Monday, March 7, 2011

Ryan Teitman & Marcus Wicker

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

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

New City Ghazal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did your collaboration begin?

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

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

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

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

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

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

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

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

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

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

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

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

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

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

How do you feel about the finished product?

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

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

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