Friday, May 24, 2013

Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of twelve books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Palimpsest (Patasola Press, 2013). Her writing has been honored with fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation.
Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Tinderbox Lawn, Darling Endangered, andDoll Studies: Forensics. Forthcoming titles include two collaborations: How To Feel Confident With Your Special Talents(co-written with Daniela Olszewska) and X Marks The Dress: A Registry (co-written with Kristina Marie Darling). She is Professor of English at Western Washington University, and lives in Seattle and Bellingham, WA.  Visit her online at

3-Tiered Steamer

My pink comes from before. Your house breathes faster. Tonight I’ll break your heart and leave you street corner easy: besotted, best beast. I pick you up at 8, a little late for a Coke and a candy apple. Your father waves you off, but he’s misplaced your mother, so she comes, too: curled in the backseat, chignon nonplussed. You’ve brought your favorite dimestore purse, pleather and calico. Pink is learning. The vulgar present is calling. I pull you inside out. 

How did your collaboration begin?

Kristina Marie Darling:  I had read Carol's work for years, and even reviewed one of her books in Galatea Resurrects.  When my book, Melancholia (An Essay), was published, I reached out to Carol to see if she'd be interested in featuring my book on her blog.  As it turned out, the admiration I had for Carol's work was mutual.  I was thrilled.  We did a book trade, and eventually discussed the possibility of collaborating.  It started with just a few poems, and I didn't expect our initial exchange to grow into two full-length manuscripts, but I'm so happy that it did.  Carol has been such an inspiring collaborator, and I've written some of my best poems in collaboration with her.    

Carol Guess: I've admired Kristina's poetry for years, so when she reached out to me, I was thrilled! One of the best things about working with Kristina is her friendly professionalism. From beginning to end, Kristina was encouraging, flexible, and engaged with the project, even when it took strange, unexpected twists and turns. At one point I joked with her that we should run for office as a team -- we just work together seamlessly, and that was true from the beginning.

Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?

KMD:  I had collaborated once before, with a fashion designer, Max Avi Kaplan.  He would craft beautiful objects, and I'd write poems in response to them.  Once he even created a pair of turkey feather pumps.  They were gorgeous.  I found that collaborating with a visual artist afforded me a wonderful vocabulary of images that I had not previously had access to.  I was exposed to colors, textures, and material artifacts that eventually found their way into my poems.  My collaboration with Carol was different in that we focused more on constructing a narrative, whereas when I worked with Max, we were very interested in creating an atmosphere, which didn't necessarily belong to any overarching story.  I definitely learned a great deal from both collaborations, I'm looking forward to working with both Max and Carol again this summer. 

CG: My introduction to collaboration came from Daniela Olszewska. We co-wrote a poetry collection, How To Feel Confident With Your Special Talents, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. We co-wrote all of our pieces, each writing half a poem and passing it along. It was a wonderful experience, and opened me up to the idea of future literary collaborations. Kristina and I created organic ways of collaborating that were very different from my process with Daniela. I don't think Kristina and I ever finished each other's work; instead, we wrote call-and-response pieces, one at a time. So each poem or story was written in response to the previous text. I think this is how we created such a strong sense of narrative structure and how we developed our characters through the poems.

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

KMD:  One of the things I enjoyed most about our collaboration was the absence of rules.  Certainly, one couldn't contribute a poem that didn't fit into the narrative we had created up to that point.  But what's really wonderful about collaboration is that it's more spontaneous than writing on one's own.  When you're constantly responding to someone else's work, you never know what your collaborator will do.  Everything could change in a second, and you have to be ready for it.  This feeling of impermanence, transience, and changeability is one of the most enjoyable aspects of collaboration for me. 

CG: I agree! Everything felt very spontaneous, and we encouraged each other to take risks with form and content. Kristina's work is rich with detail and mood, and I tried to match some of the atmosphere in my sections. Over time, we created characters who seemed insistent on their own rules, their own parameters. But the two of us stayed open to new ideas and took risks throughout the writing.

Have you collaborated before outside your art form? How did this differ from those collaborations?

KMD:  As I mentioned before, I collaborated with a fashion designer, Max Avi Kaplan, and we focused a great deal on creating an atmosphere, a mood.  When I collaborated with Carol, we were more interested in creating a compelling story that linked our poems and our individual voices.  One of the other differences between the two collaborations had to do with archival material.  When I worked with Max, we focused a great deal more on incorporating Victorian material culture, and researched the clothing associated with mourning during this period.  This archival material served as the basis for our work together.  With Carol, I was excited to step out of my comfort zone a little, and write something much more contemporary.  With both collaborations, I felt as though we created an imaginary world, both of which were completely different and reflected the personal aesthetics of the individuals involved in the project.  

CG: Kristina, now I want to learn more about your work with Max Avi Kaplan! I've collaborated with a few visual artists in a loose sort of way. I wrote a book based on photographs by Corinne May Botz, and I consider that a form of collaboration. After my father died, I used one of his books, a scientific text, to create a flash fiction collection. I definitely felt that I was collaborating with my father, even after his death, by exploring his ideas about science and ethics.

The introduction to the book mentions a common bias against collaborative work. Was it difficult for you to publish to individual poems?

