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« Voulez-vous vous joindre à moi? | Main | The Mutual Muse: The Missionary Position Collaboration [by Molly Peacock] »

November 12, 2013


I loved reading about the conversation and interplay between Anne Michaels and Bernice Eisenstein. It's wonderful that they created an organic form or style that mirrors the subject matter. I think the most exciting thing about collaboration is that the resulting writing or art is richer than can be predicted. Something ineffable happens: it's synergistic.

I write collaboratively with three other poets (Mary di Michele, Susan Gillis and Jane Munro) in renga or renku style. Its alternating verses of 17 and 14 syllables feel perfect for four writers spread east to west across the huge, varied North American landscape.

I find the challenge of composing in an associative style, as opposed to lyrical or narrative, to have stretched and deepened my art. Linking to only the previous verse is challenging, and, even though there are "rules", it's terrifically empowering, and really fun, to break them.

Unfortunately I haven't had much experience collaborating with artists--I'd love to do more of that. I have, however, been part of a number of collaborations with other poets and feel it requires embracing the other's aesthetic while retaining your own. I've worked with people whose responses showed no real engagement with my writing and with people whose responses manifested some degree of insightful appreciation--I find it so exciting when the latter happens. In responding to another poet's work in poetry of my own, I strive to go beyond my own aesthetic, to absorb and perhaps play with some aspect(s) of theirs. When I believe my efforts have failed, it's usually because I haven't had sufficient time or mental space to give to the collaboration--it is always a demanding process.

Wow Molly, loved your piece on Anne Michael’s poetry collaboration! Something interesting that we did on the Ontario Writers’ Conference blog (since we’re a grass-roots, all-volunteer, NFP dedicated to giving back to writers of all levels) is to run a free Story Starters contest eliciting 100 words of writing (most of it was poetry) based on a different visual image each month. Many, many novice writers felt comfortable and free to join the convo on our blog (, finalists were voted on during the day and a half conference in May 2013 and prizes were purchased art from each of the visual artists that participated. This may not be collaboration on a grand scale, but we had over 300 writers participate (doing it again for 2014).

Just want to comment on Jan Conn's comment: her collaboration, called Yoko's Dogs, with three other distinguished Canadian poets seems almost unprecedented in contemporary North American poetry. It makes me recall the Young Romantics by Daisy Hay; Hay describes the atmosphere in which Shelley, Leigh Hunt, Byron, and Mary Shelley among others were writing together and in response to one another. Of course it also recalls Japanese court poetry. But such a collaboration now among FOUR poets seems so rare. Yoko's Dogs works like a string quartet (though I'd hesitate to assign an exact instrument to each of the members).

Carrie Etter, a marvelous ex-pat American poet living in the UK, is addressing Jan Conn's issue from a different angle. Whereas Yoko's Dogs attempt to merge the sensibilities of friends who are poets, Etter is speaking about the merge of aesthetic differences. Although Phillis Levin and I have exchanged poems for more than three decades, we have have never written anything together. We simply stand and watch each other's process. My own collaborations have been with artists in other disciplines. The aesthetic battle vaporizes in the attempt to understand one another. Etter and Conn are BRAVE to attempt collaborations with other poets.

Barb Hunt! Good for you for stirring up those collaborative impulses at a conference. The interactive high that people experience in these exchanges can last, provoking new ways of thinking about art. Sometimes it's very nice NOT to be alone in a creative process.

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