exercise, Margo.

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 2:36 pm

      Mark, I had a tough time with it, which is why I should probably do more of this kind of exercise. I have a tight rein on my thinking which is not always a good thing for writers, especially, I think, poets. So glad you can romp! I must have been an awfully serious child.


      • markwindham

        03/01/2012 at 5:11 pm

        Thanks for the feedback on my post (where do we sign up for your class? You are teaching somewhere, right?!?!). There was a lot of overdone imagery there; trying to nail down just one significant one to expand (expound?) upon would be more effective and challenging.

      • margo roby

        03/01/2012 at 5:16 pm

        Sort of, Mark. I retired from twenty years as a teacher, last year, so I could focus on my poetry. Then I started the blog. Can you tell I miss teaching? What I like about this is no homework to grade. I am happy to expound and expand [you have it right with either depending on what you want to do]. And I still have plenty of time for my writing.


        If you rewrite, I’d love to see it. If you rewrite, am I right in saying you are in the game to be published? are published?

      • markwindham

        03/01/2012 at 5:25 pm

        I think anyone with a blog would be lying if they said they would not enjoy being published, but I have not pursued it a great deal yet. My wife recently encouraged a return to writing after a long (close to 20 year) hiatus. So, for now I am just feeling my way, trying to figure out the system and how to write again. Might be taking some classes at KSU this spring if I can fit them in. I envy you your retirement; not quite there yet. 🙂

      • margo roby

        03/01/2012 at 5:34 pm

        Yell, when you are ready and I’ll send you my resource for small press magazines and what they want and when, as well as a link to the magazines so you can see exactly what they are looking for. It’s a Yahoo group run by the poet Allison Joseph and is a wonder in saving time and stress, although I did have to set up a separate email for it, to take care of the several emails that come in every couple of days.

        Yell also, if you want the names of a couple of books, and good luck. Any questions, ask.


      • markwindham

        06/01/2012 at 9:51 am

        Alright lady…this one been buggin’ me all week. ‘If you rewrite’, ‘if you rewrite’; saying it twice is pretty much a gauntlet thrown down, so I rewrote. Started from scratch, really. There was just too much in that first one to narrow it down. So, I stuck with the restaurant theme and only included one (two if you count a table sitting in the middle of a forest) surreal image. Let me know if it works – or if I have a long weekend ahead. 🙂 Thanks again for the feedback.

  7. wordsandthoughtspjs

    03/01/2012 at 4:11 pm

    Margo, a great exercise to get the writing muscles flexed. Mine is rather ridiculous, but it was fun! I wrote it in the form of a letter, addressed to no-one in particular, except for the invitee. 🙂


    “Urgent: Open this upon Arrival”

    • margo roby

      03/01/2012 at 5:06 pm

      Okay, laugh, Pamela. When I saw this in my inbox, all I saw was: “Urgent: Open This Upon Arrival” and your handle. I was sure your email had been hacked! I shall now go read the poem and laugh at myself.

      I’m glad you had fun. We need a bit more ridiculous in our lives.


  8. vivinfrance

    03/01/2012 at 6:36 pm

    I’m far too inhibited to do justice to the surreal! My first attempt is here:

    But you are absolutely right (as usual) it was liberating to throw myself into this exercise.

    • margo roby

      04/01/2012 at 7:51 am

      That’s my problem, ViV. Even though I managed a poem of sorts, it’s really the list of images in an order that works. In the back of my mind lurks the feeling I should throw myself at this kind of thing more often. My orderly brain smacks it down when it tries to advance.


  9. Irene

    03/01/2012 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks, Margo, for this. Pamela, I stole from your list, thanks!

    the price of immortality

  10. Ostensible Truth (OT)

    03/01/2012 at 10:14 pm

    as a surrealist writer I of course adore this challenge haha! and encourage many to have go! unfortunately I take forever to write, so a 12 minute challenge would kill me I think haha, but I’m popping by to show my support! I have many surreal rambles on my page (though none new or written for this to link up) – a great challenge indeed!