KMD:  I had always heard that there's a bias against collaborative work, and many friends advised me against completing a collaborative manuscript.  With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much interest there was in our collaboration, and by how welcoming editors were.  I would definitely say to anyone reading this not to get discouraged by what you hear about the literary marketplace, since many collaborative poems do find a home. 

CG: I agree with Kristina. We had a lot of interest in our manuscript, as well as the individual poems. Future collaborators: don't let anything stop you!

What did you learn from your fellow collaborator?

KMD:  Carol and I both brought different strengths to the collaboration. I'm very attentive to detail, whereas Carol is good at looking at the big picture.  Through our collaborative process, I feel like I've learned a great deal about how to give structure to a manuscript, and I definitely have Carol to thank for that.  I'm looking forward to incorporating some of these strategies in the single author collections I'm currently working on. 

CG: Kristina is a brilliant writer; I've learned so much from her. She uses miscellany in really innovative ways, adding footnotes to texts that don't exist; creating lists of imaginary objects and events. I've actually been using this technique a lot in my creative writing classroom. My students are now using footnotes in their stories! I also value Kristina's ability to create a mood through thoughtful sensory detail. Reading her work is like entering a haunted house. Every room feels rich with history.

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

KMD:  Before working with Carol, my poetry was filled with Victorian fashion.  Our collaboration has definitely inspired me to incorporate more contemporary imagery in my manuscripts, and also to create tension between historical material and references to contemporary culture. 

CG: Kristina's use of history (real and imaginary) has definitely seeped into my solo writing projects, which tend to focus on contemporary images and language. I've also found myself inspired by her subversive use of feminine imagery and icons. Her work is full of sensual feminine detail -- lace, silk, perfume -- yet all of it serves a feminist aim. I'm interested in incorporating more high femme gloss into my work!

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

KMD:  The thing that surprised me most was how quickly the manuscript took shape.  Once the collaboration gained momentum, Carol and I added poems almost every day, and were constantly responding to each other's work.  I didn't expect to become so engrossed in the imagined world that we had created, but I'm glad it happened this way.  We had a lot of fun. 

CG: I was startled by the twists and turns of our narrative. We didn't create the characters or plot beforehand; we just wrote to see where our words would take us. We ended up with a very clear narrative trajectory, something I almost never write, so that was lovely and surprising.

How do you feel about the finished product?

KMD:  I feel like it's one of the best manuscripts I've ever worked on.  I hope you'll check it out! 

CG: Agreed! This is one of my favorite manuscripts and definitely one of the most innovative. Thanks so much for interviewing us. We look forward to hearing from readers about their responses to both our process and the finished text.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by talented poet and wonderful human being, Matthew Guenette (author of American Busboy and Sudden Anthem), to be a part of the self-interview series The Next Big Thing. I interviewed myself about my forthcoming collaborative chapbook with Brynn Saito.

What is the working title of the book?

Bright Power, Dark Peace. It comes from a line by Robinson Jeffers that appears towards the end of the chapbook.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Brynn and I had both been writing about ruined landscapes and decided to try writing together. Each poem is the name of a location in a ruined city. A young girl is wandering through the ruins, and in each poem, the city speaks to the girl. We'd pass unfinished stanzas back and forth several times so that we each contributed approximately the same amount of lines to each poem. 

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

 I'd cast a young Rachel McAdams as the girl wandering through the city, Gary Oldman would play the wolf, and the narration of the city would (naturally) be done by Morgan Freeman.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Exiled girl returns to the city of her birth, which now lays in ruins except for its single resident, a wolf. (Not great, but that's kinda the gist of it.)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

We finished the first draft in a year and a half or so, though we've revisited it since that first draft, and it took about four years between first poem and publication.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I guess it was my friendship with Brynn that inspired me. We went from living in the same city to living on opposite sides of the country, and writing together was a way to remain close, as well as work on poetry together. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

While most of the book was written several years ago, the last poem to be included was written one week before we submitted it to Diode Editions' chapbook contest. (That's interesting, right?)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Bright Power, Dark Peace will be published in March 2013 by Diode Editions.

The other writers with new books out I'm excited for are:

The Palace of Contemplating Departure by Brynn Saito
Small Porcelain Head by Allison Benis White
Begging For It by Alex Dimitrov
Tongue Lyre by Tyler Mills

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Laura Eve Engel & Adam Peterson

Laura Eve Engel's work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from Denver Quarterly, LIT, Cincinnati Review, Cream City Review and elsewhere. She is the 2011 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Adam Peterson’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Camera Obscura, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Houston, Texas, where he is the co-editor of The Cupboard, a quarterly prose chapbook series.


We’re not going to make it to the center of the Earth. Surrounded by lava, it seems so obvious the ways in which our team was incorrectly assembled. We’re all the best at something, but it turns out none of the things we are best at are the right things for tunneling to the center of the Earth. Jonah was a child spelling prodigy, but no one thinks that is going to come in handy except Rachel who checks with Jonah to make sure the words she’s spelled in dominoes on the floor are right. Who even made this drill and why aren’t they on the mission? Simone says as she pirouettes through Rachel’s dominoes without upsetting a single one. Ted writes classical music. Marilyn is the world’s foremost marine biologist. Judy wins eating contests. Percival is an owl, but he’s also the only one of us who knows that knocking them over isn’t really how you play dominoes. And we’re all on this ship drilling down but we’re not going to make it. Going below the Earth’s surface takes a different kind of skill than falling but we don’t know what it is. Maybe Percival knows but he’s not saying. It’s getting hotter. When the dominoes spell What more could we have done? we pucker our lips to blow but nothing falls, not here. Once the lights start to flicker and the oxygen goes, Judy figures it out and cries We’re the best at getting to heaven! Percival nods in affirmation, but by this point up and down are the same direction.

-forthcoming from Dzanc Books

How did your collaboration begin?

We’d talked about collaborating on a chapbook manuscript for awhile and were trying to find a form when we stumbled upon [SPOILER ALERT]. We wanted something that would allow us to write them back-and-forth individually before coming together during the editing process.

Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?

We’d previously given each other titles. Or, we guess, Adam gave Laura Eve titles and made Laura Eve write them before cruelly stealing the titles back. [SPOILER ALERT] was different in the sense that we actually discussed what the pieces should be and how they should work together. Then, of course, we edited them together to the point where we don’t really remember whose is whose.

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

We each wrote batches of three then traded so that we could see what the other person was doing. Sometimes this meant that we’d write ones directly responding to one another. Sometimes it meant Adam would write them on his phone in front of Laura Eve to be a jerk. Mostly we just sat in coffee shops daring each other to see who could write the most aggressively unedited piece the fastest. We then waited until we had, more or less, a full manuscript before editing.

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

Sure, we think. It’s likely that both of us put ideas or sentences or whaleghosts we would have otherwise used in our own work into the manuscript. More than that, we think working with each other—especially in editing—made us aware of certain patterns or tropes in our own work. Adam made Laura Eve stop using the word “thing.” Laura Eve made Adam stop. Just stop.

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

That it came together so quickly, we think. The most difficult aspect of it was really finding the idea, but once we had that, the writing process was fast and fun. The editing of them was great in its own way. We were sort of merciless at pointing out what we thought was working or not. The Word documents on which we were tracking changes got absurdly complicated to the point where we stopped tracking and started trusting that the other person knew what they were doing. Or realizing they didn’t, changing things back, and hoping they wouldn’t notice.

And that the pieces had any success at all, of course. We are infinitely grateful to Matt Bell and everyone at The Collagist/Dzanc.

How do you feel about the finished product?

Worse than they did, apparently. Not that we don’t love it, just that both of us feel very lucky. And admittedly, we might be slightly more detached from it than if we’d written it individually, as weird as that is. It’s like the opposite of how parents must feel about having a kid together. We both think it’s the other person’s fault. Or maybe that’s exactly how parents feel. Let’s ask some.

Are there any collaborations you'd recommend reading/hearing/seeing?

Recently, we’ve enjoyed the collaborations we’ve seen between Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney. Also, Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch’s Ten Walks/Two Talks. We do not recommend seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito’s collaboration Junior. We strongly recommend Twins, however.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Informal Invitation to a Traveler

I recently interviewed Kyle McCord and Jeannie Hoag about their collaboration, and their book just hit the stands. You can check get your own copy here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ryan Teitman & Marcus Wicker

Ryan Teitman earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University and is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. His first book, Litany for the City, was selected by Jane Hirshfield for the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions in March 2012. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Washington Square, and other journals.

Marcus Wicker earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University and is currently a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachutests. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, Crab Orchard Review, Harpur Palate, Ninth Letter, and cream city review, among other journals.

New City Ghazal

Each night we search for a new city,
in the knife-cold streets of the old city.

Summer is shank season in the old city.
Where we’re punctured on trains or city

blocks by thigh high silk dress slits. City
love is a map full of X’s. City

council meetings, stop lights in the city
where we fall for feeling—old city

news. We don’t rehab. We tear city
posters from buses and call the city

our country. In winter we see city
maps used for blankets. The new city

could be under skin, we think, city
streets thin as nerves, blood like an old city

cop walking the beat—nervous as city
orchestra first dates. Mouth as city.

Tongue, a car stalled by strings. The new city
could be wicker’s flicker. Like city

lights. Like candle wax dripping a city
in a saucer’s county—a city

not quiet alive, not feeling. A city
of being. The heart a new city

impoverished and sprawling. City-
gray buildings holding court on city

squares. This chessboard city. This sad city.
This tightness in a man’s chest city.

How did your collaboration begin?

RT: I'm not sure who suggested the idea of collaboration, but we started writing a relatively long narrative poem together this December, while we were both visiting our families--Marcus in Michigan, me in Pennsylvania. It took us a while to get that first poem finished, each of us adding lines to the poem back and forth over email, in the midst of the holidays. Once we had finished, we decided we liked the project, and started writing more poems together.

MW: I'm going to go ahead and take credit for the idea. In grad school, we talked poetry and bad tv on the regular. When he snagged the Stegner in Cali and I took a fellowship at the Work Center in MA, I missed Ryan (a little). Just before visiting our folks for the holidays, we started this winding narrative about two odd couple-buddies road-tripping through the mountains.
We sent emails back and forth for a couple of weeks until a draft was done. I was heartened by the fact that our poem had started in the natural and ended in a seedy bar, outfitted like a taxidermist's lair. That alone was enough to make me want to keep writing together.

Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?

RT: We hadn't collaborated together before, but we've always been early readers for each other's work. In graduate school, we'd often meet up at the Waffle House in Bloomington early in the morning, amid the crowd of elderly regulars, and trade poems. Marcus always ordered the same kind of omelet. And I usually got syrup on one (or both) of the poems.

MW: No. However, we were each other's readers and pushers at Indiana. It seems as if we have a good sense of one another's "moves." I take that back. Ryan and I used to workshop poems at Waffle House. He liked to merge his syrup with our papers, which is a kind of collaboration. I used to steal pocketfuls of tooth picks from the dispenser, which usually embarrassed him.

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

RT: What's interesting about our process is that we have very few rules to how we work. Sometimes one of us will propose a broad formal structure for a poem (Marcus suggested the ghazal, I recently suggested a prose poem), but other than that, whoever writes the first few lines dictates a lot in the poem, from tone to rhythm. As we go back and forth, there's a constant play between impulse to follow what's come before and the search for a moment when the poem breaks and heads off in a new direction. And we both trust each other to grab the poem and run with it whenever we get the opportunity.

MW: It's crazy but we never talked rules. I think it helps that we both enjoy a healthy amount of play in our poems, which enabled us to beopen-minded about each other's choices. We've developed an unsaid system of checks and balances. In a poem structured around a series of rhetorical inquiries, Ryan's questions got out of hand, so I shifted directions. Likewise, in the final half of the piece, I started to get anaphora-happy and Ryan reined in the poem, ending on a jarring image. It also helps that we trust each other?s instincts.

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

RT: There are some things that Marcus does really well in his poems that I'm not as skilled at, like having a strong speaker. I think being able to inhabit that kind of well-characterized, thoughtful speaker in a poem (even for just half of it) has definitely helped me in my own work.

MW: Ryan is a poet's poet. He leaps between killer images and fresh, lyric lines with ease. To use a basketball analogy, the sort of agility involved in passing the rock, across the court, and down the page, has definitely helped reenergize my own work.

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

RT: I was surprised at how much easier it was to write a poem with two people than with one person. (Though writing a poem is never an easy task.) It seems akin to having a bullpen in baseball. When the poem gets you in a jam, you just bring in a fresh arm. I know I've left lines for Marcus to finish that would've stumped me. But he comes in and barrels through, in a way I would've never thought of. And the upshot is that the poem gets continual new bursts of energy.

MW: I was surprised by how easy it was to compromise my initial vision of a poem's final destination or landing spot. This is probably more than Ryan is willing to share, but we've both been known to watch marathons of this charmingly-bad detective show called NCIS. I wanted to write an homage to our silly fixation, so I started to stage a game of Clue in the narrative.
Then Ryan took hold of the poem and began to nudge the tone toward that of an ars poetica. I didn't think twice. I went with his impulse and helped see the idea through.

How do you feel about the finished product?

RT: I feel good about this poem. Putting "city" at the end of every line in this poem was Marcus's early move that we both had to deal with throughout the poem, and I really like how it turned out. I think it forced us to be creative with enjambment in ways that sometimes ghazals can shut down.

MW: I like this poem. The alternating syllable count between couplets forced us to make surprising choices in terms of diction. We challenged each other work our names into the ghazal, which added a fun obstacle during composition.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Simone Muench & Philip Jenks

Simone Muench is the author of four poetry books: The Air Lost in Breathing (Marianne Moore Prize for Poetry; Helicon Nine, 2000); Lampblack & Ash (Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry; Sarabande, 2005); Orange Crush (Sarabande, 2010); and Disappearing Address co-written with Philip Jenks (BlazeVOX, 2010). She received her Ph.D from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and now directs the Writing Program at Lewis University where she teaches creative writing and film studies. She serves on the advisory board of Switchback Books and is an editor for Sharkforum.

Philip Jenks' poems have appeared in Chicago Review, Typo, Fence, Cultural Society, H_NGM_N, Canarium, LVNG, and elsewhere. Flood Editions published his first volume of poems in 2002, On the Cave You Live In and a second volume of poems, My First Painting will be ‘The Accuser’ was published by Zephyr Press (2005). He also published two chapbooks – The Elms Left Elm Street (Plane Bukt, 1994) and How Many of You Are You? (Dusie, 2006). His collaboration with Simone Muench, Little Visceral Carnival was published by Cinemateque Press, 2009. He also collaborated with Sasha Miljevic, publishing Distance, an ekphrastic hybrid of prose and poetry (Dutch Art Institute, 2009). His book with Simone Muench, Disappearing Address is forthcoming on Blazevox Books. His fourth book, Colony Collapse Metaphor is forthcoming (Fence Books, 2013). He is currently working on a revision of the carbon footprint model to incorporate the suffering of all sentient beings, as the farm factory industry is the major contributor to climate change.

