Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the great privilege of leading workshops for former Poet Laureate of Alabama and small press publisher extraordinaire Sue Brannan Walker, gifted visual artist and writer Margaret Watson, and Leonard Temme, one of the most insightful and adventurous poets I’ve encountered in my teaching career. At first, we workshopped poems written by each writer as an individual practitioner. What a surprise, delight, and gift to discover one day that all three students in the workshop had embarked on a collaborative manuscript. As we began discussing sections of the collaboration instead of single author poems, I noticed that collaboration made possible so much more within the setting of the classroom. Not only were we thinking about one another’s poems, but also, we were thinking about our own work in relation to the other. Collaboration became an exercise in listening and in empathy. To see compassion, gratitude, and understanding conveyed not only through words, but through the smallest technical choices in a poem is one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed as an educator: a true confluence of the affective and analytical faculties. I’m grateful to the students from this workshop for reminding me of this: to write is to participate in a community. Sue, Margaret, and Leonard have been kind enough to share process notes, which I hope will serve as a resource to arts educators considering collaboration in a classroom setting. It is an honor and a delight to share a selection from this manuscript in process here as well. Happy autumn, and enjoy!
—Kristina Marie Darling
from Leonard Temme:
Our collaboration grew from a workshop with Kristina who introduced us to collaborative poetry with several readings and the assignment that we collaborate on a poem. That assignment produced a flurry of emails and a three-way phone call connecting Alabama, Florida, and Maine. By the time the conversation was over, Margaret, Sue and I had agreed on a topic and process. We each started a poem, contributed round-robin to the three poems with the originator doing the final edit. So our first awkward collaboration produced three related poems. Collaborating has made me very aware of process and product, and the inseparability of the two. Every contribution, word, line, or stanza, is an surprise gift. I am thrilled to see the pieces grow. I have to assimilate and build on what Sue and Margaret write, making their work my own, while respecting the integrity of the process, the emerging product, and the individual identity of the three of us. Our collaboration is leading me to take greater risks, to become freer and more imaginative. I feel we are in a playground, park, field, forest, beach, funhouse; the paper can be anything, and we are learning that power of metamorphosis from each other, with Kristina’s wisdom, experience and knowledge guiding our freedom to experiment. The readings also provide examples and patterns, and are also freeing. They are invitations to take greater risks. I have immense respect for Sue and Margaret and am honored to be in their company. Collaboration requires that I constantly trust, relinquish control, be open to surprise, and contribute to the process while being willing to risk and be foolish. Courtesy and respect are fundamental; they are a matter of will and behavior. Trust is gradual; it can’t be forced but grows with experience and understanding. Collaboration is fun; I love it. I have a sense of breaking shackles and emerging from self-imposed constraints Actually, in a real sense, every aspect of my life is in some way a collaboration.
from Margaret Watson:
Collaborations lift boundaries. Accidents become the essence. An emotional potential explores the infinity of creativity. Is it sublime? Oh no! Gazing at stars, one misses some, but the subjective feeling goes beyond all sensibility. It’s an emotional charge, a short cut. The form becomes a universe with fresh ideas and burgeoning roots. Individuals are ineffable, voracious, though together concepts bud, words become cavities with disquieting epiphanies. Like Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Kristina has depicted a new globe without borders or coast lines, or ports. When these forms exhaust, new ones begin. It becomes endless no matter how dissimilar as we comply with contextual pressure, there is a goal whatever constraints involved in the poetic techniques applied. What matters is the rhythmic surrender to join the accumulation of words, where the pleasure is indistinguishable from the form it has been given. A freedom to be chaotic and imagine the randomness of others. Yes, mysterious, undeniably illuminating, Kristina’s gift is the independence to explore and configure new rules, new ideas, new molds. With her astute guidance and reading lists, we have flown high, not even sky being the limit. For me, in particular, this collaboration has summoned the nerve to liberate the past and build new field notes with an added sense of versatility, exploration, and verve. Elizabeth Bishop said Writing poetry is an unnatural act. It takes great skill to make it seem natural. I applaud my partners, Sue and Leonard to make it contagious, exhilarating, and a loveable “act”.
