Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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.
There is no such
thing as home. There’s
like home that
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
to brochures and flutter
and catch and pulp in the ordinary
in some places
where the pavement is
the town leaves
room for ephemera.
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.