Dear Philip & Simone—

Your writing’s overwrought. Too haute.
Not cuisine or couture, but chicken-legged

high-kickin’ rhetoric vetted, vent,
& le vexor. French-fried car-talkers,

superspeed diesel drama. You’re all dilemma
& no serenity. Prickly as Jamestown weed,

more story than history. You’ve been dissed
& rechristened: poet to bootlegger; writer

to gothic romancer. I just want to know:
were you in Louisiana simultaneously?

Is that a place or frequency of syllabic
slowdown? A dos-a-dos at the American Legion

hoedown where everyone’s shouting bingo.
You once had a chance—sparrow & listen.

Trued by circumstance? Forget the men & shake
the dj into harmony, shake yourselves out of

a neutered dance, tremors of a doomed species.
Who locks lips to see what one is not?

Who writes themselves to save themselves,
only to find later that the whole of heavenly frame

is sickness propped up on a slouching tongue.

Dear Deer—

Every time I saw your sign on the North Dakota highway,
one of you showed up puffy, jut-rotted & one of you signaled

with white tail, luring us to the wilderness. What we thought was open
shut us up when everyone left. Blood rivulets bind a white blouse

to a spindly tree. Farther down the Mulberry River, fur is fevered
father damage, o you hunted! Hoofing millennia across the rotten chips

of redwood forests. Surrounded by deep-rooted trees, vertigo moved
these instinct instants collared by clothesline’s linear bulls-eye as if we

were to be decapitated instead of shot. Antlers spinning through wind
in some medieval machinery. When the orange vest shot at you,

there were two other hunters too, he shot them both & heaved you
on his hood. Blood ornaments. Dent in the mental. Forest family picnics

blast Sabbath’s “Thrill of it All”. Clogger gargle fat, tobacco juice smear.
Fiddle, venison & beer. A homicidal father cooking on the grill.

-from Disappearing Address (BlazeVOX Books)

How did your collaboration begin?

SM: Philip and I met at a reading in Chicago in January 2007 on the historic night that Nancy Pelosi was officially elected the first woman to be Speaker of the House. Philip was visiting from Portland, Oregon; I saw him read, loved his work, toasted Pelosi, and an email conversation began. Philip eventually moved to Chicago, began teaching at my university, and we became close friends. I had previously collaborated with William Allegrezza and was interested in continuing a collaborative project so I mentioned it to Philip. Two months after meeting, he suggested the following three possibilities:

1. send me three unpublished poems, I will do the same to you. We
could each pick a favorite of the other person's three (random
number) poems and rewrite it, sending it back and forth until it
becomes more than what was there before. If we each picked one of
the three and did this for a spell, then ideally perhaps at the
end of it all, the two would be linked and we could connect them
as one.

2. you pick the form, I pick the topic. trade off stanzas. secondly,
then I pick the form and you pick the topic. trade off. End result
is/are two poems we never would have written on our own.

3. more ambitiously, perhaps, there is the prose option. a
collaborative effort on a subject matter we both share
(problematics of categorization in contemporary poetics?, or...)
and we work together to produce a publishable essay that is also

I immediately gravitated to #2 as I wanted it to be a work in forward motion, not one that returned to prior work, so I suggested a sestina since I thought it would be challenging—“Haptics, Not Optics” in Disappearing Address was our first collaboration. From there we decided to expand the idea of collaboration to incorporate other voices, so the epistolary poems arose from that.

PJ: There are several moments of it beginning. The first of which was when Simone and I met. I had the fortune of reading for MoonLit with several authors. The great poet and curator Joel Craig was there. My dear friend Rian Murphy and Lisa Janssen. I mention these people because really, language and poetry happen in a community, that’s not a new concept, but the notion of collaborative poetry (which embraces this) seems to meet with so much resistance. Simone was there and after the reading we had a discussion, a bit of a sparring about the South and afterward I left with Rian and Lisa. I vexed on just who was this Simone Muench? Didn’t she know who I was? I mean to point this egotism out, because I think individual authorship feeds that egotism. Later we exchanged books and letters and began talking about collaboration, particularly after meeting another time at Danny’s Reading Series (both of these events were, as many out of town trips are to me, etched in my brain – everything about going from Portland to Chicago carried a different valence). Here, I remember the idea of the epistolary came up. Thinking this over, I am pretty sure Simone had this interest, as I have to fess up that I forgot what “epistolary” meant but the idea of collaborating on poems seemed fantastic. I had a cigarette and looked up epistolary. It was the very thing I had been working on. This seemed all the better. Also, there was some discussion over the meanings of the word “dear” after this and again, we didn’t agree. We consistently seemed to come at meanings (The South, what does saying someone or something is “dear” mean?) differently. This interpretive friction elevated thought on my end after this we started trading lines. We didn’t just write epistolaries, but also a sestina which was a great challenge which I think happens to be really successful or certainly more successful as a poem than any other sestina I’ve written. If we could write a strong sestina, I thought this was very promising. That’s a bit of how it began.

Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?

