Sunday, November 7, 2010

Melissa Barrett & Pete Luckner

Melissa Barrett is the recent author of False Soup, a veg-friendly cookbook from Forklift, Ink. Her poems have received honors from Tin House, Indiana Review, and Gulf Coast, and can be found in No Tell Motel, Front Porch, and H_NGM_N. “Pilot,” her collaboration with filmmaker Pete Luckner, recently debuted at Video Dumbo.




Pete Luckner is a painter and digital artist working in Columbus, Ohio. His paintings and videos have been included in various exhibitions and festivals, including the voyeur issue of 4x magazine. “Pilot,” his collaboration with poet Melissa Barrett, recently debuted at Video Dumbo.




Pilot from peter philip on Vimeo.




How did your collaboration begin?
 
MB: For me, the collaboration began inside of a square silo three years ago. Pete and I used to work in a studio for disabled artists, located in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. One afternoon we drove a few miles to our co-worker’s farm for lunch. We met her horses and toured her silo, which was square and leaning and blonde with wormy chestnut.

Standing in that space with Pete, I began sketching the framework of a poem. It was then that I realized that Pete stirred all sorts of creative ideas in me; I’ve been addicted to his presence ever since.

PL: Our artistic conversation began for me when we were working together and Mel showed me the film Breathless, by Jean Luc Godard. That was probably the first time we spoke frankly about our sensibilities. The visual imagery in her poems also made me think it would be great fun to talk about ideas with her.

We came to our first project when we stumbled upon Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver, Colorado. We were both captivated by the place—it was such a run-down old park. The man who worked the Round-Up ride ended up becoming the subject of “Pilot”—our first poem/video collaboration.


What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

MB: The collaboration was utterly parameterless. There were no rules—the whole thing happened almost by mistake. We just happened to drive along the fringe of Denver on a Friday afternoon when we were looking for something to do. We saw the park from the highway and decided that that would be our weekend. 

It was mere luck that the park proprietors bought my bumbling request to film (they have a strict “no camera” policy—for all of its rusty beauty, Lakeside wouldn’t survive even amateur documentation of its decaying machinery. There’s a reason admission is only two dollars.)  

Going through the footage a few weeks later, Pete uncovered distinctive shots of one of the ride’s operators. He hadn’t meant for the footage to become anything—and I hadn’t either. But the image of the Round-Up stayed with me; slowly, a poem began to take shape.

PL: We sort of made rules as we went along. It started as a documentary project about the humanity of a crusty amusement park. The footage was gathered intuitively, and it was interrupted by park security. They were a little weird about the camera since the park has a reputation for being a dump. But that dumpiness was its charm. When I brought the footage into the computer we realized the Round-Up operator represented everything we loved about the park. We began to construct his portrait.


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

MB: A little. I was in a band that wished it were Kraftwerk. We had seventeen keyboards and unlimited access to a recording studio. Around the same time, I made a few dozen short films with my sisters—some of the most imaginative people I know.

Currently, I’m trying to write collaborative poems with Dan Poppick and Anthony Madrid. These collaborations are very different than “Pilot,” and perhaps more difficult. How can something as delicate as a poem survive the poking and prodding of two people?

PL: I had a band when I lived in Pittsburgh. It was a noisy experimental band. In my head I view collaborations as always finding the parts that we mutually find interesting and trying to inflate what is interesting about them. This collaboration was different in that we worked in chunks. Each chunk had its interesting parts and we would focus on that each time trying to expand on the aesthetic and find new avenues. I really liked how that approach fit the project, I think poetry and video have a lot of promise there.


What did you learn from your fellow collaborator?
 
MB: I learned that the process of editing a film is in itself quite poetic—and that it can be just as agonizing as writing a poem. I also learned that, though poetry and filmmaking are the gods of two different universes, Pete and I are on the hunt for the same thing: a resonant image.

PL: I learned that our approaches are very similar. Mel taught me how writing is like painting and how it is different. She told me once that, “Reading is writing.” I found that very interesting. I think that makes the art of writing very unique.


Did the collaboration affect your own work?

MB: Yes. The problem that I thought I’d have with collaboration was dishonesty—an inability to evaluate and speak openly about the work. Not so with Pete. Honesty might be his best quality—he was always pushing me toward something more exact.

“That’s trash,” he’d say, critiquing an alliterative string of adjectives—all synonyms, probably, for the word “brown.” My first reaction was defensiveness. I wasn’t in this to get workshopped. But Pete uncovered a larger problem of mine: my addiction to over-constructed descriptions, and a heavy reliance on similes.

In grad school, I saw a craft talk on the (dis)function of simile and metaphor. One of the panelists implored, “Is any one thing really that similar to anything else? Isn’t the designation of words dishonest enough?” Which is similar to the Mad Hatter’s inquiry: “When is a raven like a desk?” And later, he divulges, “I have absolutely no idea.” 

PL: Working with Mel gave me a scaffold to build a lot of ideas about editing and visual scenarios. I have tunnel vision on occasion when it comes to editing video. In being forced to stretch that tunnel in different directions to fit the flow of the video I was able to see more possibility in my own work. In the project I am working on now I am constantly trying to harness that.


Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?
 
MB: We recorded “Pilot” with my voice at first, and something just wasn’t right. We actually abandoned the project for several months because we couldn’t figure out what that something was. Pete finally made the suggestion to redo the audio with someone else’s voice. Though I’m a huge advocate for poets reading their own work, this particular story—about a man’s simultaneous aging and infantilization—is benefitted by the sandpapery voice of poet Maj Ragain.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

All Hail the Yurtmaster

This has become my new favorite project. An interesting take on community collaboration. Check out the great Yurtmaster poems on this blog if you haven't already come across it.

The Yurtmaster

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nick Lantz

Nick Lantz is the author of two books of poetry, We Don't Know We Don't Know (Graywolf Press, 2010) and The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors' House (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010). He is the recipient of fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His plays have been produced in Portland, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin. He is the current Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.




Across A Distance Website



How did your collaboration begin?

The collaboration began without me. Julia Faulkner, an opera singer, and Robert Schleifer, a Deaf actor, had met a few years back and very much wanted to do a piece of theater together that incorporated their different experiences. In 2006, they enlisted a composer, Scott Gendel, and then later a director, Kelly Bremner, to work with them on devising this project. After a little over a year, they decided they needed an actual script, and that's where I came in. Kelly brought me in to one of their rehearsals, and after looking at some of the themes they were dealing with, I went home and sketched out a story that I pitched to them at their next meeting. This was in early summer 2008. They liked the idea, so I started working on a draft of the script and had it finished by that fall. In the summer of 2009, we had a week of reading, rehearsal, and revision, and they performed a selection of scenes at a play development workshop in Chicago that September. Then the show was picked up (I say that as if it just happened, but really Kelly was doing the work of shopping the project around) by the University Theatre in Madison as part of their fall 2010 season.


Have you collaborated outside your art form before this? If so, how did this differ from those collaborations?

I think that theater is a fundamentally collaborative art form in a way that poetry and prose aren't. I've written several plays before this, and whenever a play of mine has been performed, I'm always amazed at how the interpretation that appears in the final performance is so dependent on the efforts and intentions of so many different participants. When writing a play, I always try to leave things with a lot of wiggle room for the director and performers. In fiction or poetry, I feel like I need to micromanage every little detail, because there's very little mediation between me and the reader--it's almost a direct line--but with a play, I don't think it's even possible to do that. For example, in fiction or poetry I might spend several sentences/lines describing how a character peels an orange: how he's standing, where he's looking, what's around him, how his hands move, what he's thinking about. In a play, though, those are the blanks that directors and actors and set designers fill in. The playwright's job is to point in a certain direction, to suggest something compelling, and to trust everyone else involved to make good choices with the rest. A playwright is in charge of the language as it appears in dialogue, but even that, to me, is flexible, especially when directors or actors are working with a living playwright. I think that if a playwright sees her play in rehearsal or performance, that will change how she sees the lines she's written. Some things don't play on stage the way you expect them--I think this is especially true of playwrights (like me) who do most of their writing in other genres. What works on the page isn't always what works on the stage, and so as a playwright, I always want to leave myself open to the commentary of the people who are actually going to be making the performance happen. They have expertise and intuition that I just don't have--they're coming at the script from an entirely different angle. So I want to leave myself open to the idea that the actors or director might have valuable changes to suggest about the dialogue itself. But this project was a step beyond that, even. First of all, I was commissioned to write this piece. Also, this is the first time I've written poetry that was set to music and the first time my work has been translated into another language (American Sign Language). My musical talents and familiarity with ASL are about zero, so I was really dependent on others even at times when it came to the actual language of the piece.


Once they began adapting your work for the opera, was there any additional feedback on either side?

I was commissioned to write the script, and being paid to write something is a very odd experience (for a poet, anyway). But because I was writing this script for a group of people who were going to perform it, I approached the writing process somewhat differently. I got some initial notes from Kelly (the director), and then about a year after I'd finished the first draft we had a whole week in which we met, read through the script, and discussed issues that came up. I took notes at these sessions, then went home and make revisions based on what we discussed. I've had my writing workshopped before, certainly, but this was different. In a creative writing workshop class, you're never really obligated to make any particular changes that your peers suggest. But in this case that's exactly what I set out to do. I very much wanted the final piece to be something that would work for everyone. So I often went home with very specific notes from our meetings that I tried to incorporate into revisions of the script. We had lots of debates about different aspects of the show. One sticking point was the title--we spent what felt like hours working on the title, because we wanted something that worked both in English and ASL. Another issue was onstage translation. Contemporary opera performances are often accompanied by projected captions or translations (especially when the opera isn't in English), and Deaf theater also often includes on-stage sign interpreters for spoken parts and so forth. An idea I was committed to from very early on in the development of this project was that significant portions of the show would not be translated. The themes of the show have to do with both the frustrations of human communication and the sensory beauty of language, separate from its meaning. Leaving parts of the show untranslated simulates that frustration and (hopefully) encourages the audience to just watch the performance, to let go of having to understand everything and instead simply appreciate language as a sensory experience. My original stance was that none of the show should be translated, but this was something we negotiated in the process of revising the script, and the end result (in which only key parts of the show are left untranslated) certainly worked out better than it would have if I had gotten my way. So that was a really important example, for me, of collaborating to find a middle ground that was both practical and made sense thematically and was ultimately better for the show.


