The following editors have been kind enough to offer insights about the review process for collaborative poetry submissions, as well as the unique challenges and opportunities associated with publishing collaborative poetry...
Tony Trigilio, author of Inside the Walls of My Own House: The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood) Book 2, among many other collections of poetry and criticism, and Editor-at-Large for The Columbia Poetry Review.
Christopher Kondrich, author of Contrapuntal, former editor at Denver Quarterly and current Senior Poetry Editor at Tupelo Quarterly.
Justin Lawrence Daugherty, editor of Jellyfish Highway Press and Prose Editor for New South.
KMD: How does the review process differ (if at all) for collaborative poems vs. single-author poems?
TT: The review process for collaborative poems is the same, for me, as it is for single-author poems. As an editor, I try to determine what the poem is attempting to do, and then I evaluate whether I think it does this well enough to include it in the magazine. I have to add, though, as a person who’s drawn to artistic collaborations, I get an extra thrill when a collaborative piece makes it into the magazine. As writers, we don’t undertake collaborative projects as much as artists in other fields do, and because of this, I try to do all I can to make collaborative work visible.
CK: It doesn’t change. When submissions arrive, either single-or-collaboratively authored, cover letters are shuffled to the very back of the batch. So, at Denver Quarterly, we never knew a poem’s authorial origins, and I really liked that process. I found it to be more intimate, in a way, to greet poems without mediation. At times, while reading, I could sense the presence of more than one voice. Sometimes that resulted in the discovery of collaborative work. Sometimes not. Through this process, where the voices, presences and authors of a poem only occasionally aligned, I came to see the division between collaborators as more and more porous. And, I think I can speak for my former Denver Quarterly editors, that collaborative work was something we found really compelling, as we did other kinds of hybrid work.
JLD: I’m not sure that the process changes at all. I’m meeting the work where it’s at and where it’s trying to be and investigate the work from there. I suppose one unique concern is in the blending of voices. Are they writers working together well, if the distinctions are noticeable? I also am especially excited with the submission of collaborative works and wish I’d see more of them.
KMD: Does your definition of collaboration encompass work by writers and visual artists, writers and composers, or collaborative teams working in emerging genres? Relatedly, can you speak about the decision to narrow your definition of collaboration, if applicable?
TT: It's all collaboration to me. I come from a background as a musician, writing music and playing professionally in bands when I was younger, and now doing the same as a serious hobby. In bands, you see the results palpably—and hear the results loudly—when you’ve negotiated and compromised and essentially collaged everyone’s strengths into the tapestry that is the song. For me, the same principle applies for collaborative writing or collaborations between writers and composers or writers and visual artists. I also see working with an editor as a collaborative act—the editor is another set of eyes and ears who can give you valuable feedback you can’t always get from the voices in your head. Even my own singular pieces of writing are “collaborative” if you consider that I pass along drafts of new poems to my closest poet-friends for their feedback. I can point to almost every poem of mine and show where it benefited from something added or subtracted by a friend in a critique group—and this, for me, makes the seemingly solitary process of compositing a single-author text a collaborative act.
CK: Absolutely. I think predetermining or pre-defining collaborative work as between like writers or artists has to be detrimental, in some way, to the kind of spirit, intention, practice, process and exploration of collaborative work that makes it so exciting. I also think collaborative work doesn’t necessarily need to be equal in the amount of contribution. One of my favorite poems, Peter Gizzi’s “Beginning with a Line by Simone Weil,” is collaborative, I think, even though it’s almost completely his language. Then there’s Lauren Haldeman’s video poems, a few of which were in an issue of Tupelo Quarterly last year. She wrote, illustrated, produced, composed and filmed each piece in a way that is self-collaborative. Gizzi and Haldeman have expanded my understanding of what collaborative art is, so I’m always interested in whatever new manifestation/variation on the collaborative comes my way from writers and artists across all genres and media.
JLD: I think the collaborative work is a malleable, shifting thing. As with what has been said, collaborations work on a variety of levels. In a novel-in-progress, I borrow a first line from Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins. This is collaboration, in a sense. I’m also finishing a book with Jill Talbot and our process is collaboration, but it’s also a call-and-response. We write sections separately and in response to each other. Sometimes, we’ve only decided on a focus or a theme and we work independently. But, when we start the response, there is always a collaborative blending. I am writing to Jill and there’s a way the styles sort of meet each other at a specific place.