SM: As mentioned before, I worked with William Allegrezza and we put out Sonoluminescence with Dusie Press for its fabulous chapbooks project. Additionally, I collaborated with Kristy Odelius in a less transparent manner, in which we engaged in Harry Mathew’s book-length project 20 lines a day, where we’d swap 20 lines via email each morning until we each had a reservoir of material from which to craft poems from. Those 20 lines-a-day became the preparatory material for my “Orange Girl Suite” in Orange Crush and for Odelius’ “Dislocation Lessons” in Strange Trades. I attempted a failed collaboration with the wonderful and unstoppable poet Jason Bredle; unfortunately, our voices and writing styles never notched together in a meaningful way, and nothing was salvageable. Greg Purcell and I tackled the beginning of a Western together for a fun project that Jennifer Kronovet and Brett Fletcher Lauer initiated. Also, Lisa Janssen of Moonlit, created a Chicago community collaboration, which was an extended exquisite corpse affair in which poets were asked to provide anonymous first lines for others to write off of, and then everyone assembled for a performance of the piece.

PJ: Yes. I’ve collaborated with Hugh Bartling in writing political theory and public policy as well as Elizabeth Daly. My work at the Kentucky Long Term Policy Research Center on The Future Well-Being of Women in Kentucky and setting benchmarks for progress was entirely collaborative. And, not to be coy but I really think my Master’s Thesis Fear of Clowns (written under Robert Pinsky and Derek Walcott) bore not only their strong influences but also, key people I worked with in the workshop – Erin Belieu, Carl Phillips. Their voices were pivotal in shaping the work. That my name went on the poems is true so I’m the author. But, how many master’s theses and dissertations are written without “individually”? None. Not one. Language and power doesn’t work that way. To say my dissertation wasn’t also a work of collaboration with my committee, particularly Herbert Reid, Ernest Yanarella and Susan Bordo would just be wrong. Officially, this was the first poetry project I engaged in as collaboration. Since it began, I collaborated in an ekphrastic text/performance/multimedia, Distance with Sasha Miljevic and Sabina Pasic (Dutch Art Institute 2009). I also collaborated with Neil Michael Hagerty previously on a blog trying to imagine a blog by a trucker. While I failed to get the voice, this led to further work with Hagerty. This was different than each of these because it was all poetry and because we really developed a third voice that was different than either of our own voices.

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

SM: After the sestina, which we wrote stanza by stanza, we decided on a series of epistolary poems that would be addressed to favorite poets, iconic figures, obsessions, and abstractions, engaging in a more integrated form, accreting the poems in more diminutive units than stanzas; thus, the letter poems were staircased line by line via email, and then edited so that each line might contain both of our phrasings with the idea that the poems would be neither Philip-voiced or Simone-voiced, existing instead as a third-tongued entity.

PJ: Kind of. The focus was on the epistolary and on trading lines. One of us would commence a set of epistolaries with first lines and send it to the other. We would then wait on the other for a response. This was sometimes rapid and sometimes delayed (usually the delay was mine). This wasn’t a rule, but a tendency. I delay and ruminate and yes, procrastinate as well. This isn’t a rule but became a part of the process, whereby certain conventions developed. What I’m saying is that even the pace of the process developed its own rhythm or antirhythm. Surely this would be a source of friction, but at the same time, in the process a unity emerged with surprising results. After we were done, we would revise the poems, aerating certain lines, closing others, and then Simone would send them out for publication. This last one is one I can say I didn’t carry my share on and feel badly about, but at the same time it can be tough to know which poem is where when two people are doing it. Still, had I do-overs, I’d be more organized and giving here.

The introduction to the book mentions a common bias against collaborative work. Was it difficult for you to publish to individual poems?

SM: It wasn’t difficult to publish individual poems, but it was tough to publish the book as a whole. Most journals were open to individual poems; however the book presses were a bit less enthusiastic about collabs. Though some editors simply didn’t like the work or it didn’t converge with their aesthetic, various presses wouldn’t even consider looking at a dual-authored manuscript. “Single-author only” is underscored in their submission guides; however, like the notable growth of books of prose poetry in the 21st century, collaborations continue to develop, and I think in the next 10 years we’re going to see a remarkable abundance of co-authored, and even multi-authored, books. One editor humorously noted that though his press was only open to single-authored manuscripts, he needed to revisit that guideline as he was also in the process of collaborating on a manuscript as well.

PJ: Yes! Even though as I’ve indicated, I think it is regularly acknowledged in and out of academia that a lot of what we do with language and writing is collaborative, still there’s the myth of the Author – even those self-proclaimed “death of the author” people are way into publishing “their” work, “their” voices. This is the age of memoirs (and really good ones exist, sure, but hey do we all need to know everyone’s sordid details? I’m one to talk, I do it as well.), individual blogs, facebook status updates (I painted my left pinky toenail and want 400 people to know immediately!). I’m not above it, nono. But, this bias in popular culture has strong roots in Western culture. “I think, therefore I am.” An individual’s very existence seems to pivot on this fake Cartesian impulse of the Ego. Plenty of authors have understood this (Rimbaud, Surrealists, many oral traditions and nonwestern “authors”). Every other discipline gets it from sciences to social sciences to the realm of art, film, music. But, for some reason in writing fiction and poetry, it’s less common. We need the fiction of the “self-made” being, like we give birth to ourselves and live in a vacuum in order to prop up the patriarchal racist capitalist system of oppression. Far from being this isolated “oddity” in culture, the resistance a collaborative author faces is well-nigh universal. Everything in western culture screams against it, despite the patent reality that we are intersubjective beings. We faced a great deal of difficulty publishing. We even dealt eventually in pseudonyms. People who liked our individual work sought to compare this to our individual works. It’s not a competition. Still, that’s the regnant perception. There were exceptions, such as the great Nate Slawson who published Little Visceral Carnival (Cinemateque Press) and all those who did accept our work. But it didn’t seem to matter what “school” a journal or author was in (“experimental” to formalism), both shared the common trait of resistance to collaboration. That I was not more involved (which was on me, not something “taken” from me) also made it difficult, and I bear that responsibility and regret.

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

SM: Definitely. For one, it allowed for more extensibility, for me to be less rigid in my constructions and flex in various new directions. I tend to be a more orderly writer whereas Philip is fabulous at deranging syntax: when my lines would become plodding and prosaic, he would explode them. In our collaborations, there was no director just a script-less performance, you improvise as you go along and each time you think you know where you are heading you get a surprise. So, the overall unpredictability was revitalizing. I’ve always considered poetry a call-and-response art, so in many ways it’s always been collaborative for me as I tend to gravitate towards forms, both when I teach and when I write, that engage community or conversation whether it be with the living or the dead—ekphrasis, bout-rimes, exquisite corpses, epistolary poems, centos, etc. After Philip and I completed our book, I decided to undertake a different sort of collaboration, mediating pre-existing texts for a collage manuscript I’m currently working on called Wolf Centos.

PJ: Yes. Pointedly, Simone's attention to revision and image gave a certain "permission" to dwell longer with my own work before declaring it "done." I came from a space where if it went down on paper, there it was. To some extent, I feared harming the poem if I touched it again. My relationship with revision is still complex but working collaboratively showed me again (as I learned in school) that yes, revision can help. Also, the very fact of recognizing the collaborative role of all writing influenced certain elements of my poetics. The I may be another, to follow Rimbaud, but that another comes into being in the presence of spirits, other voices, people, animals.

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

SM: Mainly, I was surprised at how well our minds converged, and negotiated, to create work that I believe transcends what many people mistakenly believe collabs to be, and what my mentor Michael Anania refers to as “the bi-polar diffusion or poetic ju-jitzu contending egos can produce.” Additionally, I’m thrilled that we were able to sustain the project, our “workshop of filthy creation,” to its book-length completion.

PJ: Yes. All of it! The publication of these poems, which began as a thought or debate in a bar thousands of miles from home eventually became a voice that isn’t/is “mine” (Is Disappearing Address “my” third full-length book? Yes! And publishing any book is surprising to me.). The collaborative work with Kim Ambriz (artist), Nate Slawson (publisher of our chapbook), the introduction by Kevin Killian in Disappearing Address (which was collaborative as well) and the generous contributions on the back of the book by some of my favorite authors blows my mind. Ed Roberson said that?! Robin Schiff? But, not just being amazed but also realizing that all texts are really collaborative. I was squarely in the single-author notion before – and now I see this as the superstructural ideology for the Great Man theory of History – and I see this sexist racist speciestist imperialist Great Man notion going down. I see the possibility of people ending Empires. Or at least the reality and necessity of resistance. I’m just a spoke in the wheel, no big deal.

How do you feel about the finished product?

SM: Collaboration is such a manifold process with multiple approaches: our approach was one in which we edited heavily and revised over the course of a couple of years; but, it’s a much different process to edit with a partner than without because each decision has to be revisited by both. As a whole though, I think the book turned out really well. There are only a few poems in the book that perhaps were less cohesive, or more slack, than I’d like them to be. But then again, Philip and I have conflicting ideas about what constitutes a “finished” poem. As an artifact, I couldn’t be more pleased with the book with its fabulous linocut cover from Kim Ambriz, a dazzling introduction by Kevin Killian, and an absolutely lovely publisher to work with, Geoffrey Gatza.

PJ: Thrilled. It's an honor to have published and worked with Simone. I believe in the work and am really pleased with/by Kevin Killian's Introduction, the generous reflections by other authors, the cover art by Kim Ambriz, and the great work of all at BlazeVox. Also, there's another feeling, one distinctively different from my excitement about my solo publications. For some reason, I feel more free to brag about it than I would my own work. I think this has to do not only with it being great, but also because collaboration creates a different relation to the work. This is and is not my book. Perhaps that shared notness permits a certain celebration that when I publish I can’t engage in. I don’t know how to explain it.

What are some collaborative books you would recommend?

SM: There’s a wonderful journal that was published in the 60’s called Locus Solus and edited by John Ashbury, James Schuyler, Harry Mathews, and Kenneth Koch. The collaborative issue is Locus Solus II: A Special Issue of Collaborations edited by Koch. If you can find a copy, buy it. My first introduction to a contemporary co-authored poetry book was Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton’s Exquisite Politics (1997). I’m looking forward to Your Father on the Train of Ghost by John Gallaher & G.C. Waldrep (2011). Recent anthologies I enjoy are Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (2007) edited by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton & David Trinidad; > 2: An Anthology of New Collaborative Poetry (2007) edited by Sheila E. Murphy & M. L. Weber; and New Pony: A Horse Less Anthology (2010) edited by Erika Howsare & Jen Tynes. There are numerous other collabs that deserve mentioning as well. Nate Slawson of Cinematheque Press, who put out our chapbook Little Visceral Carnival, is devoted to collaborations and is publishing work by Emily Kendal Frey & Zachary Schomburg, Mathias Svalina & Julia Cohen, Karyna McGlynn & Adam Theriault, and others.