What did you learn from this collaboration? Did it affect your own work?

Our work together reinforced what I already knew about theater: that it is fundamentally collaborative, and that one will be better served by acknowledging and embracing that fact. In terms of the script itself, I think there were interesting parallels between what we were doing in or workshops/rehearsals and the themes I was actually working into the play. The show is about the struggles of communication, and what the characters realize is that communication is a collaborative act. You can't simply beam your thoughts and feelings into the mind of another person as if he or she is a satellite dish passively soaking up cosmic radiation. Communication requires effort and negotiation on both ends, which can be frustrating but also rewarding. That's the note the show ends on, for me, and it was certainly informed by our pre-production discussions.


Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

As I said, I went into this project knowing nothing about music or ASL. The process of setting the poetry to music was painless for me. Scott, who is a wonderful composer, took whatever I wrote and built this amazing music around it. I'd expected that he would have lots of requests for me about revisions to make the language fit the music better, but he basically set the words as I wrote them. We did get together and talk through some small issues, but the biggest surprise for me was how he was able to not only structure music around free-verse poetry but also create very subtle musical themes that carried through from song to song. Robert translated his parts into ASL, and this was probably the most exciting process of rehearsal for me. We ran into a few places where what I'd written in English just didn't have a comfortable equivalent in ASL, and often it was something that had seemed very simple to me when I wrote it. But ASL and English are incredibly different languages--ASL is unlike any other language I've ever encountered, and it was so interesting to see how Robert adapted what I'd written into ASL. In some cases, he had to actually create signs just for the show. Another pleasant surprise was the actual design that Kristin Hunt, another UW faculty member, executed for the show. The play as I wrote it calls for magical islands, with talking birds and trees, and Kristin's design achieved these elements in a very stylized but powerful way. The two human characters deliver probably half of their lines in "dialogue" with these birds and trees, who "speak" through gesture and prerecorded music, so it was essential that they resonate with the audience and give the performers something dynamic to play against. When I wrote the play, I'd imagined the birds and trees could have been realized with anything from puppets to other live actors in costume. I didn't have specific design in mind, and this is exactly the way in which I see theater being fundamentally collaborative. The suggestion of talking birds and trees is mine, but I hand that idea off to the director and designer and trust them to realize it in whatever way they see fit. And that's exactly what they did.


How do you feel about the finished product?

By the time the show was picked up, I had a good sense of the talent of everyone involved in the production, so I didn't have any anxiety about the performance being strong. What I did expect to find fault with was my own writing--that may be a natural thing for most writers, but however long I work on something, once I see it in print or on stage, I always have those nagging feelings like "that image could have sharper," "that metaphor could have been more surprising," and so on. For me, that's an inevitability, so I take it in stride. That said, it was immensely exciting to see the show, and I think the performance was fantastic, better than I'd imagined it, in many ways. The thing I worried about most was the reaction that it would receive, especially from the Deaf community. I believe that writers should be able to write about whatever they want, but I do think writers have to tread carefully when their work involves cultural groups and communities to which they themselves do not belong. The play is not a realist play--its framework is that of mythology or folktale--so it doesn't attempt to represent the "Deaf community" as such. But the premise--a play written partly for the Deaf that also incorporates hearing opera and deliberately refuses to translate significant portions of the script--felt a little dangerous. While I was in Madison for opening weekend, we had a post-show panel and discussion with audience members after a matinee, and I think that the members of the Deaf community who saw the show, at least those who stayed for the panel, understood the show, where it was coming from, what it was trying to say about human communication. The impression I got was that the experience of untranslated ASL was, by and large, probably more difficult for hearing audience members than the untranslated English was for Deaf audiences. One panelist, a linguist who studies ASL, made the point that Deaf people often find themselves on the outside of conversations, even at home if their families are hearing and don't use ASL consistently. Hearing people don't often have that same experience, and it's a difficult experience to deal with. I think some of the reviews the show received reflected that difficulty, but that for me underscores how necessary it was to build it into the play, how valid the point was to begin with. I'm not a proponent of easy art, art that allows the audience to remain passive. Theater, especially, should be challenging. It's a collaborative form not just for those responsible for writing and staging the show but for those viewing it as well. The audience can't merely receive; it has to engage. You should go home talking about it, arguing about it, puzzling over it. The test of good theater (or any art) is that it rewards the audience's engagement. I think the performance of Across a Distance was complex, emotional, funny, and visually and musically stunning, and I'm still a little shocked and awed that my name is on the posters. It's listed as being "by Nick Lantz," but that's always felt odd to me. Even though I came up with the plot and wrote the script, the project had its genesis years before I was even involved, and its eventual realization on stage had very little to do with me directly. The script was my contribution to the show, but the script was not in any way the final product--not by a long shot. It's hard to explain. I feel immensely proud to have been a part of the show, but I'm constantly aware of everything that everyone else did to actually make that show happen the way it did.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two Is the Magic Number

Check out this great article on Slate: Two is the Magic Number

From babies and their mothers to other partnerships, this article helps put to bed the notion of lone genius. Even Emily Dickinson had Higginson and her sister-in-law.

Yeah, Ayn Rand, who needs you?



Apologies for the summer silence, but I am getting back in touch with collaborators I talked to at the end of spring and hope to update the blog more regularly.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nate Pritts & Matt Hart




Find more on Nate here.

Find more on Matt here.



Feelings, Associated

Tell me what I’m singing, lonely on the road buffered
with slush; tell me where I’m going when I rocket

this Syracuse into shimmering Poem, when I bracket
you’re You with my Me, take in the Cincinnati

with a big heaving breath. I’m mouthing barks
& yelps to the scatterment, risking this Pritts I’ve got

clenched in my fist & the Hart that you puncture
to spill out the fracture. You can’t stop this

because it’s the signal. This is the single, the lead off
stutter or the blistering fade, hidden track

to streak my broken interior when I inject the clouds
that stopped caring about me, where the weather

infests me. It’s cold in this chest. It’s my soul in the air.
Icicles glinting all around. The maddest mad scientist

& an honorary astronaut don’t know what the fuck
they’re doing but they’re doing it again & again. Amen.

Pour the colored chemicals in a vat & see what blows.
Chart the dark from one galactic suicide to the next.

What are these words worth? Who else would believe
these trees & this sun & this Aeolian gust? Amen again.

I drive my sorry car, kiss the flagging moments as they go.
Leaping joyous over the fence & trampling the fields.

Put on a Coleridge face & bury your branches.
There’s comfort in the tension of wood underground

breaking through, hibiscus & also the dirt not
blotting the hibiscus vesuvius. There’s something bursting;

there’s a bird listening. That’s why I’m listing
some of the differences, & all that sameness, trash heap

mathematics to enumerate the particles, genuflect
to the rubble & honor the happy season we stopped

asking for reasons & listened to the feelings.



Poem originally appeared on The Collagist.

More information about their chapbook FEELINGS, Assoc. may be found here.



How did your collaboration begin?

I hope it doesn’t sound coy to say that the collaboration began with words.

To be first logistical and then aesthetical about this: about five years ago, we started a blog together that remains hidden from the public, a sandbox protected by fences and passwords. Originally, we thought to just conduct the longest interview ever, to annotate our lives and our “careers” as they were lived in their careening. At some point that changed to include the practice of posting poems, along with prose annotations about what we were up to in them.

We don’t remember the prime mover but we remember the motion; before long, we were frenetically posting poems back and forth on the blog all without ever really saying what we were doing. Aesthetically, we two have been buddies for years; I think it’s safe to say we don’t always love each poem the other person writes but we are always always engaged by that activity, by the process, by the fact that we two are two people doing the same thing (sometimes in quietly different ways, sometimes in wildly similar ways).

I will note that the collaboration we’re referring to is a chapbook by Matt Hart and Nate Pritts called FEELINGS, Assoc. The poems are culled from the blog mentioned above. There are plenty more. It continues to this day.


What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

Our collaboration, unlike a lot of collaborative efforts (and certainly unlike ones I’ve been involved in before), didn’t have a lot of parameters. One of us would send the other a poem, and the receiver would get so charged-up reading it that the only thing that made sense was to respond with another poem. And although often we would appropriate lines from the poem we were responding to, this was sort of an unspoken aspect of what we were doing. The truth is: it wasn’t clear what we were doing, but the activity was generative and energizing. The formalizing force was responsive rather than prescriptive. It was more like a conversation over ever-shifting common ground than a typical collaboration. Or, put another way, it was a correspondence (in both senses—in and of)—poem to poem, but also poet to poet. That is, it defined the connections between us in the moment—common concerns, ways of being.

Certainly, there was also an atmosphere and a sensibility at play—for example, we were both reading Lyrical Ballads and thinking a lot about Coleridge and Wordsworth’s project. We liked the idea of tackling the same material, but from different poetic points of view. And yet, unlike the Lyrical Ballads’ authors, we never delineated those different viewpoints, instead trusting that our own differences and similarities as people and poets would necessitate (especially in conversation) resonance: elaboration on, and divergence from, whatever themes presented themselves. It was autumn, and outside of the poetry we were both dealing with some heavy-duty life stuff. The leaves were floating off the trees. The birds were disappearing. I think The Hold Steady was the soundtrack for both of us. At any rate, there was something melancholy, but also electrical about filtering the conversations through poetry and the poetry through the conversations. Each individual poem and the correspondence itself, became a mainline between us. Sometimes it was difficult to know who was Batman and who was Commissioner Gordon. Abbott and Costello. Coleridge and Wordsworth. Hart and Pritts.

In short, the process was collaborative, even though the poems themselves were written individually—by one or the other of us. We made the process a discussion, where give and take were crucial, not only for coming to some kind of mutual understanding, but for pointing off into the Vast and the Void, the endless possibilities inherent in the human condition.

Two clouds colliding in a mosh-pit: discuss.


Have you collaborated before? How was this experience different than other collaborations?

Both of us have been lucky enough to collaborate in any number of ways. Though each of us have written a number of openly collaborative poems, I think it’s true that the production of all art (poetry) is collaborative to a certain degree. Everything you write is in conversation with the poets/poems/people/etc. that you love. If you’re responsive to the life you’re living, you’ll notice that it’s different from second to second, it’s characterized by remarkable shifts and dips and loops.

What made this process different is that it seemed seamless. I’ll never tell which of us is the dip and which is the loop, but (see above) at some points the poems wrote themselves. There was an energy that charged the air electrical between us – or the air was condensed and at times there was nothing between us. There were icicles glinting in sunlight.

I would read a poem on the blog and could barely open a new window fast enough because I had so much to say and what I had to say was urgent. One of us – I forget who – likes to say “collaboration is always a matter of finding one’s own voice in someone else’s mouth.”

Open up and say ahhhh.

Perhaps that is part of what marked this collaboration – the sense of tension developed through urgency. We were aware that what we were saying was of immediate interest to someone else, and was in fact necessary to their survival. I hope that doesn’t sound too melodramatic. Or, rather, I hope that sounds intensely melodramatic. The icicles I mentioned? They were melting all around us.


What did you learn from your fellow collaborator?

In some ways, I think we both sort of learned to trust our visceral re-activity more, to be human beings and poets in equal measure, to play for chrissakes. Some of what’s in FEELINGS is really direct—really matter-of-(poetic)fact and talky—while other moments are hammered to the astronaut flamingo in the earthwork.

That said, I think we were also reminded at every turn that poems are blast sites both for lingering and getting the hell out into the world of what the poem points to. That is, reading (and responding to) a poem isn’t about page turning. It’s about finding some place to land or a mechanism for taking off, something to latch onto or alternately, something to chase—the sparks, for example, as they fly off the page—out of the particular language into the world and back into Language, a conceptual framework. The idea that someone could sit down and read a poem (much less a book of them) in one sitting is sort of ridiculous, given that poetry is in some sense the art of employing and deploying the meaning/FULL multiplicity of language at every level (from the composition and big idea overall down to the tiniest article or preposition). To respond to one another as we did in these poems, we had to slow down and take stock of the poems themselves, but also of how we felt about them (and each other), where they pointed beyond themselves (and us). We had to LISTEN to RESPOND.

Happily, collaboration is always a matter of finding one’s own voice in someone else’s mouth. But to FIND anything (even one’s own voice) one has to look, one has to pay attention, one has to be open to the possibility that what one is looking for isn’t what one is looking for. One has to look with open eyes and an open heart, and even in sadness with full-throttle joy.


Did the collaboration affect your own work?

Yes.

Though people have commented on similarities in our work, we’re both most struck by the differences. Without going into details (which I think would risk limiting what both of us are currently doing, or have done in these poems), both of us are readier than we’ve ever been. We’re more amped up. We’re more attuned to the process of writing and responsiveness. Throughout this, we were implicitly asking the other person to be always counting down, ready to detonate.

Existing in a state of pending katastrophē (from the Greeks - not apostrophe, where you’re talking to something/one else, but where instead you’re turning away, overturning, veering off from something) prepares you to respond most explosively.


Did anything happen during the collaborative process that surprised you?

In some ways, all of it was surprising. Every new poem was a surprise. And that was built into the process, where the only expectation was an enlivened poetic response—whatever form that might take. I’d wake up in the morning and there waiting for me in my email or on the blog was a brand new message to ME about both the message I’d sent previously, and also something bigger than me and the message. This was comforting somehow and also galvanizing. Think Frankenstein’s monster. Think winning the lottery.

So much of what we do as writers happens in solitude, and one has to wait until either a work is published (where often it flies off into the darkness never to be heard from again) or until one gives a reading (which is its own sort of darkness) to see how/where/if it sticks. Is anybody out there? Who’s calling?

—Hello? —Big Bright Sun, this is Werewolf Face, can you hear me…?

There was something so immediate about this process, about saying/demonstrating something and receiving back an echo, which itself said and demonstrated something related and relevant to the larger noise-making, but that was also different and full of new, tangible life… Everyday was a holiday. There were fireworks and presents, things with bat wings, puzzle pieces, feelings associated and others mismanaged. SURPRISE!


In your chapbook, images such as the icicles in sunlight recur, and the titles often play off each other (In Memory of My Feelings/In Memory of Somebody Else’s Feelings). One poem ends: “Your friend, wolf face” and another poem is titled “Werewolf Face.” Is one of you more responsible for the interplay between poems? Or did you both consciously integrate the images and themes of the other person’s poems into your own?

The interplay of imagery and themes was implicit and unspoken and part of the conversation that developed as it developed. Neither of us was more responsible than the other and it’s probably fair to say that we’re both fairly irresponsible as writers! In that: we use words in ways that are both sloppy and necessary; we slosh them around and hope that a few of them mean something more than they mean singly. We were both conscious, certainly, of writing together and so it only made sense to be responsive to the deployment of words that were marshaled against us by the other. It made sense that when singing we’d be charged up with the other person’s song. But that’s just it – it wasn’t any kind of strategy. It happened like that because that’s how it happened. It was fun, and functional, because it shackled our impulses to the process overall; it was something that made us both happy – happy to do it, happy to have it done to us. In it, in the integration you point out, we got about as close as two mixed up souls can get and that’s what we wanted.


How do you feel about the finished product?

I love having the chapbook as documentation of a small portion of the collaboration, but ultimately it’s up to other people to decide whether it has merit beyond what it is to the two of us. Certainly, we believe it does, which is why we put it out there, but for me it’s a reminder of a friendship in poetry, something no book could ever contain. I guess, too, it would be great if other people were inspired to collaborate as a result of reading it. Let us know, won’t you? We’d love to talk with you about it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Poemeleon

There's a wonderful new issue of Poemeleon online. The issue is dedicated to collaborative work, and includes collaborations of two or more poets, collaborations between poets and artists, musicians and an actress, essays on collaboration, and book reviews. It's a remarkable assembly of projects. You can also hear the collaboration by Neil Aitken and Juhi Bansal, who were recently interviewed here. My thanks to Cati Porter and the editors of Poemeleon for putting together this issue devoted to collaboration, as well as my friend Luke Johnson for bringing it to my attention.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gretchen E. Henderson




Gretchen E. Henderson received the 2010 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Prize from &NOW Books and Lake Forest College for her forthcoming hybrid novel, Galerie de Difformité. Her poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and cross-genre writings can be found in varied journals, including The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, Denver Quarterly, Witness, Black Warrior Review, Double Room, New American Writing, The &NOW Awards: The Best Innovative Writing, and elsewhere, with an invitation to participate in her collaborative project here. Recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she is an Affiliated Scholar in English at Kenyon College, where she will be a Peter Taylor Fellow at this summer’s Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop.


From Galerie de Difformité

Exhibit C

Color is a chronicle of chemistry, fueled by desire. First came nature, then impulses to imitate its true colors. Harnessing ocher, lampblack, hematite (from the Greek word for “blood”), indigo (from Baghdad and Bengal), cinnabar (from Spain: purified, synthesized, ground to certain fineness), color-seekers sought the marrow of madder, fixed with mordents, to spread red, getting white from eggshells or calcinated bird bones. Pliny and Vitruvius described the ten thousand shells of mollusks needed to furnish a gram of royal purple (a recipe that varied with grades of murex found north and south; a recipe lost with the Fall of Rome). An array of activities, across eras and areas, secreted the spectrum’s secrets. [To read more of this, find Exhibit C in the online gallery and follow instructions.]

Exhibit M

It’s a matter of digging up a body. Digging up and into a body: of myths, any legend, perhaps an affliction that the French called le mal d’afrique, named for visitors to Africa, who found they could not leave. Perhaps, it had to do with something evolutionary. The malady preceded explorations into the continental interior, creeping into foreign dreams and magnetizing seekers toward the mysterious source of the Nile. For centuries, the god-like river with five mouths flowed east to west at the proposition of Herodotus’ Histories, which also suggested the invention of years from stars and recorded the appearance of seashells on mountains and sand-colored clay in Syria, red soil in Libya, and black crumbly silt in Egypt and Ethiopia. Ivory, gold, and beeswax drew traders of beads, cloth, and metal from Sri Vijaya and beyond. China, India, Arabia. Caravans then crept inland—Kilwa and Lindi to Lake Nyasa, from Bagamoyo and Mbwamaji to Tabora to Ujiji, from Pangani and Tanga past Mount Kilimanjaro—as cultures and languages entangled at their roots, branched and sought more soil and sky. Entangling like arms, legs, bodies. [To read more of this, find Exhibit M in the online gallery and follow instructions.]

