Monday, December 03, 2007

December Column

I'm excited to announce that someone has taken me up on my offer to be a guest columinst at Poets Who Blog.

I'm honored to introduce Ceridwen. Not only is Ceridwen's work engrossing but this poet also works tirelessly to encourage the creation of poetry in the blogosphere.A great big thank you to Ceridwen for sharing these thoughts, advice and poetry with our readers.

The following article is all in Ceridwen's words:

Get Your Poetry Collaboration On

I spend a lot of my time right here in my study, looking out the window now and again, then back at my monitor. On a typical day, I type a little, stop and think, then review what I’ve written before writing a little more. On a stellar day, I type like there’s no tomorrow. But one thing is constant: Day after day, I write alone because this is my writing practice, and these hours are what I’ve committed myself to. This is my writing life.

When we commit to living as poets, we commit to spending huge amounts of time alone. There’s no getting around it — writing is a lonely business. It is, after all, a solitary act, a form of meditation or prayer, one that involves only us and the page (or the computer), right?

Maybe not as much as we like to think. None of us lives, or writes, in a vacuum, and there’s a lot more to writing than just sitting down and doing it. Even when we are alone, we are not alone. The work of other writers is, or should be, joggling about in our heads. We are, or should be, in constant communication with those voices — responding to them, challenging them, riffing off them and moving them in new directions by adding our own details and by fine-tuning our own authentic voices.

Even when we are alone, writing is a kind of collaboration, is it not, with all those voices that have come before us? It is no accident that the best writers also happen to be insatiable readers. It is also no accident that, for writers, reading leads to more (and more and more) writing.

What does all this have to do with collaboration?

Collaboration seems to be a natural extension of that interplay between the poet and the work of other poets and writers, only in the case of collaboration the interplay is with a writer who is actively interacting and working with you.

There’s nothing new about artistic collaboration between poets. As the editors of Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry point out, collaboration flourished in oral traditions and was part of Japanese court life as early as the 12th century. It was part of the French Surrealist movement in the early 1900s. In the 1930s, a group of Japanese poets called the Vou Club wrote together. Coleridge and Wordsworth collaborated. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound collaborated. Beat writers collaborated. Feminist poets have used collaborative writing as a way to access a collective female voice. The list goes on and on.

But why collaborate?

I can’t really answer that for anyone else, but I can say that I became very interested in collaborating about a year ago. It took me a long time to act on this impulse. I finally decided to dive headlong into the experience and see what it was all about. I started asking anyone and everyone if they would work with me. This included my husband, co-workers, online friends and acquaintances, poets and nonpoets alike.

I was surprised that so many people took me up on my offer, and I have been even more surprised at the results. I’ve written pieces with one other poet, alternating single words or phrases. I’ve worked a line at a time with someone via e-mail. I’ve worked on chainpoems where any number of people contribute a single line to a poem. I’ve worked on blank poems, where one person supplies a “frame” by stripping out all the important words from a poem they’ve written, leaving only blanks in their place, and another person fills in those blanks.

I’ve also been involved with a small group of poets who have formed a private working group (collaboratively run, of course!) where we test out new collaborating ideas and roll up our sleeves to work with one another. Then there’s Read Write Poem, a poetry community several poets and I started where we hope to encourage and support collaborative writing among participants.

But is collaboration all fun and games?

It certainly is fun, and that’s one of the aspects that makes collaborating great. But some of the work that comes out of these collaborations has been intense, powerful, raw, sensual and immediate. And for me, those are the marks of really fine writing. So collaboration can be serious writing business, too, not just a good time.

I’ve only been collaborating seriously for a few months now, and I can already say the experience has taught me as much about poetry as any poetry workshop could. Collaboration has given me access to how other people think, why they make the decisions they make, in terms of line breaks and word choices, for example. I also see how others pace themselves when they write: Some work very quickly while others consider each word with extreme care. The former have taught me to just go for it and writewritewrite, while the latter have taught me that writing is not always a race, and caring for each word matters.

I’ve learned many lessons from working collaboratively, and I have tried to apply those lessons to my own writing. Though I have learned far too much from collaborating to cover the waterfront here, below is a quick list of a few key things I’ve gleaned:

It’s OK to fail. If you are in it together, your risks can be greater, and you can fail with a laugh and a feeling of glee about having really gone for it with whatever you were attempting.

It’s OK to love what has been written. It’s not bragging and it’s not self-indulgent. You and your collaborator(s) created this piece that didn’t exist before. You might think it’s the bomb, and it’s OK to own the fact that you love it and shout it from the rooftops. (This experience might even translate to helping you love your own writing without guilt or apology.)

It’s OK if the work comes along slowly. Again, it’s not a race to the finish line. When working with other people, you learn to be patient and to appreciate the process of writing. You also learn that the piece will still be there whenever you are able to carve out some time to work on it together.

It’s OK to pull and tug the work in different directions. This is half the fun of collaborating — seeing how the poem you thought was going in one direction can suddenly jump off in another direction because your partner in crime has his or her own ideas for the piece. This is great! It has helped me see that there is no single way a poem can go, and it has pushed me to surprise myself in my own writing and sometimes avoid doing what my impulses tell me to do.

Going it alone

I’ve already touched on how collaborative efforts can be applied to the writing we do on our own. And that’s the deal, isn’t it? No matter how much you enjoy collaborating, eventually you have to sit down at that computer or with that open journal and do your own writing. But when you do so after collaborating, you might not feel quite so alone. You are, after all, surrounded by the work of other writers — some of whom you know only from reading their work and some of whom you have actually worked with. So you might feel just a little less disconnected when you are writing and a little more connected to the whole big wide world of poetry.