PJ: Putting aside the claim that all is more collaborative than it seems as well as other fields (e.g. Marx and Engels, Laclau and Mouffe), I’d recommend: Disappearing Address! Revisiting the Exquisite Corpse work of Breton, Char, all is worthwhile. Saints of Hysteria is a great anthology/introduction – and Duhamel and Seaton certainly have contribution their own great collaborations to the field. Creeley’s work with Ted Berrigan. Locus Solus II, while not a “book” is a great journal/anthology of collaborative poems (and one of the most generous gifts ever, thank you Simone). In it are phenomenal collaborations such as Basho, Bonsho, Fumikuni and Kyorai’s “The Kite’s Feathers” and cut ups with Burroughs, Corso, and Rimbaud are awesome. Something Really Wonderful (and others) by Kathleen Rooney and Elisa Gabbert. Anne Waldeman’s work is fundamentally collaborative as are so many. No matter how I answer this, I know I’m leaving off a ton of people whose works I love but am spacing out…

Monday, February 21, 2011

Elisa Gabbert & Kathleen Rooney

Elisa Gabbert is the poetry editor of Absent and the author of The French Exit (Birds, LLC) and Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press). Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Pleiades, Salt Hill, and Sentence, among other journals, and her nonfiction has appeared in Mantis, Open Letters Monthly, and The Monkey & The Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics. She currently lives in Boston and blogs at The French Exit

Kathleen Rooney is an editor of Rose Metal Press and the author, most recently, of For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010) and After Robinson Has Gone (Greying Ghost Press, 2011). With Elisa Gabbert, she has co-written That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008) and Don’t ever stay the same; keep changing (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2009). She lives in Chicago and teaches at DePaul University.


Caught in the cross-hairs, we are at cross-purposes.
I’ve heard that love is a dangerous game. Well,
I’m wearing my Kevlar vest & know the best defense
against Cupid & other Valentines-y symbols is
faux-Army surplus, old chap. This crap is golden
like oldies, like golden rectangles, when it comes
tangled in ratios & marketing plans. Put your hand
in the hand of someone whose spending power
is in service to the dowager empress. What am I
talking about? I’m talking about tweens, & evil
beings known as guerilla marketers. Take this sock
& make it into a puppet of the Faerie Queen
then recite Spenser. What do you mean, you don’t
like games? That’s like saying you don’t like
T-shirts with offensive sayings. Fitch, don’t bitch
when I wear the “B IS FOR BEEYOTCH” number.
Your own mom wears “Blondes are adored, brunettes
are”—wait, your mom? Who cares?? Her affairs
scare me. She’s an unholy combo of martyr/satyr,
so she’s one-quarter horse. Of course I’m no
expert in husbandry, but teens today are animals;
they wear flannel pants w/ graphics right on
the crotch. Our new Watch Yer Crotch line
can actually help you learn to tell time. Digital
or standard. Each pair comes w/ a lanyard
because society needs its whistle-blowers.
In this world, Fitch, there are doers & knowers;
also those who know & those who know they know.
You, w/ your antique service revolver & your
other fine excursion goods—I could catalogue
how little dialogue these have w/ our demographic
target these days. Close one eye & aim that thing
higher. A little to the left. When you fire,
fire hard & loud. That’s what it takes to get thru
the rock-hard washboard abs of the indolent crowd.

-from That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness

How did your collaboration begin?

KR: It was EG’s idea. She was visiting me in Provincetown back in 2006, and she pulled Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer’s Nice Hat. Thanks. off my bookshelf at one point, and was all “We should try this.” So we did.

Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?

KR: I’d collaborated with other writers on plays and scripts, since it seems sort of natural to go back and forth on writing dialogue, but never on poems. So it makes sense, in that respect, that it turns out that in poetry collaboration, the results are also fairly conversational.

EG: I haven’t to any meaningful extent I can think of.

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

KR: Most of our collaborations are driven by forms, which seems logical since we can’t just default to the autobiography so common to the lyric “I” since there are two of us. At the outset of each poem, we decide on some rules, and then use those to generate our content. Some of the forms are fairly traditional like sonnets or villanelles (although EG refuses, to my chagrin, to try a sestina), and others are of our own invention, like limited freedoms and out-of-orders.

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

KR: Yes, it helped both of us lose some of the pressure to be “perfect” in every single line we ever put to the page. So much of our collaborative work gets thwarted by the other partner, and so much of it also gets discarded that it’s gotten easier to relax a little more in our solo stuff.

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

EG: I guess I'd say what surprised me is that I often forget who wrote which lines.

KR: Agreed.

How do you feel about the finished product?

EG: I think the finished product is hilarious.

KR: Yes. We frequently make ourselves LOL as they say. And hopefully that effect transfers to our readers. Frost said “No tears in the writer, no tears for the reader.” We think that’s probably true for laughter as well.

You can also read a great review of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness at Coldfront.