Exhibit P

Bodies on bodies, three breathe into one. A love triangle, cloaked in black, exposes a red robe and mouth, roving. Without resuscitation, theirs is a mastery of manipulation, a laying on of hands, under skirts, to hold and feign life. As a triumvirate: the master directs the head, shoulders, right hand; an assistant controls the left; and a third manages legs and feet, shuddering to life, as a puppet rises in a Bunraku theater. Hollow-headed, wigged, repainted with blinking eyes and clasping hands, Hisamatsu or Princess Yaegaki takes the stage in a cotton-stuffed robe over a belted kimono, coordinated by three consorts wearing the color of nothing, as a chanter and shamiesen (thick, thin, or medium-necked, laced with strings, to play heart-strings of listeners) invokes The New Ballad or The Dance of the Two Sambosas. [To read more of this, find Exhibit P in the online gallery and follow instructions.]



How did your collaboration begin?

My project has been brewing for years in manuscript form, but the call for collaborators (or “Subscribers,” to use parlance from the project) didn’t begin until Fall 2009, after the Galerie de Difformité found a publisher, and after most “Exhibits” had been published in journals. (“Exhibits” are only one element of the book and are intermixed, not alphabetically, among varied genres and images; the book itself is structured as an art catalogue, with “choose your own adventure” directives to navigate a reader through varied paths, via the Exhibits, a narrative epistolary, sonnet cycle, faux scholarship, definitions, illustrations & artworks, in a kind of a curiosity cabinet dedicated to deformity.) Since the project straddles varied notions of the Book, materially and virtually, I hope that deformations by “Subscribers” will collectively populate the online gallery as a kind of installation. The collaboration is only beginning—


What are the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

In this first stage of collaboration, “Subscribers” (a one-time commitment) download an electronic copy of a textual “Exhibit” before the book’s publication (forthcoming in Fall 2011 from &NOW Books, with distribution by Northwestern UP). “Exhibits” are more or less prose poems or micro-essays, narrated by one of the novel’s main characters: a deformed reincarnation of Dante’s Beatrice. Subscribers can deform “Exhibits” however they like—visually, aurally, sensorily—then email the Undertaker a photograph, audio, or video metamorphosis to post on the website. Submissions received by JUNE 1, 2010 will be considered for inclusion in the published book; thereafter, the online gallery will continue to grow. All submissions will be featured in the online gallery. When submitting, it’s appreciated if you include a list of materials, description of the process of deformation, and title. (This information will be worked into future documentation of the project.) If Subscribers have a personal website or link to their other work, I welcome the chance to include that, so the Galerie de Difformité increasingly networks outwards—more details here . Additional invitations will be included in the published book, allowing readers to deform the book-object in ways that, as of yet, I can only dream. My hope is for some of these deformations to become part of a traveling exhibition.


How do people most often deform the text? Visually, aurally, etc.?

Given the traditionally-visual orientation of galleries, most “Exhibits” have been deformed visually, using a range of materials (e.g., paint, yarn, ice, transparency, soap) and methods (e.g., drawing, collaging, folding, printing, erasure), metamorphosing from a tree-sized mobile to bracelets to a bird (a sampling is shown here). Since the project is only in beginning stages, the answer to this question may change over time. Some deformations tend to be more derivative, while others take on a life of their own: their own forms, albeit qualified here as “deformed.” As for what deformations may come: beyond visual variations across varied media, I wish “Exhibits” to be translated into other languages (ancient Greek to Arabic, Braille to ASL), which isn’t to neglect other senses like taste and smell: some Subscribers may decide to make or bake edible “Exhibits.” (The closest thing yet: my puppy chewed up some “Exhibits” while I was away on a residency and while my husband was at work; when he, horrified, sent me a photo, I was delighted and posted it in the online gallery—since it seemed her genuine way of meeting the text.) Wherever and however anyone meets the Page, genuinely engaging with their own skills, arts, sensibilities—that interests me. In a related vein, I hope some young children will participate to meet the mysterious forms of letters and words, to make meanings as they see fit. More aural deformations might emerge over the course of the project: sung or chanted or otherwise composed, read at variant paces, translated into other languages and spoken… Even in English, shifts in emphases will shift meanings (as happens with heteronyms, but even a simple sentence: You are here. You are here. You are here), as will varied intonations and accents. Morphemes and phonemes and syllables can float around as suffixes and prefixes and roots, becoming building blocks for new words and new word orders: actual and invented. There are ways to approach this project from varied disciplines, macroscopically and microscopically, pushing against a narrow definition of deformity. The important thing to remember: whatever the background and approach, it’s not enough to imagine the deformation; Subscribers must represent the deformation. The how and why and what of that representation ties into the heart of the project.


Have you collaborated before? How was this experience different than other collaborations?

Having grown up studying music, I collaborated with other musicians without thinking to call it “collaboration.” For a few years in graduate school, I collaborated with a scientist and used that term (an illuminating experience for both of us, navigating dual citation methods, conference presentation formats, and the like—balancing between what C.P. Snow famously called the “two cultures” divide). Teaching is highly collaborative, and my written work has straddled the visual arts for some time. In addition to some art classes, I participated in a documentary film atelier in college, and more recent years brought collaborations with some artists on broadsides (one at an artist colony, another through the collaborative community of Broadsided; scroll down here for these images). Although each broadside process was different, the artists generally responded to my poetry in a kind of reverse ekphrasis. I was interested in a longer-term collaboration with more back-and-forth, pursuing a process with multiple artists (broadly defined), to see what might evolve through collective responses that could shape a published process and product.

The Galerie de Difformité would-and-will-be nothing without its Subscribers. Since selected collaborative images will be included in the published book, submissions will influence its future reading. Along with other means and methods of deformation, images from the website also will be available to print and affix into the published book to alter it further. My hope is that each “reading” will contribute to a larger conversation about deformity, as each copy of the book physically and psychically deforms in any given reader’s hands.

On another level, it feels like I’m collaborating with historical figures, periods, and tropes. Putting these voices in conversation with one another (juxtaposed sometimes smoothly, elsewhere jarringly), I am compelled to listen and hope others will, too. Thus, the note from da Vinci about “How to Read”: “If the sound is in ‘m’ and the listener in ‘n,’ the sound will be believed to be in ‘s’ if the court is enclosed at least on 3 sides against the listener.” Analogy may be made with Galerie de Difformité: if a sound is made in one Exhibit while Gentle Reader resides in another, (s)he may seek out additional Exhibits to coordinate the orchestrations.

As a side note: according to the OED, “collaborate” as a word didn’t originate until the late-nineteenth century in English, signifying “to work together.” As a concept, this existed long before the word, which leads me to wonder what current concepts might be making spaces for future words? In the mid-twentieth century, another meaning of “collaborate” arose: “to co-operate traitorously with the enemy.” “Collaborative(s)” arose in tandem…and now there’s a buzz about the word and related activities, which continue to evolve across media, disciplines, thought systems, language itself.


Has watching the various deformed incarnations appear changed your thoughts or feelings about the original text?

Each submission shifts my relationship with its corresponding “Exhibit,” not to mention the larger project: sometimes subtly, sometimes profoundly. Phrases and themes surface and resurface, articulated and unarticulated, rearranged and reimagined in different dimensions. The range becomes interesting as more deformations populate each “Exhibit” of the online gallery. For example, from a single sentence, one Subscriber staged a scene of stilt-walking, while another reduced an entire Exhibit to the size of a pearl. Each piece can be taken on its own terms, but also collectively, continuing to change the larger contextualization. This variation relates to my choice of character of Dante’s Beatrice (a deformed reincarnation, that is) who appears differently in representations across history. (To view a few of her images, visit Exhibit A.) Her form is de-formed again and again—but not in a negative sense, per se. There’s more to say about that, but in a nutshell: her ability to change serves as a kind of guide for this project more than some static, historic sense of self.


Has anything happened during the collaborative process that surprised you?

I just finished a two-month residency at Lake Forest College, thanks to the Madeleine P. Plonsker Prize. There and at Kenyon College, a handful of classes participated in my project: a vibrant experience. I love working with students, and the book’s inter-disciplinary, inter-media nature lends itself to deform to suit syllabi from varied disciplines and levels. I’m interested in continuing to work on the Galerie de Difformité as a pedagogical project. (If any teachers who read this interview are interested in using the project with their classes, please feel free to contact me.) Another surprise occurred when my publisher said that selected Subscriber images could be included in the published book—a dream come true. I wasn’t sure that would work with the budget. The folks at &NOW and Lake Forest College have been great supporters of this project, for which I’m extremely grateful. As I continue to reshape the manuscript to accommodate and be enriched by the collaborative contributions, I look forward to receiving more submissions.


How do you feel about the finished product?

The project is far from finished—only in beginning stages. I won’t be able to answer this question for a few years, at least. I’m excited by the potential of the Galerie de Difformité to span a number of disciplines and media, from book arts to installation, trying to (en)gage a range of visual, sonic, and other sensory logics. I’m embedding the project in varied technologies to see what / how / who / where / why the book deforms, asking a number of questions in the process: By “reading” text as object, how do we engage past and future forms of the book, not to mention varied literacies? What knowledges and expectations do we, as readers and/or artists, bring to the Page? What activities activate language? How do we read texts, contextualized and de-/re-contextualized, within and outside of book form? Materially and technologically, what parts of this project will deform over the lifetime of this project so as to become inaccessible? How is the term “accessibility” applied to texts, and what does that mean—especially as paralleled with accessibility in political, spatial, and temporal terms? What can we learn about sociocultural beliefs about deformity by engaging in material acts of deformation? How does collaborative work function in terms of the Author, authorship and authority? These questions are but a few that tug at the back of my mind. If you’re interested in watching the project evolve and deform further, or want to participate in its deformation, please follow the directions and/or join its Facebook page. As one might expect, all rules are subject to deform.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Neil Aitken & Juhi Bansal




Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight which won the 2007 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review. His poems have appeared in Barn Owl Review, Crab Orchard Review, diode, The Drunken Boat, Ninth Letter, Poetry Southeast, Sou'wester, and elsewhere. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, he grew up in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the western parts of the United States and Canada. He currently lives in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles and is pursuing a PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.



