My guess is that the Missionary Position of most collaborations between poets and artists is the sequential one: poet finishes poem, then illustrator steps in. It may not be fancy, but it’s so reliable. Who cares about a Kama Sutra of collaboration as long as the basic sequence works? In a week’s worth of blogging about collaboration, surely the traditional way to connect deserves its moment, provided that moment has just a little bit of glamour. My chosen star of the regular way to do it is the intriguing and gutsy Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem by Kathleen Driskell & AJ Reinhart.
For Kathleen Driskell a graphic poem works first as a poem on a traditional page. Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem by Driskell & AJ Reinhart uses a poem originally published in Driskell’s volume of poetry, Seed Across Snow (Ren Hen Press). AJ Reinhart graphicizes Driskell’s poem in boxes, cartoon-style. Driskell is based in Louisville, KY. (She’s Associate Director of the Spalding University Brief Residency MFA Program.) But Reinhart, who studied illustration at schooled at the Ringling School of Art and Design and who collaborated with his son Kaleb to create the webcomic Kaleb Triceratops and the Paleo Pack, is based in San Jose, CA. Their collaborative process only requires virtual proximity because Driskell and Reinhart have worked sequentially. She wrote the lines; he did the lines of interpretation.
I asked Driskell about how her lines and the lines of the illustrator work together. “My lines tend to be fulsome and chocked full of imagery—I love a lavish line full of appositives,” Kathleen wrote. “I spend a lot of time thinking about where to turn the line to create surprise. AJ’s drawn lines are confident, strong, and feel more work-horse to me. I mean this is a good way.”
What good way? “I think his sensibility keeps Peck and Pock from sliding into the sentimental,” Driskell confesses. “In our collaborative iteration, Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem is very different from the version of the poem first published in my collection Seed Across Snow. AJ’s art makes this version feel much darker to me, as if Peck and Pock is an adaptation of my poem, akin to the way a novel might be adapted for a film.”
And film was just where Driskell went after her graphic poem experience. (She still is very much a page poet however, and her next book, Blue Etiquette, is forthcoming from Red Hen.) “Since my collaboration with AJ, I’ve been making poetry videos that put language into motion in time and space. I’m amazed by all options that become available when a poet doesn’t have to work the language from the top of the page to the bottom. When deployed through time, a word or phrase or line that feels lighter in sound or emotion can literally float to the top of the page or screen.”
Collaborating with AJ Reinhart has done for Driskell just what it seems to have done for the various poets I’ve interviewed for this series. They are refreshed, renewed, revived—yes, just the language of an ad for beautifying the face… Is collaboration about shedding old skin? “Thinking about presenting poems [as videos] would probably have been unavailable to me if I hadn’t worked with AJ on Peck and Pock.” Driskell writes. Then she adds, “Poetry feels very new to me again.”
Though Driskell did not change the poem after Reinhart’s graphics began to emerge, it deeply affects the way she thinks about poems now. The process has made Driskell wonder if graphics could be used to teach poetry to high school students or undergraduates. “If students were to use computer graphics to illustrate, say, Steven’s “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock,” they’d not only get that poem, they’d never forget it.”
“The houses are haunted by white nightgowns,” Wallace Stevens reminds us in that poem, leaving me wondering if white nightgowns are preliminary prerequisites to the Missionary Collaboration. Though Driskell’s original poem has stayed the same, it’s also had a new incarnation in a graphic artist’s hands. Perhaps the nightgown slipped to the floor.