    • margo roby

      04/01/2012 at 7:48 am

      Oh no, OT. I’m not letting you get away with that. The motto here lies in the phrase “of course”. Can you throw the time out the window? Of course. Can you go back through your own surreal writings and write from them? Of course. Can you post two weeks from now? Of course. You see where this is going, she said grinning.

      But, I’ll take the pop by. Should you want to post at some point, the posts are always open.


    • Yousei Hime

      06/01/2012 at 8:20 am

      Margo, An artist/blogger friend of mine (the wonderful woman who did the art for my blog header) recommended exploring different kinds of art as poetic inspiration. I thought that was brilliant. It occurred to me that you might like to do that for your Thursday or Tuesday adventures. There are definitely all kinds of art out there to explore. Just think about the different kinds of painting alone–styles, periods, mediums, artists, etc. They’ll probably each require a slightly different approach that the surrealists, but that will be part of the prompt creation fun. What do you think?

      • margo roby

        06/01/2012 at 9:42 am

        Hummm. Not sure how I missed this comment, Yousei. I think it’s a great idea. Ekphrastic [what a word] poetry is some of my favourite and I have used paintings in my posts, but not quite in the way you are suggesting. Although, Tuesday after next, we are going to look at idyllic art. And, I plan to have Rockwell join us one of these days. The enthusiasm for the Hopper paintings already made me decide to include art once a month, but I like your slant, that the prompt can be aimed at not just content, but at styles, periods mediums and artists.

        You are right, that will not only be part of the prompt creation fun, but will expand my sources for prompts. As I have panicked mildly at the thought of 52 prompts for the year, I am now feeling quite confident…and excited. Thank you. If you have an artist, style, or painting you would like to throw into the pot, let me know.

  11. Donald Harbour

    04/01/2012 at 11:19 am

    Alright Margo, I didn’t want to be left out. I’m at work and threw this little ditty together. Kinda of trite, but what the hey? For some reason I’m not getting any follows from you posts. I’ll try again to reconnect. Would have spent more time on this but you’ll get the jest. Sort of my New Year anthem.

    “Dali got it right”

    • margo roby

      04/01/2012 at 1:36 pm

      There is something so right about writing a surreal poem while at work.

      I’m not sure how the follows work. I don’t think it’s the same as signing up for an email follow [which you can certainly do!]. If you discover something let me know. I am getting you in my inbox, but I signed up for emails before the follows appeared.

      Dogs = feet. Not like me to miss a metaphor. I may have to go hide in a corner for a while. You made the image of the dogs so real.


  12. pmwanken

    06/01/2012 at 2:00 am

    OK, margo…in the midst of crazy busyness, I’ve written!! 🙂 I took your advice and went art-hunting. I wasn’t on Bing very long before I found an artist I liked! Samy Charnine. You’ll find one of his paintings on my blog, along with my accompanying poem. It took a couple days of pondering and nearly an hour of finagling to come up with eight syllables. You’ll find my PIKU here:

    Thanks, as always, for the teaching and prompting…


    • margo roby

      06/01/2012 at 9:43 am

      Can’t wait to visit, Paula.

      Remember to breathe — xoom

  13. Walt Wojtanik

    06/01/2012 at 12:57 pm


    I come bearing gifts,
    peace offerings and coffers
    full of symbolism of little value.
    My robes, are a tattered hoodie
    and torn denim jeans,
    coffee stained and remains of color
    where splashes of bleach had landed.
    A backpack slung, not well hung
    and perched precariously carrying
    various swatches of torn pages
    and different stages of half chewed Wrigley’s
    wrapped in the business end of a soiled tissue.
    But it is you who I seek, speaking your name
    in humbled tones. Written in unpublished
    tomes and journals, kernals of truth
    and little else. The rabble travel in packs
    and stacks of wooden pallets stagger
    through these darkened alleys of despair.
    But what do they care? Weathered
    and nailed to the crosswalk; talk of their
    demise is greatly exaggerated. Following closely
    as a car rises in the East; a feast for tired eyes.
    My legs will carry me just so far, and it mars
    my reputation. Concerning your situation:
    The stuff in the gold foil needs refrigeration.
    It’s merely spoiled and exudes the foul smell.
    And why the hell is Frank incensed anyway.
    Your hovel isn’t much, but it’s home
    I suppose. Don’t mind my clothes.
    I found some spare change; I’ll take the bus.
    Merry Christmas!