And if you ask me, a sense of connection is a pretty darn good feeling to have because it reminds us that what we are doing every time we sit down to write is not only plumbing our own depths to explore ourselves and to reach out to readers but also speaking to and honoring the work of other writers. Collaboration is a great way to help us feel grounded and connected, as well as helping us see how our writing, and writing process, fit into the bigger picture.
* * *

This Dream Runs Ahead of Me
By Clare L. Martin and Ceridwen

This Dream Runs Ahead of Me

The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.
— Ana├»s Nin

my dreaming is a rain of buzzards’ inglorious riots
their shadows know all my dim secrets

we do not gain the world’s prizes by rooking them — cleaning the bones
of everything discernibly animal and laying bare the enigma

how do these feathers start if not with blood

the dust of marrow extruded by the sun’s thousand years
of waking caught in stars

Ceridwen lives and write in the Seattle area. Her work has appeared in Fence and is forthcoming on Canopic Jar. Her personal blog is My Gorgeous Somewhere and she founded and manages the group poetry project Read Write Poem.


Barone said...

A wonderful article! "It is not a race to the finish line"....thank you, I needed that and will need it again. Hence, my posting it on the bulletin board above my desk. I also love the referance to the inner and outer worlds in which we find ourselves and the way for poets equanimity is not equal to equal time for each.

I am reminded of a quote by the Dalai Lama,"When the buddha comes again, it will be a coming of a community."

Be well and thank you.

jodi barone

Anonymous said...

Jodi, thanks for your feedback. This was a fun article to write. I sometimes have to remind myself it's not a race ~ I think we all do.

Poet with a Day Job said...

very smart, nicely written column! I particularly love the connection you make with reading: even if you write alone, if you are an avid reader you are, to some degree, collaborating with those writers. I've always felt that way, and never been able to articulate why reading is so important. But that is definitely it: it's not a vacuum if you are making connections.

Clare said...

Great work, Ceridwen. Your words are insightful and inspiring. You teach well.

Nature Of Oakes said...

Excellent article -- you have reminded me of what I love about writing -- and reading.
Once, in a writing class, we did a "chain poem". It was such an enjoyable, and enlightening, experience that I hope one day I can do something like that again -- it is amazing, as you said, how collaboration can give us lonely writers such a feeling of connection!

susan said...

I'm going to share the link to your article with others. I felt myself wanting to cheer and cry: cheer, because you affirmed what I have felt and was glad you were sharing the same with us and cry, because I felt an intimate connection, a welling up of desire to commit to my own writing life. Thank you.

pepektheassassin said...

Nice article! I may have to jump in and get my pen (yes, my Bic--I always write on paper first) wet.

Why am I feeling like it IS a race to the finish line...?

Mariacristina said...

I understand what you mean by saying it's not a race, because we do feel like it is a race sometimes, at least I do, especially with blogging and all these different days of the week with prompts. Sometimes I want to chuck the blogging, but I don't because it's my link to..... collaboration.

I think your essay sums up the joys of collaborating. Your words made me realize why I like doing the rounds of prompts- it is a type of collaboration after all.

Anonymous said...

Poet with a Day Job, we are never alone as long as there is a book within reach. I’ve taken a cue from you and have stepped up my reading even more. It can’t hurt, and I think it is a good practice to have ~ as important as the writing.

Nature Of Oakes, how did you all write the chainpoem? I am interested in the process you used. Some friends and I tried starting a few chainpoems through e-mail, but they all fizzled. I think a couple of recipients were scared of them. It seems to work out better when you plan ahead who will work on them and then send them only within that group.

Susan, thanks for sharing the link. Committing to a writing life is one of the hardest and most rewarding things you can do. I struggle a lot with it, but it brings such rewards that I can’t walk away from it.

Pepek, why *do* you feel like it’s a race? There’s a lot of pressure out there ~ to get an education, to publish, to be seen, to win awards. The pressure doesn’t stop, and I think that’s part of why people feel the pressure to *produce* instead of enjoying and trusting the *process*.

Christine, the weekly prompts might add to the pressure, yes. That’s why I hope (at least at Read Write Poem) that we can foster a community that thinks about all aspect of being a writer ~ reading, writing practice, discussion ~ not just writing a poem every week. I also hope people will feel comfortable talking about their writing process or about what they’ve read and don’t feel the pressure to link to a poem each week on the site. Having said that, I agree that it *is* fun with the prompts to see how other people handle the same material. No two poems are ever alike.

DayDreamer said...

I enjoyed this column very much. But I'd like to share a slightly different angle on the importance of why I write: it's not to get published, or win awards or recognition. I write as an escape from the rigors of day to day life. My poetry and prose is my diary, my entertainment, my guilty pleasure. I enjoy the poems that others write and I am excited to learn new techniques. By the same token, I still write, in my own style, for me, not for a prize or someone's praise. Collaboration has it's place, but for some writers it's about the writing - the process, the thoughts, thinking about an idea or emotion, not just what's getting written. When I write, I don't see a finish line. I see an image come to life with every word typed. And when it's complete, I see the whole picture, even if someone else can't. I don't try to fit my words into some acceptable mold.

I never thought about being labeled a 'poet' anymore than I had control over being labeled a 'man.' It's not a choice, it's who I am because I write poetry, whether I collaborate or not.

Again, I enjoyed your column and I hope it does lead many writers to collaborate and create wonderful pieces of work. Who know's, maybe I will be one of them someday.