Breton writing workshop

DIY Writing Workshop: Breton Language Games

Writing Workshops

In this informal series, I will outline some of the previous workshops we’ve created at Verse Kraken for our participants, and give you prompts for you to do your own version at home.

Today I want to talk you through the very first workshop we led at last year’s Verse Kraken Writing Retreat. As it was the first day with the group together, I led a workshop introducing them to the Breton language. The particularity of our workshops is that they are rooted in their surrounding environments – we want to introduce the writers to the local culture rather than write in a bubble.

Breton writing workshop

As a local Bretonne, I’m always keen to introduce people to the quirks and wonders of my area, so it was a real pleasure to do this!

I did this by introducing the language in three main ways:

  • A sheet of words for them to take away with common words they would be likely to encounter as they walked around the area (such as “aber”: estuary, or “heol”: sun, or “penn”: head/end).
  • Flashcards with Breton idioms translated literally
  • Teaching them a song in Breton

The writing element was in the flashcard section. Each writer was given a selection of expressions to weave into a new piece of writing however they chose. The responses varied greatly, from weaving the original Breton itself into a tale, to using the expression’s meaning as a launchpad for something new and wonderful. There were poems, observational pieces, and short stories in the mix, which everyone was invited to share.

One of the participants, John Boursnell, handily snapped a picture of a few of these expressions:


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Breton words, phrases and sayings #versekraken

A post shared by John Boursnell (@johnboursnell) on

Here are a few for you:

  • Sot evel ur baner – stupid like a basket
  • Ober e gazh gleb – being a wet cat (aka a hypocrite)
  • Pikou panez – ellipsis of parsnips (freckles)
  • Kozh evel an douar – old like the earth
  • Pentañ-lern – painting the foxes (lying)*

*this one is my all-time favourite.

Can any of these expressions spark a new piece of writing from you?

Your workshop

So how can you inspire yourself from that workshop without having been there? You don’t have to learn Breton! Instead, I want you to get weird with your own made-up idioms in your mother-tongue.

I’d like to introduce you to an exquisite corpse game I discovered through Lou Sarabadzic and which is great at unlocking unusual phrases.

For this, you need a page, a pen, and some scissors. Alternatively, an Excel or Google Sheet will work just as well.

Step 1

You will need three columns.

Column A: Write a noun (for example “A dog”, “A dream”, “A concept”)

Column B: write “is” or “isn’t” (whichever you fancy)

Column C: write as weird and pithy a description of the object in column A

To illustrate this, here is a picture of one I did earlier:

Writing Workshop game idioms

Here is its transcript:

A crepe IS an edible moon

A cat IS a hungry shadow

A noise IS a method to warm up your voice

A wardrobe ISN’T a concealer of anything suspicious

A cliff ISN’T an ending but a start

A helicopter IS a chicken who can fly properly

A wall IS a carrier of stones

A teacher IS a book smuggler

A church ISN’T an auto-tuner

In this example, I’ve gone for a selection of random things but if you want to work with a particular theme, you could use this exercise as a way of finding your poem.

Step 2

Cut up Column C and shuffle each definition, then place them in front of a different A object.

Here, for example, is what I ended up with:

Writing Workshop game idioms

And here is the transcript:

A crepe is an auto-tuner

A cat is a chicken who can fly properly

A noise is a book smuggler

A wardrobe isn’t an edible moon

A cliff isn’t a concealer of anything suspicious

A helicopter is an ending but a start

A wall is a hungry shadow

A teacher is a method to warm up your voice

A church isn’t a carrier of stones.

A mixed bag indeed! I could keep shuffling them until I find images I like, or work with what is there. Lou’s method is a collaborative one, with multiple people swapping definitions and words, so the potential for deliciously strange images is even stronger.

Please do share on Twitter your remixed creatures and tag us at @versekraken so we get to see them!

Want to join us on our next writing retreat? Places still available here.