Juhi Bansal, an Indian composer raised in Hong Kong, is currently working towards a doctorate in music composition at the University of Southern California, studying under Donald Crockett. Her previous teachers have included Erica Muhl, Frank Ticheli, Frederick Lesemann, and Stephen Hartke.

Her music, with its eclectic mix of ethnic and colouristic elements, is starting to gain international acclaim. Recent performances include her piece Gulden Draak, at the Oregon Bach Festival Composer’s Symposium, her Piano Trio (played by Pacific Music Festival orchestra academy members) at Kitara hall in Sapporo, Japan, and her flute and percussion trio, T’tuooll, at the SICPP New Music festival in Boston. Her music has also been performed by percussionist Scott Deal and vocalist Jenna Lyle, at Indiana University, Purdue, and Cleveland State University, respectively, as well as numerous performances in Los Angeles.

Recent commissions include a song cycle for the Lotte Lehman Foundation, Black, for the guitarist Connie Shue, and two multi-percussion solos for recitals at the University of Southern California. Recent awards and honours include third prize in the Lotte Lehman Foundation’s Art Song Competition, 2009 and 2006 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer awards, and a fellowships to attend the Seasons Music Festival and Pacific Music Festival.


You may download a sample of their collaboration at The Lost Country of Sight



How did your collaboration begin?

NA: Juhi and I were in the Writer and Composer at USC which pairs up poets from the PhD English program with composers from the graduate music composition program to work on three different collaborations over the course of the semester. The pairings were switched with each project in order to allow each poet and composer the opportunity to work with a number of different people. I had heard Juhi's work with the other poets and admired both the richness of the tone of her work and variety of approaches she employed to create the best blending of text and music. Needless to say I was very excited was she asked to work with me on the last project. We were so pleased with "Halfway" (the piece that was produced for the class), that we decided to continue the collaboration. Over the next few months, I supplied three more poems which Juhi arranged into a longer work.

JB: Neil and I were together in a class at USC called Writer and Composer, where each composer is assigned a poet (or each poet a composer), and we work on three projects through the course of the semester. For each one, the poet gives their composer something they've written that they would like set to music, and then they collaborate to write a piece. I heard Neil's poetry over the course of the class when he had other composers assigned to him, and absolutely loved it - so for the final project (when we were able to choose our own poets), I asked to work with him.

The second movement of the song cycle (Halfway), was the final project for the class, and I enjoyed setting Neil's poetry so much that we turned it into a much larger piece over the months that followed.


What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

NA: We didn't establish any particular set of rules. In fact, given my lack of formal musical training, I felt that it was wise just to let Juhi do her thing :) Although for the most part we worked independently, we did meet together whenever it felt like a piece was coming together or there were important editing decisions to be made. I was really impressed with the time Juhi took to ask questions to understand the emotional tone and trajectory of each poem -- I felt this helped tremendously and allowed us to be on the same page when deciding if lines needed to be trimmed, words dropped, or phrases repeated.

JB: There weren't any, specifically, although in the course of the class, we were expected to be writing classical art songs. I basically took Neil's texts as a starting point to sketch out musical forms and brainstorm ideas, and then met up with Neil to play through what I'd sketched out. We'd talk about it, I'd write some more music, and then we'd discuss it again.


Have you collaborated before outside of your art form before? How was this experience different than other collaborations?

NA: Not really. I have written some ekphrastic poems inspired by images and the occasional poem sequence inspired by certain pieces of music, but in terms of actually working with a living artist in a full collaboration, this project was a first for me. Interestingly enough the first piece that Juhi and I worked on was an ekphrastic poem inspired by a photograph of a woman attempting to swim across the English Channel. While the image provided the momentum for writing the poem, the poem soon triggered other associations which allowed it to go in new directions. In this respect, an ekphrastic poem is really more like an oracular experience, like reading Tarot cards or Rorschach inkblots. When working with another artist there's less of a sense of "reading" and more of a sense of "listening and dialogue." The image is a starting place, a lens, and an obsession to be explored and interpreted -- the collaborating artist provides something much different, a voice which can blend with the voice of the poem, filling in some of the dark spaces and absences, strengthening the highs, deepening the lows, and creating an experience that extends far beyond the borders of the page.

JB: I haven't actually collaborated with another type of artist before, although I have written pieces inspired by poetry or visual art. It's quite different, and much more exciting working with a live person!


Did Juhi provide any feedback on the poems or Neil make any suggestion on the music?

NA: As Juhi worked on the pieces she'd let me know what she liked and what she felt might be too repetitive or awkward to sing. I sometimes have a tendency to create long lines or run several images together. While this might work with the eye on the page, the singer's voice operates differently and needs rests and variety. Having sung in the occasional church choir, I was highly sympathetic to these suggestions. We worked together to ensure that the poem's meaning wasn't drastically changed. I felt that the changes Juhi suggested were ones that I could certainly live with. Once the piece was performed, in many cases it was impossible to detect where those changes had occurred -- to me that's a sign of success.

JB: Neil did give a few minor suggestions about the music, but generally he let me go about it my own way. I remember on the Halfway movement, I sketched out the opening with some sound effects in the instruments, to create an atmosphere before the music started, and although Neil didn't say anything at the time, I could tell he thought it was just a little weird. Once he actually heard it though, I think he really liked the texture.


What did you learn from your fellow collaborator?

NA: Working with Juhi taught me a great deal about what music can do that poetry cannot - or at least what poetry does differently to create similar effects. Writers tend to rely a great deal on repetition and escalation to create dynamic flow through a piece. Composers can shape the music behind the words, make use of counterpoint, and even more dramatically employ silence to create a stronger emotional experience for the audience. The lines Juhi trimmed and phrases she repeated tended to be places where I was using language to create a rhythmic or emotional effect that she could create more simply through music.

JB: A lot about how musical shaping, forms and motives reflect those in poetry.


Did anything happen during the collaborative process that surprised you?

NA: To be honest, the final product surprised me. Although I'd heard bits and pieces as Juhi was working on the long piece, I hadn't heard a performance of the complete work before its first public performance. When it was performed, I was surprised at how the synergy between text and music had created a brand new experience, how clearly and intuitively Juhi had grasped the emotional core of each poem, and how deeply the resultant work moved me, even though these were the same words that I'd written and with which I was already quite familiar.

JB: I was actually pleasantly surprised at how much freedom Neil gave me with the music. He was very accepting of all the directions I took with the music, but he did voice objections if he really didn't like something, which was fantastic.


How do you feel about the finished product?

NA: As you might glean from my other responses, I am very very proud of this collaboration and am excited to be working again with Juhi on another project. The collaboration gave me the rare opportunity to encounter my own poetry for the first time through the lens of another artist.

JB: I really love the finished product - Neil's poems were absolutely inspiring to work with, and I think they really helped me write better music. We're actually collaborating on another set of songs I'm writing towards a commission by the Lotte Lehman foundation later this year, as well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Third Mind

There's a new essay out in the current issue of Gulf Coast called "The Third Mind: American Collaborative Poetry & Its Roots" by Dean Gorman. The essay examines the history of collaboration, from the Japanese renga to the French Surrealists to the New York School in the 1950s. Most interestingly (at least to me) was the discussion of collaboration in contemporary American poetics and the knee-jerk distrust from some readers of collaborative work concerning the question of authorship. Gorman discusses T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and the role of the artist in submission to the art and the extinction of the personality. He goes on to write:
The romantic concept of the Individual, which survives in Eliot's argument even as he questions it, will probably never go away. Nine out of ten book-flap blurbs will still use the adjective "singular" to describe poetic voice or vision. Yet as we move further into an era of published collaborations from American poets, the idea of ownership should become less and less of a concern for those writing and publishing. Poets will continue to work together to create new forms and hybrid language, and journals and small presses will continue to unabashedly support these projects. I don't expect every meeting of the minds to be historic--far from it. If anything, I harbor some of the same stereotypes about collaborations as those readers, critics and publishers who stand in the way of its mainstream potential. Yet I am optimistic of its future, its viability--its endless experiment.


I recommend picking up an issue of Gulf Coast for the full essay.

Also worth checking out is the current issue of Tin House which has an exquisite corpse by Mary Jo Bang, Nick Flynn, Alex Lemon, Matthea Harvey, Eileen Myles, and D. A. Powell.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kate Schapira



Kate Schapira is the author of TOWN (Factory School, Heretical Texts, 2010) and several chapbooks from Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Flying Guillotine Press, Cy Gist Press, Rope-A-Dope Press and horse less press. She runs the Publicly Complex Reading Series in Providence, RI.




CUSTOM/LAW _________CONSTRUCTION/INFRASTRUCTURE

_____________TOURISM



There is no such
thing as home. There’s
no place


like home that
lingers not
surprisingly:


when Mrs. Lila
Corning was the head
of the Auxiliary
This town hosts a festival
It is an Autumn Leaf Festival
The Autumn Leaf Festival celebrates
the time of year when the town
leaves change



to brochures and flutter
and catch and pulp in the ordinary
street material
in some places


where the pavement is
thin
or cracked
the town leaves
room for ephemera.


