Collaboration and Distance Overcome
Recently, I flew to Illinois with the intention of making some art and finishing the last few poems in a collaborative chapbook project a friend and I have been working on. Those objectives were completed, of course, and now that I’m home we’re moving on to the revision phase of this together. The experience has been interesting; to paraphrase him (in his fashion, he expressed this sentiment half in text, half in gif), writing a book in tandem is like one person carefully excavating an ancient skull, measuring and brushing it with care, while the other accidentally crushes through it from above with a pickaxe. We take turns in each role.
I’ll catch you up. In 2012, I moved away from the area where I grew up and had lived my entire life, to Asheville, NC. After a three-month exploration of the depths of loneliness, upon acquiring a fantastic job, I moved to Winter Park, FL—a mere three hours away from my dear friend. Soon after, though, he was accepted into a doctoral program in Illinois (too far away), and I began to see our relationship as a ticking clock. So we did what any sensible pair would do in this scenario—we began working on a collaborative project dealing with themes like “distance” and “loss.”
For the next few months, our poems responded to one another. They were independent, but somehow greater when paired. We didn’t write on a schedule of any kind, but wrote about the same subject when the same subject moved us. When we were through with one, we’d move on to another pairing, until we recently reached the end.
On some of these occasions, I would rather have played Star Trek Online or synced up to watch a movie. There’s a surprising number of things you can do with someone distant to create the illusion that you are not in separate states, and by now, I believe we’ve mastered them all.
What he says about working collaboratively on this project is true. Some days I want to describe my grief so delicately that I sound out each word until I feel the weight of it in my mouth before moving on to the next. Other days, I want to destroy all lingering sentiment on the page. More often than not, I’m sure he would rather take the pickaxe to anything I’ve written about him than read it. Or I’m dead wrong and take the pickaxe to our relationship when I say things like that.
That’s the nature of writing as a pair, I think. There’s danger there because of the inevitable intimacy you’ll share across the page. I am wary to suggest revision of poems that I did not write, but it will have to happen, just like I’ll have to revise (and have torn apart) what I’ve written. Though you might be writing in the same language, you also become a fantastic translator of the other’s work, picking up on ideas or images and drawing them out to their best in the responding poem. This writing is forcing us to care and destroy, sometimes at once.
I understand the risk in sounding overly sentimental, but if you are far from someone you love, create with them. There is no feeling like working together within a collaborative lens. Themes like “distance” will make more sense.
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