Writing Prompt (with Friends): The Surrealist Q & A Game

The European Surrealists were, among other things, masters of the party game. Their focus on the power of surprise led them to develop a number of collaborative language games that tend to reveal unexpected truths. Many of the Surrealists' techniques are designed to get the conscious brain out of the way, so that fireworks from the subconscious may emerge.

One such technique is the Q & A Game, as described in Alastair Brotchie's A Book of Surrealist Games (available in the Poetry Center Library for those interested in further exploration). The game follows a method similar to that of the famous Exquisite Corpse

  • Each player writes a question at the top of a sheet of paper.
  • They then fold their papers over so that the question cannot be seen and pass their papers to the left (or right--it doesn't matter, so long as the direction is consistent throughout the game).
  • The next player writes down an answer without looking at the original question. 
  • Continue this procedure (write a question, fold over, pass to the next person to write an answer) until papers are full. 
  • Unfold all papers and read the results aloud. Jokes, non sequiturs, and revelations emerge. 

I recently played this game as a wrap-up exercise in the Franke Honors Seminar I taught at the Poetry Center this fall. Here is a selection of our discoveries:

Q: How are you today?

A: I used to have two dogs. 


Q: What is your least favorite road?

A: Probably the trees. 


Q: How do you bake banana bread?

A: Try your best and work hard.


Q: Would you rather fight a bear on top of the roof of a building, or a shark in a pool, but you get a harpoon gun?

A: 10,000, all at once. 


Q: What is your favorite type of door?

A: On the left! Right next to you. 


Q: What's the meaning of justice?

A: As simple as the dusk becoming night. 


Q: Why am I so tired?

A: The water stuck in plastic bottles, waiting for a plastic digesting chemical or bacteria. 


Q: Favorite musical artists?

A: The pine trees next to the playground.


Q: What's the best school of poetry?

A: I feel like breakfast usually helps. 


Q: What is your favorite football team?

A: Butternut squash soup on cold winter days.


Q: How dark is too dark?

A: Watching MMA and Boxing. 


Q: How many presidents have there been?

A: It's the way that the stars aligned, so there isn't much to do about it.


Q: What does it mean to be brain-dead?

A: To be at peace rather than in strife. 


Q: Where is the best mountain?

A: Maybe it's neither yes nor no but somewhere in between. 

By HNRS 195K, "Poetry Lab": Lucia Alday, Bizzy Buter, Nick Kaplan, Sarah Kortemeier, Ben Lavid, Kiyan Saissan, Itzi Valenzuela, and Arun Vijay Sankar