The Auxiliary
Welcomes You.



from TOWN, Factory School Press



How did your collaboration begin?

KS: I was (and still am) working on a project that was (and still is) involving a lot of painful material and uneasy ethical approaches. I wanted to do something fun and something for which I was not entirely responsible, so I wrote to about 100 people and asked them to tell me something about an imaginary town -- if you have the book, the letter I sent is in the back. About 60 people sent me something by the deadline, and then I began to write the poems set in the town they had created for me.


What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

KS: Contributors had a deadline for getting their contributions in. They could tell me anything about the town -- past/present/future, large- or small-scale -- and I had to treat everything they told me as true. When some of their contributions turned out to contradict one another (not on purpose -- nobody saw anybody else's contribution until the book came out), I had to decide how I was going to deal with that, and those decisions produced some of the most interesting and fertile results and combinations in the book, I think.


Did any of the collaborators have additional input into the project after their initial suggestions for the town?

KS: It wasn't built into the structure of the project, and nobody asked about it. The one exception is that my husband James, who is a cartoonist, contributed artwork to the cover and helped to lay the cover out, as well as contributing to the town itself.


Have you collaborated before? How was this experience different than other collaborations?

KS: I have, but only recently. TOWN was different because there were a lot of people involved, but everything went through me; I proposed the structure of the project. I think I said on the KR blog that I had a lot of control at the beginning and the end, and contributors (en masse, although not exactly collectively, since they weren't talking with each other) had a lot of control in the middle.

My other collaborations have been much more "traditional", I think, in their relative evenhandedness -- two writers, both doing the same amount and the same kind of work to create and alter the text. Erika Howsare and I collaborated via email on a project called ROADBLOCK/SIGHTLINES (it's up, or soon will be, at www.culturalsociety.org), and we're now working together on a larger project on waste. In both of these, there's been a planning stage (how are we going to do this? what are the rules?); a generative, responsive back-and-forth stage -- more highly structured in ROADBLOCK/SIGHTLINES, looser in the waste project; a second planning stage (what's the next step?); and an altering/revising/manipulating stage. Kate Colby and I also have begun to collaborate on a project, kind of in the same way -- a basic area of focus and set of rules to generate material, then a back-and-forth responsive procedure -- but it's on hiatus right now.

I'm not sure how far this analogy will actually go, but I think the TOWN project might be more like electing someone to office -- as a voter, you don't know how anyone else voted (even when you know what happened, you don't know who it was that wanted it to happen, unless they tell you); you have a lot of control over what you do, and a bit of control (but not a lot) over what the elected official does; there's a very "out of my hands" / "I did my part" aspect to the way it's set up. I am the mayor of TOWN, I think, although I don't know if I'm the same mayor that shows up in the book. (I hope not.)

A collaboration like the ones with Erika and Kate is more like a partnership (in any sense of that word) -- two people engaging on an endeavor together, contributing what they have, each with their own feelings about what they want to happen, but with an appreciation for the other -- and the way that compromise, contradiction and reconciliation work in the latter setup is very different than in the former.


Did the collaboration have an effect on your poems outside of this project?

KS: I feel like it must have, but I don't know what effect, yet. I think it needs time to work its way through the compost.


Did anything happen during the collaborative process that surprised you?

KS: Well, to the extent that it IS complex and interesting, which I feel in some ways I'm not the best judge of, I was surprised when it began to get complex and interesting and started requiring me to acknowledge its complexities. The contradictions surprised me (although I don't know why) and made me realize and reevaluate how interconnected things in town were. Something that was cool when it happened was that sometimes the nexus of two or three contributions would require that a particular, previously-unthought-of thing be true about the town


How do you feel about the finished product? Would you collaborate again?

KS: Frankly, I feel awesome about it. I don't think it's a perfect project -- I can see the places where I was neglectful or shallow, the missed opportunities -- but I think it asks intriguing questions and is fun and beautiful to read. I'm guessing that the contributors who aren't excited about it just aren't bothering to write to me, but the people who have written or spoken to me about it have been excited and happy about the way it's turned out. Would I collaborate again? Sure -- I am already, with Erika (and with Kate if we pick it back up) -- but maybe not this exact way.



Questions for Kate's collaborators

Elisa Gabbert is the poetry editor of Absent and the author of Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). With Kathleen Rooney, she has co-authored several collaborative poetry collections, including Don't ever stay the same; keep changing (Spooky Girlfriend Press) and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths). Recent poems can be found in Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Puerto del Sol, and Salt Hill.

Adam Veal will have received his MFA from Brown in May, 2010. Hopefully, he will have also gotten to spend some quality time in the sun this coming spring. It sort of feels like it's been raining in Rhode Island for two years straight, and having lived in San Diego, Davis, and San Francisco before moving to Providence, Adam is looking forward to having been outside a lot very soon, like, let's go do that right now!


Do you remember what information you gave Kate for the imaginary town?

EG: When the book came out, I didn't remember, so I went back through my email to find out. I had written: "This is a town where many claim with a hint of competitive pride that their old houses are haunted: by a sea captain or a teen suicide ..."

AV: "strange beasts drift through the town, grazing
the beasts can be seasonal
they cannot possibly be human"


Why did you choose those details?

EG: I grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is by no means huge, but it's a city, not a town. I was thinking of my boyfriend's hometown, Norwich, Connecticut, for this. Towns, more than cities, to my mind, tend to celebrate their own backwardness with a sort of anti-bragging: We have the shittiest roads, we lose power every time it rains, and so forth. The people of Norwich (at least those I've crossed paths with) love spreading this kind of negative lore.

AV: I just wanted the town to be located in the way of some weird migration pattern. We never moved when I was growing up. My parents are still in that house, in fact. So I have some romance for things that drift. Also, I had in my mind the image of giant insect cow-things. Small things that drift are great, but when big, weird things drift it's something else. So at the time, I was sort of daydreaming about big wild romantic cow-bugs.


How do you feel about how TOWN turned out? Would you collaborate on another project?

EG: I think Kate's project here was/is pretty brilliant. I love how she applied crowd-sourcing to poetry.

I actually collaborate on a near-daily basis with a poet (and writer of many other genres) named Kathleen Rooney. We've been at it so long, we've created a sort of third voice. I imagine we'll keep collaborating for a long time, but I'd also be happy to be involved in another multi-vocal project like TOWN. Of course, Kate did 99% of the real work here. :)

AV: I like it. I was wondering how Kate was going to string together everybody's contributions. The different permutations of the narrative lyric turned out well. I especially like the use of page headings and the sections, From the Dreamwall. It reminds me a little of Stacy Doris' Cheerleader's Guide to the World: Council Book, which is fantastic. I have not collaborated that much, and I don't think I contributed as much as others did to Town. I am curious to see how multiple readings will change the feel of the book, in sort of varying levels of familiarity. There is a feeling, knowing other people were involved in contributing to the book, of reading it and looking for sections that seem to come from different people. Reading it, I have the feeling of being very curious about who contributed what. But, one thing that's really interesting are the transitions the book makes in and out of different voices. It's interesting to see how Kate relates this notion of mediation to notions of private and public property. All in all, I am very happy to have drifted through Town a bit.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Martin Rock & Phillip Ischy




Martin Rock is Editor in Chief of Washington Square Review and co-curator of Cornelia St. Graduate Poetry reading series in Manhattan. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Diagram, Tuesday; an Art Project, Mississippi Review Online, NANOFiction, No, Dear, and others. He translates poetry from the Japanese and is the St. Mary's Master Fellow in New York University's MFA program. Contact him at martin.shijin.rock@gmail.com.




Phillip is a graduate of the creative writing program at Florida State class of '05. His chapbook collaboration with Martin Rock, Fish, You Bird from Pilot Books is due to be released this spring. Publications include Washington Square Review ( Spring / Fall '09 ), Gulf Coast Review ( Fall '07 ), & guest co-editor with David Chester of Mississippi Review online ( Fall '04 ). He currently lives in Bryan, Texas where he is a cook, concert promoter, & musical instrument salesman.


from Fish, You Bird

Wind holds up his hands:
in his palms, albatrosses
like small pocketknives.

Flight is a winged tree ( feathers
its leaves ) bending in the wind.

* * *

To be born again;
blind, without these hellish limbs
(folding, unfolding).

Flying too close to the sun--
a school of Spanish Mackerel.

* * *

All fish are derived
from Icarus, that swallow
who swam in the sea.

It is commanded: swallow
the bird, you fish; fish, you bird.

* * *

Matters of the flesh:
your dusty hand reaching through
poems, touching birds.

Right Here, two Japanese girls
crying. Smoothing Death's feathers.


from the chapbook Fish, You Bird, forthcoming from Pilot Books


Collection of more recent tanka from the series

61.
Hear me woman: I'm
just a man waist deep in your
turbulent waters.

I threw all my coins into
your well. You had wished for change.

62.
I wished then for Death;
to be born again a fish
in her dark waters.

Last night I was a man. Now
I am nothing but a man.

63.
I am a vessel
taking part of her away.
Such is memory.

I am now a fisherman.
I cast my lines into her.

64.
Blood also travels
in vessels. Corpuscles are
typecast, know their lines.

When she opens herself up,
schools of tiny fish spill out.

65.
Pelican-mouthed, I
drink her in. Fish live in me
again. Now, I am full.

If my sinking boat contains
no sharks, should I not fear them?

