Founded in 1983, Exquisite Corpse went through many lives before finally transforming into an online-only journal in 1996. Now offering an annual print anthology of material from the web journal, the work in Exquisite Corpse is as richly layered as it is stunningly diverse.
The maiden voyage of the Exquisite Corpse Annual lives and dies with the poetry. The issue curiously eschews contributor bios, which is perhaps because its pages feature a litany of the most renowned, seminal poets of the field. Diane di Prima kickstarts the issue with a series of poems loosely centered on ruin, time, and death (and other upbeat topics). Her poem “Madhyamaka” chronicles her response to the remains of New Orleans (“Extinct / as mammoths / or forests of giant ferns”) while “Loba Desesperada” describes a world where everything that one has known has “turned to pointillist / dust / turned to so much / sand.”
Other poetry offerings include first rate work from the celebrated Jerome Rothenberg and New York School poet Bill Berkson. The issue also includes a wonderful selection of translated work by international poet Attila Jozsef. It is Alice Notley’s “The Mask of Proserpina,” however, that glimmers the loudest in Exquisite Corpse. Mytho-centered and death-transfixed, Notley’s work here dances nimbly between myth and memoir. “These are memories,” she writes, “but not of what happened.”
The visuals in Exquisite Corpse are as strong as the written work. Featuring a gloriously disgusting cover illustration by Gonzo-ite Ralph Steadman, the issue also offering Joel Lipman’s “Pictopoesy,” which shows poetry and protest slogans scrawled across the grime and detritus of an urban environment.
The prose in Exquisite Corpse takes somewhat of a backseat to the poetry, but by no means does it lack the diversity and depth of the latter. Two pieces from Kane X. Faucher rail against everything from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Facebook (“like a Borgesian aleph, Facebook’s population continues to swell with the living and the dead”). “Plunge Pool” by Garry Craig Powell is a magnificent short-short story about masculinity, sexuality, and gender relations in modern Dubai. And Willie Smith’s surrealistic, time-displaced “Resurrected Manhunt” rounds out the scattershot and enjoyable issue in an appropriate manner. “Find myself once again back in 1969, hunting rhino downtown,” Smith’s piece begins, followed by, “Have swallowed a couple PCP tabs.” Indeed, Willie, indeed.