I’m back. Again. I actually enjoy writing a blog but seem to have so many projects on my plate at any time that making room for keeping up a blog just falls down the list far too often. Lately, however, I find myself thinking more about the process of creating and the imperatives of art and that has brought me back to the blog as a way to order my thoughts and maybe say something that will be of interest or value to you. Writing is such a private act, the process, the timing. Just at this moment I am sitting in my office, which is not without the clutter of my move here earlier this year. I do not have music playing. The only sounds come from the keyboard and the Amish electric fireplace on the side wall that glows its artificial coals red in its handsome cherry wood cabinet, and the faintest computer hum. I am surrounded by art and plants and two walls of books, CDs and file cabinets. It’s a lovely room painted a warm Oshun mustard. But the writing, the writing is not because of this place; this place merely makes it more comfortable, the light, the warmth, the privacy. The process of writing though is one of so many starts, and so many fewer finishes. Yet all of those completed poems, stories, articles, novels and novellas, do not find their way to print, at least not right away.
Now I enjoy, at times, reading of the starts and stops of other writers, but rarely find my own so interesting. Just now though, I am involved in a really exciting collaborative writing project with Opal Palmer Adisa. Usually the performance and or publishing aspects of Daughters of Yam is what I most enjoy about our multi-decade poetic partnership. But this all we decided to produce a chapbook, Incantations and Rites. We picked a theme and then went back to our files and dfound or created poems which fulfilled the idea of the project. We then in an an organic way ordered the poems. At the end of that process we decided to have an opening and closing poem that would represent in print what our collaboration was in performance. This does not the first time we have co-written a poem, but the others were done mostly for performance. Now, though, I think I have a better understanding of what the process of writing collaboration can be and more of a respect for what the result can be. I gained this respect seeing a few of the poems in the fascinating collection Hang Man, a new book of poems co-authored by Cave Canem fellows Myron Michael and James Cagney. The poems are seamless. I have respect for each of them as their own poets and find the rhythms of their collaboration have produced a poetry that is like the ideal offspring, taking the best from each parent and turning from any of the weaker traits.
Poetry collaboration is, of course nothing new. In 2007 Soft Skull Press released a stunning anthology Saints of Hysteria: A Half Century of Collaborative American Poetry. But of course the French Surrealist poets were working in this way at the turn of the 20th century. And the Japanese traditions of renge and somonka go back centuries. Saints of Hysteria consists of the collaborative poems and a description of the process as each poet in the collaboration experienced it. My poem was part of a somonka with Jacqueline Johnson. It is a two poet collaboration where the first poet creates a tanka and the second answers. Jacqueline started:
Grey hairs-those bitches
Show up everywhere. Talking
About “we don’t care
What color you put over us
We showing our asses anyway.” (JJ)
henna or shaved oiled head
or a night of wild loving
will tame those fickle tresses. (dm)
The majority of the poems in the anthology seemed to have a process where each person wrote their part separately and the variations were in form or the process if melding the parts together, a quilt of sorts. But Opal and I decided we would really co-write the poems, although not at the same place/time. We are opening the chapbooks, with incantations and one of us had to start a poem that would clear the way for those poems. As it happened, an opening came to me first. A dream sent me powerful images, waking images, as at that moment I was involved in a kind of lucid dreaming. I fully woke and wrote some lines in my bedside journal without even turning on the light, just scribbling what I could catch. Out of that a poem was formed. I am yet sculpting it into its own self. I am also using parts of it as the start for the Daughters of Yam incantation. After some editing and major rewrite I sent it over to Opal. Opal worked with it and wrote not an answer, like the somonka, but lines and stanzas that filled and re- shaped the poem. It is now back to me and I am editing as a piece, working with both my lines and hers, sometimes creating a new line with bits and pieces from each of us and will return it to her this evening. This back and forth will go on until we each fell the balance of spice to meat, music to rhythm is correct. At the project’s end it will be our poem. Not her and my poem. When we are satisfied with one of both of them I will put them on the blog. Right now it is the process that I am finding intriguing more than the product.
Meanwhile I have just received Global Night Car from Belgium. This is a one extended poem magazine produced by World Internet Books, (Annmarie Sauer http://redroom.com/member/annmarie-sauer and Fred Schywek) in a project they conceived where they asked a number of poets to respond to the title theme during the moon-phases of September and October 2011. Nine poets from five countries ended up in this collaborative work. Annmarie and Fred ordered, but did not edit, the submitted poem segments. No one poet is specifically credited with their own lines, instead we all share in the ride on the train seeing the moon and the planet as we cross continents. They are also involved in translating and publishing my next volume of poetry, rising tides, breaking waves.
I have also finished yet another volume of poetry, and then, we became, which I am just beginning to shop. It is more personal than any of my other volumes. Betwixt and between there has been love and marriage, a new home in the East Bay and at long last a return to Redroom. And of course I am every and always performing Daughters of Yam are going to be performing selections from our upcoming chapbook Incantations and Rites, this Sunday December 9 at Art Internationale – 963 Pacfic Ave in San Francisco. 7PM. For the gig we are working with harpist extraordinaire Destiny Muhammad whose musical and vocal incantations being out even more layers and nuances in the work. It will be a really special collaboration and I hope you can make it. Please check my calendar for other upcoming dates. For example December 11, again as a part of Daughters of Yam at the Albany Library. Hope to see you.
And if we only see each other as online folk. I will stay around a bit longer this time. And, as always, respond to any thoughts you have.