(Here’s an exercise to help your students think about locative narrative and locative poetic projects without leaving the cozy chair-desks of your classroom. Jeremy and I developed this exercise for use in Liz Losh’s digital poetry course at UCSD. Try it out in your class and let us know how it goes).
ImplementationJeremy has taught me the wisdom of paper prototyping in e-lit courses, particularly writing on note cards to free students from the tyrannical linearity of the page and to put students in the mindset of fragments. We wanted something the students could do in the classroom with the understanding that mapping tools, even Google Maps, could put this online.

Locative Corpse or Exquisite Location

This lesson teaches: Location-based writing, collaborative authorship, the spirit of geocaching.
E-lit genres: Locative Narrative, Sticker Novels
Relevant works: 34N 118W, Implementation, LA Flood Project
Background: Surrealism, Exquisite corpse, Locative Media Narratives

The exquisite corpse is a wonderful surrealist writing form that began, like all great writing exercises, with a parlour game. (Time for a revival? Whose parlour?) The idea is that one person writes a line or more and passes it to the next person to continue the tale or poem. The fun comes when the first author hides part of the line, for example, all but the last word of the line. Wash, rinse, repeat. After a few cycles, the text can be assembled and poetry, a crazy tale, hilarity, or all three ensue.

In adapting exquisite corpse for the electronic writing classroom, Jeremy and I decided to add a locative dimension. For this electronic writing exercise, you can experiment with collaborative locative writing in space.

Here are the basic directions:

Materials: paper, pens, tape

Turn I

  1. Students go to an object or spot in the room (blackboard, window, trash can, corner) with a pen and a sheet of paper and write the name of the spot or object on the paper
  2. Students then write the first line of a story or poem related to a memory they have of that object
  3. Students title their stories.
  4. Students tape the paper to the object or something nearby it.

At this point, each sheet of paper should have 3 items: it’s name (trash can), a story title (the flop), and a line of a story (she was six when she asked me to stand in the gum-bespangled trash can of Ms. Manso’s first grade class). The story then can be referred to by the name of the object and the title (trash can/flop).

MOVE: Students now move to a different object started by another student.

Turn II

  1. The students continue their story by writing the next line of that story on the sheet of paper at their new location.
  2. Note: This second line of the story should reference the new object or location
  3. Students should label this new line with the tile of the story they are continuing and the name of the object they just left.

    e.g. Soon after I entered the trash can, my name was scrawled on the chalkboard by the teacher –> trash can/flop
  4. (note:Students should read the other sentence on the object/location in case they want to continue that story at their next location instead.)

Extra credit challenge:
Students can try to mention the old object/location as well. May create more coherence at the end.

MOVE: Students move to another object.

Turn III

  1. Now, students can choose to continue any of the sentences from the precious object. Instructors should encourage switching as it will add more voices and paths through the story.

Continue until you have four or five lines on the paper attached to each object.

Reading back
Reading back the story is quite a bit of fun. It’s easiest to do this backwards.

  1. One at a time, each person can read their stories by first reading the last line they wrote on the object/location they are standing beside.
  2. At the end of reading their line, they read the name of the object that has the previous line.
  3. Now the person standing next to that object can read the previous line, and so-on.

In Turn 1, tell the students to write with the last line of a story. That can make reading back more coherent. Or during read back, you can have the students go back to their first object, read the first line and ask who has the next one. You could also be more exquisite (or more corpse) by having students cover over part of the line they wrote before they move off.

This same exercise could be done in a building, on a campus, in a city, or in the whole world (real and virtual) with a customized Google map or other mapping software. The fundamentals of the project will be the same, but the experience will change. This can become a discussion topic, of course.

So the one theme was locative narrative. The other thematic was: geocaching.

The ethos of both of these activities come together in collaborative locative media projects.
Graffiti on a statue

Also, when I was presenting on locative narrative at MLA 2011, it became clear through our discussion that at the heart of these locative projects is a re-appropriation that make this storytelling an inverse of site-specific art projects that are installed by the powers that be. Locative poetic forms become less like erecting a statue and more like embellishing one. This exercise helps students think about layering their memories upon a space and then linking that with another location. It also helps replicate some of the collaborative zeitgeist of collaborative locative projects from ARGs to geocaching to locative narratives.

WRT: Let us know how your version of this exercise goes or what others you have tried in the classroom or in your parlour.

3 Responses to “E-lit Writing Exercise: Locative Corpse”

  1. 1 Mark Sample

    This is a great composition exercise! It’s similar to something I’ve been thinking about…an entire place-based student-written narrative using the various check-in apps (Foursquare, Gowalla, etc.). I’ve called my story/game Haunts, and I’m hoping to pull off the first iteration sometime this year.

  2. 2 Mark Marino

    Haunts sounds like a lot of fun, particularly the play off check-in culture. It would be interesting to tease out the relationship between navigation map, GPS map, check-in, sticker, geocaching narratives….

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