66.
No boats are sinking
in this ocean made of sharks.
The island bodies

pass through each other like ships;
insatiable lovers.

81.
I never kissed her.
I yawned into her mouth. I
shared my exhaustion.

My roots are the tiniest
feet. They have nowhere to go.

82.
There is more of us
recently. Why not focus
on the leaping frogs?

Basho found enlightenment
in a splash, not the mirror.

83.
Fushimi will break
his promise tomorrow, but
tonight he is ours.

The Emperor stands naked--
his clothes a pond rippling.

84.
Tonight the long hours
pile on top of each other
like dead trees. We climb.

Inside the bark our lungs fill--
The emperor, too, is ash.




How did your collaboration begin?

MR: I was on the phone with Phil, and actually I remember exactly where I was in this park outside of Tokorozawa I used to stop at on my way home from work. I'd go there to watch the ducks and the old men who fed them, and to read until I lost the light. Phil was still recovering from being attacked, and he'd been having a bit of trouble writing. I was reading a lot from the Japanese canon: Basho, Issa, Buson, and Ryokan, and I had just come across the traditional "renga" form of linked verse. I remember reading that Basho and his disciples used to write these chains of poems, that he'd write the beginning, set it on a leaf and send it downriver where the next person picked it up and continued. I can honestly still see the trees I was standing between and the late afternoon light on the lake the day Phil and I decided to start this project. It's really the only thing that hasn't changed about my life in the last 5 or 6 years.

PI: I was still recovering from my head trauma. On February 13, 2005, I got assaulted with a hammer while I was working at a video store & spent the next few months recovering & trying to get my chops back. When Martin pitched the renga to me, it seemed like a great idea. Shorter poems would enable me to write without exhausting my still healing brain, & it would give me a way to have a creative conversation with one of my best friends & favorite poets. I had always written shorter poems for the most part, so the transition was pretty easy.


What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

MR: We haven't adhered strictly to the traditional renga form (mostly because there are too many rules to keep track of) but we did determine early on some parameters, and we haven't broken any of them. We decided to stick to a strict 5-7-5, 7-7 syllable count, and this has definitely forced us to consider each word; its sounds, implications, and of course one of the most important elements of the liked verse is that the poems are related, but that each one consistently introduces a new element to the poem. Basho called it "atarashimi" or newness, and I hope we've captured a bit of that in the series. I feel that fragmentation, which has become a pervasive element in contemporary American poetry,has been around for centuries in linked Japanese verse.

PI: When I told Martin that I was definitely on board with this, he said "Okay then, you start it". It caught me off guard a bit since I hadn't worked with the form much, but also I was starting something that was greater than anything I had written before. Quite a lot to put on one's shoulders, but a worthy goal nonetheless.


How did you collaboratively edit?

MR: I think that for the most part the editing was done before we sent the poems to each other. Sometimes there would be a couple months between the receiving of a poem and the sending of the response. Part of that was just life getting in the way, but the whole time there was this tanka rolling about in the back of our minds. At least, I feel that this has been the case for me, and I know the level of consideration Phil gives to each of his poems. These poems are so short that one of the greatest gifts of this process has been carrying around a poem in my mind, and watching a response take shape before I put it down. Otherwise, we've given each other comments on revising a poem here and there, but for the most part the editing process has not been collaborative.

PI: It's sort of an ongoing process too. Every now & then, we'll see something in our older poems & point it out, but it's minor stuff for the most part, too many or too little syllables, little things like that. When I write mine, I usually do it late at night, then go to sleep & look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. If it meets or surpasses my expectations, I send it to Martin.


What did you learn from your fellow collaborator?

MR: I don't know how I can even answer this. Phil was in my first poetry class with Ginny Grimsley, and then also with David Kirby, both of whom were phenomenal teachers and mentors. I've been learning from Phil's poems since I discovered that not all poetry had to rhyme. He's one of the most naturally gifted poets I know.

PI: Actually, I wasn't in your class with Ginny. I met you & Traci in Kirby's workshop at FSU. Martin's work has always challenged me, which is why we became such good friends & started this renga. He has never been afraid to write what he wants. I've always wanted to write like him, to have the ideas that come into fruition on his pages. I constantly learn more about how I want to write by reading his work & working with him.


What did you learn about yourself as a poet?

MR: You're really not pulling any punches here Traci. Is the next question going to be a biopsy?

I guess the most important thing has been the recognition of how lucky I am to have good friends like Phil to work with. I've learned that I will continue to write on my own, even living away from a community of poets, without contact to those I love, to those whose words I love. But man am I grateful to have a friend willing to work on an extended project like this with me. I've also learned a bit through the process of working on this book with Pilot. At one point Betsy said, "I can tell one of you guys really likes to be clever." Where it works, the cleverness is all Phil. Where it doesn't, its probably me. I'm trying to be less clever, but I'm still convinced that the pun is one of the highest forms of humor.

PI: I think the next question is rhetorical.

I've always been a fan of word economy, which is part of the reason I'm not really a fiction person. Not sure if it's ADD or what. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, why not paint a picture with fewer? Our work is constantly evolving, & we can see it in the full series. Moods change, ideas move past one another like slow trains. Every tanka I receive excites me to no end. Martin is my brother. When words came together to form a sentence, we were born.


Did the collaboration affect your own work?

MR: I guess the snarky answer is that everything I have done in the past 5 years has affected my work. I feel that this project has been so integrated into my life that there is no way to separate the two. I can go back and read these poems and know exactly the state of my mind when each one was written, and in that way this project has become a kind of diary of emotional and existential states of consciousness, as they relate to Phil and his world and to me and my world. In a lot of ways this was my only tie to America for a while. That being said, some of the ideas that Phil and I have discussed about the possible uses for poetry throughout the process; where poetry is capable of taking us, and in what ways poetry can serve as affirmation, or even as an agent for metamorphosis... these things have I hope come through in my own poems as well as in this project. I also write more about birds now, and fish.

PI: I know, it's odd. I can go back & read some of mine & remember when a woman had broken my heart, when there were deaths & births. In some sense, maybe this was a way for us to document our lives, our equivalent of a blog, except for a while it was just us reading it. It's hard to get out of the tanka mode sometimes. I've been writing short poems for so long, & I love it. But lately I've been trying to push myself to write poems that I had avoided before, poems longer than a page, narratives. The problem is that I only know how to get to the point. I keep waiting for the last 31 syllables where the volta turns the poem on its side to reveal deeper meaning. Ever since the head trauma, I've been a bit disjointed, but I've made it work to my advantage. Tanka has been great for that. But I'm my harshest critic, a perfectionist to the nth degree. Maybe one of these days I'll learn to relax & let the poem write itself.


Did anything happen in the collaborative process that surprised you?

PI: I found it interesting that we would touch on certain subjects & came back to them. Themes of love & loss, birth & death, fire & water, birds & fish, all reappear in the manuscript. I don't know about Martin, but I always strived to one-up him. I'd write my best, & I'd get one back that was even better. Aside from the surprise of receiving a new poem, perhaps the only thing that really surprised me was the notice from Pilot. Martin sent in the manuscript, & I had pretty much forgotten about it until the morning he called to give me the news. We won the contest to kick off their new series, "Meddlin' Kids".

MR: Yeah, definitely one of the big surprises was that our manuscript was chosen by Betsy out of the pile. Thank you again Bets.

I was also surprised at the extent to which the world of poems and the physical world can interact. One poem in particular
really made me consider the power of poetry. I was at school, checking my e-mail at the principal's computer and opened up Phil's tanka, which contained the phrase "Dead Bird" capitalized like that. Immediately after I finished reading it, two Japanese schoolchildren walked up to the desk holding a dead parakeet in their hands, crying. It must be true what they say about poetry and sorcery being linked. Occasionally, to say the least, life and art mimic each other.


How do you feel about the finished product?

MR: What finished product? We're going to be writing this thing til the end of the world.

I feel really positive about the book we've got coming out with Pilot. Betsy and Meghan have been incredible throughout the whole process, and every book of theirs I've seen has been breathtaking. What they brought to the table throughout has been invaluable, from choosing groups of poems to their incredible tastes to their dedication to bookmaking as an artform. I can't express how grateful I am to them for inviting us to be a part of the Pilot family.

Maybe someday the complete renga will exist between two covers as well.

PI: Working with Pilot has been great. They are very gracious & intelligent artisans & I can't wait to have a copy in my hands signed by Martin Rock. As for the renga, I think we'll keep writing this until we write a poem that can't be topped. Then we'll write that poem & keep going. We've talked about stopping at 100, but what would we do with ourselves after that?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maureen Seaton & Neil de la Flor




Maureen Seaton's recent publications include her sixth solo poetry collection, Cave of the Yellow Volkswagen (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2009), and a memoir, Sex Talks to Girls (University of Wisconsin Press Living Out Series, 2008), winner of the Lambda Literary Award. Her previous collections include Venus Examines Her Breast (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2004), winner of the Publishing Triangle's Audre Lorde Award, and Furious Cooking (University of Iowa Press, 1996), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and the Lambda Literary Award. She is co-author of the chapbook, Facial Geometry (NeO Pepper Press, 2006), with Neil de la Flor and Kristine Snodgrass; and co-editor, with Denise Duhamel and David Trinidad, of Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (Soft Skull Press, 2007). Her work with Neil de la Flor has appeared in Court Green, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Coconut, H_NGM_N, and other journals both on and off line. Their first collection, Sinéad O’Connor and her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds, won the Sentence Book Award (Firewheel Editions, 2011). The recipient of an NEA fellowship in poetry and the Pushcart, Seaton teaches poetry, literary collage, and collaboration at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida.





