Finding Means For Meaning In A Computer Age:
essay with accompanying collaborative poems by stuart lishan and stanton swihart
Stanton and I wanted to play with forms of poetic collaboration. In particular, we wanted to use the technology of email (faster than snail mail, slower than chat rooms or threaded discussions; as such, a desired middle ground of (a) deliberation, which nurses reflection and revision, and (b) speed, which can impel creativity, to assist us in drawing the lines of our field[s] of play.
But most of the forms we poets have, free verse or otherwise, derive from a pre-email age. What form should we use?
Proposition #2: The computer technologies upon which we have come to depend can enable us to extend/create/bend/invent poetic forms, and hence invention.
Stanton, an extremely gifted ex-student of mine (currently a crack alternative music reviewer for AMG online) and I wanted to see if we could fashion new forms, and refashion old forms, to fuel our collaborative poetic engine. We wanted to play with forms that would allow us to venture far afield in our improvisations, with the knowledge that the structure of form would always bring us back to the home place, where whoever had the next "turn" could venture forth again.
It took awhile. One of us would email the other a line, and sometimes the other wouldn't respond for days, weeks even. Sometimes we'd respond within minutes. In any event writing each poem took awhile. After all, we were working on our own stuff (our preciously maintained authoritative, authoritarian singled authored "I" calling us to attention, saying he/she needed attention, now!). We had jobs. We had, well, to procrastinate, er, reflect on what we had done so far. In other words, time took on a different dimension from what we were used to as single authoring writers, and we came to see it as part of the process. Bottom line: After over a year, we had had 4 or 5 poems that seemed more or less complete (Another thorny issue: How do you know when the "doing" is done in collaboration? Who decides?). Sometimes we'd be working/playing with more than one poem at once. Sometimes, we'd wait until we had a "completed" draft before moving on to composing the next poem. Afterward, one or both of us would revise, trying initially to be careful of not stepping too hard on the other person's lines. After a while, when we couldn't remember who had written what, when the authorial "I" had seemed to fade relatively away, and a selfless self, a "we," had emerged in his/her/its place, we knew the poem was ready.
As I say, it's all part of a process. We hope to continue engaging in such engagement with form, language, and what it means to play with the means of meaning, but here are two poems chosen by the editors of In Posse Review among those we have co-written so far:
In "Now the stars strut..." and "In this night's stolen mo-/ments...," we were interested in how subverting expectation, creating erasures of expectation or preconceptions, could/might/would lead to invention at the level of the line. We were also interested in playing with a dynamic in which the poem would shudder into cohesiveness, into wholeness, as it were, even as it was threatening to break apart like a rickety scaffold about to tumble down. In the process we were hoping that a tension, an energy would emerge in the writing that might not be there otherwise.
Here's what we did: One of us would write a line, deliberately ending it with a hyphenated word, only we wouldn't tell the other what hyphenated word we would have used were it our poem written by an "I" (the "I" of the imperious authorial, single-authoring self). We'd send the line on to the other, who would fill out the hyphenated word as they saw fit as they completed the next line, ending that new line with a hyphenated word. That person would then email the developing poem to the next person, and the process would continue, and so on and so forth. We tried the form twice. Here are the results. Enjoy. S.L.
IN THIS NIGHT'S STOLEN MO-
NOW THE STARS STRUT OUT THEIR AUTUMN DIS-
Potentially, might be ...