KMD: From a publisher’s perspective, what are the advantages of publishing collaborative work?
TT: You’re communicating to the reader that this text was the product of an explicit dialogic exchange among artists. It puts the collaborative work in a different space—gives it a different textual/vocal/performative register for readers to respond to. When I read collaborative work, I hear it spoken or performed in my head in multiple voices, even if it is supposed to read on the page as a fictive single voice.
CK: Simply put, the advantages would be in publishing innovative work, which is what we all want to do. No one knows what is being innovated out there until it is brought to light. So, I look to what collaborative work is submitted to learn about where poetry/prose/hybrid work is headed. This isn’t to say that if a journal isn’t publishing collaborative work, then that journal isn’t interested in where poetry/etc. is headed, but, for me, it’s just one more thread to pull (or, rather, catch as it spools out from in front of me) to see if something interesting and thrilling can’t find a home on the pages I’m reading for.
JLD: There’s great value in innovation. Also, it’s in sort of highlighting the value of community. In the collaborative work that I’ve done, I am always sort of asked and pushed to write my best work, and I think that’s more present in collaborating. It’s there in general, but the collaborator is actively there, pushing.
KMD: What is the most memorable collaborative text that your magazine has published and why?
TT: Some of my favorites have been Kathleen Rooney and Elisa Gabbert’s “Handsome Strangers,” Neil de la Flor and Maureen Seaton’s “Sinead O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds” (both published in Court Green), and the collaboration you did with John Gallaher (“Gardening,” published in Columbia Poetry Review). Each of these is remarkable in the way it manages to craft a voice that simultaneously sounds like a single-authored poem while also deliberately exposing the seams that stitch together its multiple voices. I don’t want to publish collaborative poems that masquerade as single-authored poems. I want to feel like a collaborative poem had to be multi-authored and multi-vocal—and these poems I mentioned do exactly this.
My all-time favorite, though, was the collaboration between Albert Goldbarth and Cora Jacobs, as managing editor of Court Green, which we published in the “Letters” dossier of Court Green #6. It was the wildest, most organic collaboration I’ve encountered. I say “organic” because it was never intended to be a collaboration—instead, it spontaneously grew into a collaboration before our eyes. We had solicited Albert’s work for the issue. He was a favorite of all of us who co-edited Court Green over the years. Albert also writes the best cover letters for submissions that I’ve ever seen: the cover letter is itself an art form in his hands—terrific, absurdist, ironic prose, often accompanied by cut-out cartoon images (the cover letter for his issue 6 submission included an image of Donald Duck pasted in the lower left corner, his eyes bugged out and his hat flying off the top of his head, with the word “EEK!” in giant capital letters on the right side of the frame completing the tableau). We loved his cover letter so much—as we’d loved all his cover letters over the years (a cover letter from Albert was always an event)—and we asked if we could publish the cover letter in our “Letters” dossier. Cora replied with a request for permission to publish his original cover letter. Albert’s response was hilarious, and generous. He agreed that we could publish the letter and then added, “I can easily see a special issue of Court Green devoted entirely to cover letters for non-existent poems; I look forward already to collaborating with Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel on a substantial contribution toward that issue.” Cora’s reply: could we also publish his reply to her request to publish the poem? And the collaboration was on! Albert responded with a yes, and said, “This letter, however—the one you’re reading right now—I’m going to make as bland and uninteresting as I can, in order to halt, for all our sakes, this vicious cycle.”
CK: From a 2015 issue of Denver Quarterly, I really love Thalia Field and Abigail Lang’s “Avignon, A Trifle,” which they described as a “[a splicing of] true stories and false friends, double agents, and self-antonyms—all associated with the original double-face of Janus.” I had to quote them; their description is far richer than I could manage given how I’m still dumbstruck by the work’s teeming ingenuity. It’s written as a dialogue for a scene that, to me, doesn’t quite seem to be happening. There’s a Pope, a Chorus, Petrarch, all speaking across, as well as to each other. There’s text, images, and language that see-saws between registers high and the low. It’s going to be in their forthcoming book Leave to Remain, which I can’t wait to read.
