Skip to content

Poetic Collaboration

June 9, 2011

Writing, especially poetry, tends to be perceived as a solitary activity. The poet is usually portrayed toiling away either in an artistically squalid garret, or in a hazy pastoral setting– in either case, alone. This is mostly fantasy, of course; humans are naturally social creatures, and most of us have families, jobs, etc. But the myth of the Lone Rhymer fits nicely into the modern perception that poetry is purely about the self.

That’s probably the main reason there isn’t more collaborative poetry. Poets perceive it as an invasion or distortion of the “true self” being expressed. Certainly collaboration involves compromises, but so do most human relationships: employer/employee, parent/child, spouse or significant other. Unless you’re a complete sociopath, you have to have some degree of consideration for the other person or persons to make the relationship work. (I exempt corporate relationships from this description, because contrary to what modern law would have you believe, corporations are not human beings.)

The emphasis on self, usually phrased as “self-expression,” “personal experience,” “letting the poet shine through,” etc. is a very modern view of poetry, and ignores most of poetic history in most languages. It’s also unhealthy, in my view; it’s contributed a lot to the view that many non-poets now have, of poetry as inaccessible, self-absorbed, and generally not worthwhile. Collaborative writing is a good way to break through some of that thinking about poetry.

Probably the only piece I’ve (partly) written that I consider truly collaborative is Turtle Mountain Picnic. Christopher Luna and I wrote this poem together as part of an exercise at last year’s Oregon Poetry Association‘s picnic: roughly, the exercise was for each of us to write a stanza using a supplied framework, then assemble in pairs and write a third stanza that would tie the two together. The resulting poetry might not have been great (I find impromptu poetry rarely is– I’m a strong advocate of revision), but it was a good exercise to put my head together with someone else’s.

So, why haven’t I done more collaborations? Sheer laziness, I fear. Creating opportunities for collaborative writing is as simple as going out and asking another writer “Are you interested in doing some?” Email and document-sharing technology have made collaboration easier than ever before. I have profound respect for people who wrote co-authored novels back in the typewriter days; I doubt if I could have produced a solo novel then, let alone a collaborative one.

This sounds as though I think collaborative writing is more difficult. I don’t think the writing itself is necessarily more difficult (though I haven’t done enough to really tell) but obviously there is some logistical overhead to coordinating the various authors’ contributions.

Advertisements
One Comment
  1. June 11, 2011 7:03 am

    I certainly look at poetry as a solitary thing. I share my poetry with far fewer people than I share my stories or other, longer works. I’ve never really been sure why other than the fact that in the poetry I tend to be talking about deeper feelings or emotions, while in prose I let the characters have that emotional outlet. In thinking about how I’d collaborate on a song or a poem, I can’t get past the “this is about me” viewpoint and just get to the “I’m still just telling a story” viewpoint. I bet that if I could do so, I’d not only share my poetry more, I’d be more willing and able to collaborate on it.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: