A Mutual Muse steps out when two artists, from different disciplines, work in tandem.
Each one can sense the vibrancy of the other’s imagination throbbing, stalling, racing, lolling, and napping. Intimate, yes. Sexual, no. But can untrusting and solitary souls like poets actually collaborate with other artists? Join forces, team up, cooperate, liase?
Here comes a week of answers to solo angst…
The Rose-Colored Chair at the End of the Mind
“Oh I want that chair!” my friend the poet Phillis Levin said to me when I emailed her Kara Kosaka’s collage of a dreamy pink wing-backed armchair. Phillis is on a quest for a chair for her study. Kara Kosaka, an illustrator located in British Columbia, seems to have created a virtual model of The Perfect Poet’s Chair.
Kosaka is now transforming a book project called Alphabetique: Tales of the Lives of the Letters for McClelland and Stewart, Random House Canada. I am the so-called author of this book. But in fact the book is a product of the Mutual Muse.
To say that Kosaka and I are “working” together underestimates the power of her visual intuition. In fact, she seems to be reviving that once-drab definition of poetry as “word painting.”
I’ve never met Kosaka in person and only visualize her from the photo, above. But I have walked the rooms of her imagination for five months now. Every Thursday she takes off from her day job and, with her little girl Mae at her feet, comes up with a visual response to one of 26 tales I’ve written. She emails it at midnight her time, and I open it as soon as I get up. It makes my Friday morning.
As a writer in my seventh decade, I’ve been shocked at the twists and turns my own creative life has taken. Alphabetique began as a book of poems, then transmogrified into twenty-six brief imaginary biographical tales of those shapes we call letters. Kosaka composed this uncannily internally accurate response of a rosy chair to a tale called “Portrait of the Artist as the Letter B.” Of course, the tale never mentions a chair at all.
Now back to Phillis, who is still searching for that ideal upholstered seat for her office. “I want that chair!” she repeats to me in one of our countless phone calls between Toronto, where I live and New York, her home. Is Kosaka’s chair the seat of the imagination? Both Phillis and I responded to it as just that: the mental place to curl up and write a small interior lyric—a 21st century poem composed in a chair so virtual it only exists in digital form.
Phillis and I are astounded to realize that we have exchanging poems for thirty eight years. Inside this exchange we occupy an imaginary playing space together. We couldn’t be more different as poets or as people. Yet we meet in a room in the Mansion of the Mutual Muse. The room has a windy airiness to it, and the curtains billow from the long windows that open to a natural, but entirely storied landscape. It is a literary landscape. Yet we feel we can touch it. And Kosaka somehow felt that mental vibe and transformed it into an image we instantly recognized.
For us there is a rose-colored chair at the end of the mind.
But for this blog during the rest of the week comes starkly different imagery. Caricaturist John Sherfius on the treachery of his art, and the knock-you-to-your knees new book of poems by poet and novelist Anne Michaels in collaboration with visual artist Bernice Eisenstein. Popup comments from poet Kathleen Driskell. Photographer Claire Holt imagines the lives of poets with constructed photographs.
And how about you, solitary souls? Have you ever turned your hermit’s life into a collaborative creative hermitage? I promise to respond to all comments, collaboratively, bien sûr.