Meantime, the “Avignon” piece stays with me not only because it’s brilliant, but also because its potentially collaborative qualities—the back-and-forth of various dialogues, the swerving directions and registers, the presence of image and text—don’t point to any one way the collaboration took place. It’s uniquely mysterious in that way.
JLD: At Sundog Lit, we published a few different collaborations over my time there. I really love all of the collaborative work Carol Guess and Kelly Magee have put together, but I especially love their “With Jellyfish.” I’m also so fond of the work Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney have put together and the suite of pieces we published at SDL are great examples of this collaboration. The collaboration between Mel Bosworth and Ryan Ridge, too, is a really unique, voice-driven one, and that one really got me. I’m always hopeful for more collaborations. To see the sort of innovation that comes from two (or more) voices working together.
KMD: Have recent years seen a rise in collaborative submissions? On a related note, what does it take for a submission of collaborative work to stand out?
TT: I think more and more writers are doing collaborations. We live and work in a writing landscape where cross-genre work is becoming more prominent, and I think collaborative work only intensifies the importance of hybridity as an element of craft. I would encourage folks doing collaborative work to submit to Columbia Poetry Review. David Trinidad is the current faculty advisor for the magazine; his career as a writer includes numerous collaborative projects, and he also co-edited with Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton an anthology of collaborative poetry (Saints of Hysteria, published by Soft Skull in 2007). Columbia Poetry Review is always interested in considering collaborative submissions.
On one hand, I don’t think collaborative work requires anything more to stand out than single-authored work does. But, as I mentioned earlier, I look for something in a collaborative submission that tells me the writing needed to be collaborative. I look for something in the work that shows—maybe subtly, maybe overtly—that polyvocality was a requirement for the composition of the piece.
CK: I do think there’s been an increase, and I welcome it. Collaborative work certainly should be sent to Denver Quarterly, and to Tupelo Quarterly as well. That said, the practice of putting the work first and the cover letters last still seems true and good to me. I still attempt to do this even with Submittable. So, for collaborative work to stand out is a matter of the work itself standing out, however that may be.
JLD: I don’t know that I’ve noticed an increase, but I am happy to see any of it.
Again, it all depends on the work on its own. I’m not particularly looking for anything different in the collaborative piece than with a single-authored work. I’d like to see more collaborations at New South.
KMD: What are some of the challenges of publishing collaborative projects?
TT: For me, publishing collaborative work isn’t more of a challenge than publishing single-authored work. As an editor, I’m simply looking for great writing. Publishing collaborative work means that you’re working with two or more authors instead of just one author, which means that proofing galleys and other production matters require slightly more time. But if two or more writers have gotten along well enough to collaborate on a work of art, the presumption is that they can work well together during the production process, too.
CK: With Denver Quarterly, I remember it taking a bit more time to get the necessary forms filled out, the proofs checked, etc. Sometimes one collaborator is taking the lead on all this, sometimes both are. So, maybe it’s a matter of taking extra time during the production process to ensure that collaborators and editors are all on the same page, so to speak.
JLD: I don’t know that there’s any more challenge than simply finding great work.
KMD: What advice do you have for literary magazines and small presses who are interested in publishing collaborative texts?
TT: I think this might be more of a wish than a piece of advice. I would love to see more all-collaboration special issues and, better yet, more all-collaboration literary magazines and presses themselves. I miss the old online collaborative journal, Admit Two, which was edited from 2004-2009 by Natalija Grgorinić & Ognjen Raden. In an era like ours that encourages cross-genre experimentation, I’d love to see more literary magazines and presses devoted exclusively to collaboration, encouraging more writers to give collaboration a try.
CK: For literary magazines that want to introduce a collaborative component, I’d suggest supplementing an issue with a special portfolio of collaborative work or maybe an online addition that would co-launch with the issue—something that would announce to readers and potential submitters that collaborative work is now going to be published in earnest. On a side note, I would be really interested if a magazine or press held a collaborative-work-only reading at AWP. Not just for the work, I’d go to see how the work would be presented/read/performed/depicted. Maybe that would inspire others in the audience to collaborate.
JLD: I really love the idea of a special collaborative issue. I think actively asking for collaborative work is good, too. The more visible the collaborative work is, hopefully the more it will become a presence.