Neil de la Flor's publications include Almost Dorothy (Marsh Hawk Press, 2010), winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, Facial Geometry (NeoPepper Press, 2006), co-authored with Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass, and Sinead O'Connor and her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds (Firewheel Editions, forthcoming 2011), co-authored with Maureen Seaton and winner of the Sentence Book Award. His work, both solo and collaborative, has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Barrow Street, Pank, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Court Green, among other journals. He can be reached at www.neildelaflor.com


The Coriolis Force

L = mvr = mΩr2—Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis


1

The water in a toilet rotates one way as it drains in the northern hemisphere and the other way in the southern hemisphere. This is urban legend. Still:

t = Fcoriolisr = dL/dt = d(mWr2)/dt = 2mWr (dr/dt) (2)

Last night the little boy was shadowed by satellite. It tracked his movement west across the park wild with fallen trees and ganders. The night movements of the little boy proceeded with utmost rapidity. The tracking was anonymous.


The Coriolis Force is therefore the sidewise force that has to be exerted by the carousel rider to cause the ball to move outward at radial speed v=dr/dt which, upon solving (2), is

friction: sometimes friction is a form of calligraphy.

Hydraulics: Is it the boy walking down the street dragging his Winnie the Pooh? Should Pooh be dragged with such carelessness? If Pooh had hydraulics would he hold hands with the little boy? Or drag him along as he is dragged?

I say the Coriolis is wet, a moist rendition of a sucker punch.

Once, when I was five, my mother’s microwave exploded.


2

Thus, the air flowing around hurricane Frances spins counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere (as does the Earth, itself).

Here is the effect of the wind: Hector in the living room vacuuming: see how dust particles travel around the room to the right, smacking the Le Cage chairs with their animal skin seats on their right legs until they cry out: We are dying from the act of waiting! We travel gravity and keep the stars at our shoulders. When the wind blows it begs us: Believe in wind. And we do. We know that as soon as the earth stops spinning there will be nothing else.

The wind the wind the little boy the wind he is he is the wind and his wind is blonde.


3

There is a ranter outside banging the gate: Nothing else but wind, wind spinning, wind singing, wind I am win winning whining wind wet-wet wind where is my carousel? Blistering wind a pop-eye kind of devil duster, move that car, shove that house over an inch, stoke that tree, blow that blow-hole, matey. If I speed up, shimmy across Ft. Pierce, I’ll run into ranch houses. If I skip north, I’ll hit St. Augustine with her/his old walls and forgotten graves. If the palm trees fall it will be by my hand. I will send them to their death, the sucking up of the roof will be me too. I will snort out the nostrils, hail, and slam into windows, fire escapes, parked cars. If the wind isn’t enough, I have secrets.

Here is the bird report:

Frigate bird takes to the wind and moves with no effort around to the right. Meteorologist Don Noe says, stay indoors. But the doors are bolted open and the wind and the rain and the leaves are blowing in and we can’t stay indoors so we say: water, tomato, basil, Vaseline, duck tape!

Everybody who isn’t cleaning the house (everybody but Hector), all the rest of us, is either:

a) sleeping in a closet
b) chewing on a disgusting little stuffed sheep frog
c) back to the glass
d) facing the glass
e) covered with glass

Nothing, we say, is holding our skin together.


4

Who can tell me what is happening to the home I left behind?

It was Saturday. Seagulls sculpted the wind.

It was a sailboat that rescued the lost family member. The wind carried her to the east and lifted her to the highest bunk of the bunk bed.

I left my electron(ic)s in the refrigerator so Frances couldn’t eat them. I walked a little brazenly and self-consciously on the beach the first night of evacuation. There were several other delinquents with beers. A boogie-boarder and you know those rip tides don’t care he’s crazy, they’ll take him sideways—that angle of the Coriolis—that asswhipped Man-O-War dead zone—and I walked past the band shell where I’d danced to the faux Beatles just

last week when Frances was simply the name of my dead grandmother.



5

What is it with Hector? The way he folds clothes or mops wood floors? Often, I wonder, where

do Hectors come from? Blonde bombshells or storm shelters?
The plural of Hector: Hectices.

But never in the wind did the Hectices become as inspired to clean constantly as this one Hector. He was brought up to clean/sheen/dream. In this cave of new glass. In this lovely queenosphere.

Prove it! Says the little blond(e) boy growing up in the transliminal space before the hurricane:

L = mvr = mΩr2

Q: What does it feel like to be locked in a Category 4? Does Frances shorten to Frankie for a girl? If your brother was named Frankie when he was little and every time you think of him, of Frankie, you think “Frankie” even though he’s fifty-five, will his roof hold in this hurricane Frances—the name of your grandmother, grandfather, father, and brother (see alternate spellings)?

I called the builder and he says we’re guaranteed to 160 mph. (Hector says.)

The correct name of Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis? Sallie!




Neil de la Flor & Maureen Seaton, September, 2004
Originally published in Indiana Review




How did your collaboration begin?

MS: It began in Miami in 2004 during Hurricane Frances as we and our significant others, Nico and Malcolm, watched the storm on TV and out the windows. We decided not to evacuate and we were “hunkered down,” as they say. Frances took three days to pass over and we got crushes on meteorologists Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams and decided to write a poem. All the stuff we saw on TV got incorporated into “The Coriolis Force,” our first collab. We wrote for a day, then collaged the piece for the next two days. Frances was my first Florida hurricane and I couldn’t believe we had electricity the whole time. I thought: “Hurricanes are fun!” I was an idiot.

See “Fleeing Hurricane Frances”

ND: It all began one August during hurricane __________. (See above.) Maureen escaped Hollywood Beach to stay with Hector, Nico and I at my house in Miami so that she wouldn't get swept away by the tidal surge when said hurricane struck. We found out after the storm passed that my house is located in an evacuation zone too, so we weren't really safe, but we had fun. The storm moved so slow we got bored, so we started to write. Hector is insane and vacuumed the house while we wrote. It's a nervous tick, but he landed in our first poem. I think I wanted to kill him. But don't tell him, I owe everything to him.


What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

MS: The rules for “The Coriolis Force” and pretty much all our collabs since have been fairly non-existent. Rule #1: Flexibility. We make parameters up as we go along (like “let’s do questions and answers on index cards” or “let’s write paragraphs on our computers” or “let’s write at the Bay” or “let’s write from those photos of Wynwood”), and we change them every time we collaborate. We like to surprise ourselves. Rule #2: Surprise ourselves. We know we’ll probably write some crap in with the good stuff. Rule #3: Don’t worry about the crap. And we make sure we have food around. Rule #4: “Make sure there’s food nearby.” And Rule #5: “Try to drag Kristine into the collaboration whenever we can.” (Kristine Snodgrass joins us sometimes and then we write as a triad. I think K. would agree that she is the queer one of the group.)

ND: Guacamole. Silliness. Sincerity. Pen/Pencil. Paper. Laptop. Sense of humor. Tiara. Max Mayfield. Weather Channel. Yes, K is so queer I have to wear sunglasses and red pumps. It's a drag, man. (It should be obvious by now I'm the idiot.)


How did you collaboratively edit?

MS: “The Coriolis Force” was edited (collaged and revised) while Frances howled and we hunkered. Since then, without the luxury of a hurricane to provide the time, we send pieces back and forth on e-mail after we’ve written them. Sometimes we wait a day to look critically at a piece, sometimes months. I’m a major tinkerer (that sounds cute, so that’s what I call it when I rip a poem’s guts out or cut all of its fingers off). Fortunately, Neil likes it when I do this. Go figure.

ND: I have anxiety editing collaborative work. However, if I don't like something (which is rarely ever), I'll say so. Or, I'll secretly delete it from the file or spill guacamole on the line I don't like. Note: this has never actually happened, but I reserve the right to make it happen.


What have you learned from your fellow collaborator?

MS: I’ve mostly learned that a Pisces man is NOT a ship passing in the dark after all, but a real human being with blood and a Pomeranian. That has been an evaluable lesson. Plus, before I began to collaborate with Neil, I was sure I would die in South Florida as so many others before me, and now, with his help, I don’t care.

ND: This is a total slice of cheese but I've learned to become a better human, a better teacher, a better lover. Well, not really, but I've learned to read minds. Honest. It's something you pick up when you have a great connection. I feel like I’m a better writer when I collaborate because I feel like I have a foundation to build from. When you're all alone, sometimes the world is a scary place, especially for a writer. What does 'evaluable' mean?

MS: It means I love you, Neil—on line.


What have you learned about yourself as a poet?

MS: I’ve learned that poets, like flowers, are not solitary or monogamous. And I’ve learned that when I have fun I am usually a Gerber daisy, which is attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, but resistant to deer.

ND: That I'm really a pirate. I like to steal.


Does collaboration affect your own work?

MS: I have tried to collaborate with myself on many occasions over the years but find that the joy of “other” pulls me. Therefore, when I am alone as a writer now, I hear a poem, write it down quickly, and resume my day as a surfer.

Fort Pierce Florida Surfing The Day Before Thanksgiving

ND: I don't know. I can't quantify the impact. However, I don't think it's negligible. It has helped me develop multiple writing personalities, voices, even heteronyms, which doesn't mean I'm opposed to homonyms. (If someone can define a homonym for me, I'd be happy.) This is probably the biggest gift, besides the guacamole. Again.


How do you feel about the finished product?

MS: Pretty.

ND: Sexy.

ND (as AD): Pretty too. Sometimes selfish. Always proud. I feel like our collaborations are little universes, the only children I'll ever have, or want to own.



Neil de la Flor & Maureen Seaton, March, 2010