  14. margo roby

    06/01/2012 at 2:50 pm

    Walt! How lovely to see you and have one of your poems.

    The line ‘And why the hell is Frank incensed anyway’ keeps me laughing. I’m fascinated with the speaker’s character as he shifts from topic to topic. And I am struck with the image ‘Weathered
    and nailed to the crosswalk’.

    So glad to see you.


    • Walt Wojtanik

      06/01/2012 at 11:31 pm

      I’ve wanted to join for a while, Margo. Thanks for the kind words and direction. A great prompt. More times than not, I love to write in a surreal frame of mind. Glad to be seen.

  15. purplepeninportland

    06/01/2012 at 6:35 pm

    Living Better Through Surrealism

    A boy watching static on television turned
    at the sound of a ball of cotton rolling
    down a carpeted hallway. He had ESP
    hearing, but poor sight, ergo, static
    could be anything at all, possibly
    a faucet dripping into a sink
    filled with Brussel sprouts. He had
    a warm and furry imagination, thwarted
    by his hairless teacher wearing familiar
    ruby slippers.


    • margo roby

      06/01/2012 at 9:56 pm

      Sara, I love that he has “a warm and furry imagination” and the image of the teacher is quite vivid!


    • seingraham

      08/01/2012 at 10:55 pm

      Hah! I love that image – the hairless teacher wearing familiar ruby slippers … bet if she clicks them together there will not be no place like home for her …
      I keep meaning to ask you Sara – and this is awful and attributed solely to my awful memory – but are you the Sara who wrote with Amy and Salvatore and me on the now-defunct Melisma?

  16. S.E.Ingraham

    06/01/2012 at 10:20 pm

    Okay – I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this but … I love surreal and another poet I admire is prompting similarly, so here we go … IF ONLY THE AQUARIUM will probably end up in a couple of places


    a black belt more gothic
    than martial arts is
    weeping bitter silver studs
    and singing songs frothy
    to the dying

    rose too far gone
    is hearing short-term
    memory again
    swearing the pussy-willow’s
    barking like a manic Dalmatian
    insisting that the globe
    is really just

    a balloon
    not the night sky
    fallen into nothingness
    punctured by Excalibur’s
    so-called innocent

    blade over all
    there is a pall
    of salt and ashes
    and the threat
    of unpainted fish

    by morning
    in the corner
    a huge terra-cotta
    model of human teeth
    housing a halogen lamp
    and a beeswax candle

    winks before
    “that was easy”
    then opens wide
    belches gravestones
    and swallows


    • margo roby

      07/01/2012 at 8:08 am

      Sharon, I am so glad you open[ed] wide
      belche[d] gravestones
      and swallows
      I like the structure of each stanza appearing to be its own image, but tied to the next stanza, and love the final lines. Oh, and the title, of course.


      • seingraham

        08/01/2012 at 10:50 pm

        thanks Margo – it’s so fun to let my inner-outer loon loose every now and then – good of you (and Joseph) to encourage that particular muse …

  17. purplepeninportland

    06/01/2012 at 10:57 pm

    Wow, I love this one, Sharon. “belches gravestones/and swallows” What an image.

    • seingraham

      08/01/2012 at 10:52 pm

      Thanks – oddly enough, at the last moment – I changed belches grapes to gravestones and left “itself” off as the last word and then finally, the surreality happened for me …

  18. Raven

    16/01/2012 at 3:02 pm

    Hm … never done this before … it was fun whatever it was that I did. So, now comes the very hard part. Now will this work or will it just be jobbery-hibbesh? <a href="http://<a href="http://your item..

  19. Raven

    16/01/2012 at 3:04 pm

    Oh dear, I don’t know if it came through. If not, I am at Raven’s Press here:

    Thank you for this fun opportunity. I like your site and your ways with words.

    • margo roby

      17/01/2012 at 9:48 am

      Raven! I just found you wandering in spam and have saved you 🙂 I did see a pingback from you and visited your site, so you should be on the safe list now.



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