from Sue Brannan Walker:
This particular segment of an abecedarian would not have happened had it not been for a workshop on collaboration with Kristina Maria Darling. I had only written solo, so writing with another person – and with three people in particular – was a new and daunting experience. It meant giving up a personal ethos and adopting a new mindset. Leonard Temme and Margaret Watson became, to borrow Carson McCullers’ words, “the we of me” along with Kristina who was reading and commenting on our work. Our collaboration made us each better writers as we were stimulated by what we were each doing. In addition to our email exchanges, we had three-way telephone conversations that were most helpful in clarifying our mutual understanding of our abecedarian process. The reading list is, to me, basic when it comes to understanding collaborative writing. We read specific texts that focused on “Collaboration as Improvisation,” Epistolary Collaboration,” Collaboration Across Disciplines,” “Collaboration & Constrain-Based Writing,” “Collaboration Across time & Geography,” and “Publishing & Promoting Collaborative Work.” Writing collaboratively has made me more aware of audience. Even if I am writing alone, my work may be, in itself, a collaboration – perhaps with my subject, who may be James Joyce or Margaret Mead. I have become addicted to writing collaboratively, so this current work in progress will not be my last. What I loved most was the element of surprise – both in terms of what I could come up with but also being amazed by what Margaret and Leonard were writing and what Kristina would suggest when reading our abecedarian.
It is truly a delight to end with an excerpt from Sue, Leonard, and Margaret's collaborative abecedarian manuscript...
Ares, Aphrodite’s sometime lover, god of war; Ares, ancient awful horror; Ares, fathered Phobos – fear, fathered Deimos – terror, fathered Eros – Eros; Ares, who has still always lived – never died – vibrant in the hearts of man, vibrant in the ancient, modern worshiped passioned battle lust of war as blood bathing ancient modern grieving Aleppo, its anguished cry cried in the rising chorus of Ares ascending, ascending, ascending, voices shouting around the world.
” ̇ǝɹoq-ʎllnq ɔıdooq noʎ ̇ɹǝppoɟɯnq noʎ ¡sılodoqooq ɯoɹɟ ǝʇɐqpǝǝɹq noʎ ;ʎoq 'sƃnqpǝq puɐ sǝlʇǝǝq”
At the Cake counter, I encountered Colombo not Columbus but preferred Captain James Cook who in his worldly travels succumbed to syphilis caught among the natives. Hidden from the public as shameful, but I have his death certificate lodged in a Dutch cabinet in my music room. Bound in leather, scratched from wear, with the inside covers marbled orange. Strange though...a slit appears as in a Fontana canvas, slashed. A sudden slash suspended in time between waiting and observing. “Cut out the cause of death.” And then those pearls, collected. Probably saved for Coco Chanel as she sashayed around Paris casting women in white and gold, braids of black, drinking gin, and mix-ing with the Nazi crowd undercover. I suppose Cupid should shoot poisoned arrows now or Confucius should teach a simpler life. Why? Now Colin (as in Powell) explains about privacy and emails as our cables obliterate culture swiftly filed with consumers, as if the moon tipped over and left silver entrails in its wake like the Mayan god, Cabrakan ruling the mountains and earthquakes or Coyopa, god of thunder. This is what happens when something shuffles overheard and the bewildered wander among the C’s, still to encounter Catherine de Medici or the new English Princess Charlotte. And as I nibble my carrot cupcake, I remember Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar or even Al Capone to be brief or actually actual then another life then another, as it cobbles along the way with a heap of shoes cluttering civilization.
Don’t imagine the Dutch cabinet demands distance, with its details of scratched doors half-hanging from their hinges & its drawers stuffed with death certificate substitutes for lost memories or broken hopes or a period full-stopping some life sentence, as a dystopic microcosm; no, all forms of dream work, day or night, deliver their own dilemmas until they discover their own delights.
Cupid’s First Kiss: What Do You Think?
Say psychic, psychology, passion,
body and bum.
Say woman and man; say painting; say art.
Do you smooch your dog? Your cat?
Say passion and first kiss.
Oft you may think you can’t do without a particular man or woman
but you can.
Immortal ardor –
both day and night?
Immortal ardor? Whoa now!