Buddha smiles because nothing is
static, so why label and hammer
a story on someone’s grave?
There’s always that backdrop
of the next frame
even when it’s empty,
even when filled with Edith Piaf
singing, whose heart stoked every note,
whose voice knew nothing could stop
the locomotive bend of a willow.
Conditions move on —
that’s why mountains don’t grow on clouds
like the human mind does, projecting
motives onto the wind, wanting to know
whether it prefers east or west.
Collaboration in any form of artistic endeavour is not exactly about working together. It is more about trust — trusting each partner’s instincts. The phrase “working together,” so often overused, implies a measured and controlled working process. In reality, any collaboration must always fall short of such idealistic harmony before it is truly a collaborative effort. Once an effort involves more than one person, unknown factors arise, and should arise. We like to think that what makes collaboration intriguing is this element of seemingly open-ended obscurity, an inability to know exactly what the other artist or writer is thinking. Precisely because of such uncertainty, an intuitive trust can grow even stronger.
Writing poetry, like any form of writing, is quinessentially a solitary activity. When we collaborated in making a poem, the entire process was a combination of two solitudes. Each of us first began the creation of two unfinished poems; sometimes it was just jotting down some lines or a stanza or two, with the deliberate intention of leaving ample room for the other party’s creativity. Both of us needed to be sensitive towards each other’s line aesthetics, poetic “breath,” imagist modes, as well as preferred word choice and colors. Collaboration was obviously in the back of each of our minds from the start, yet we were in our own solitudes, so there also existed a space that belonged to Sally and to Greta. On “Vanishing Biography,” for instance, Greta wrote it as a compilation of five koan-like verses, each finished and complete. At the same time, she tried to have every image or line open to new narrative or lyrical voices, wrote without thinking of “controlling” each verse, and to a certain degree, did not worry about a fixed context. As we each wrote our two poems, we both realised that there was not much point in wondering how the other would respond to them, unless each of us wanted to control her response, which, of course, was not the point of our collaboration. As it turned out, Sally wove in new, accompanying images or circumstance, so that an additional layer of narrative could thread through the collage. Theme still remains, but there was now a new story, and a different energy. This surprise was exhilarating.
Greta lives in Paris, France, and Sally lives in Omaha, Nebraska, so they corresponded by email. There was some “hazing” of our “signatures” in terms of polishing, cutting, altering and re-writing, but a crucial part of the process, and what made it so meaningful, was realizing the unexpected range and creativity of two imaginations instead of one.