Home > Mutating the Signature > Why No One Saw It Coming

Why No One Saw It Coming

February 28, 2009

The accelerating street was wet light
and we were, impossibly, on ledges
talking down the suicides,

disarming the shooters on their way to school,
the night’s echolocation
giving way to

the heart’s,
and though a signal is not an answer

sometimes even a glimpse of the Divine Yes
is enough,
the quick of it
almost mocking

a life laboring to break
bewilderment’s code.

What if we took in the street preacher?
Silenced the fortune teller?
Laid off
each sure thing?

Maybe all we need to remember is how
to call the sun up
or pin down the moon.

Maybe we’re merely steps
away from nowhere.

by Susan Elbe and Ron Czerwien

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Process notes

The process began one evening while we were browsing the fiction display at our local Borders Bookstore. One of us suggested that some of the book titles might make good titles for collaborative poems. Ron chose the title from that list and also submitted the first line. We then composed the poem strictly via e-mail. Early on Ron asked if we should offer edits during the process, but Susan felt we’d lose the energy of the exchange. So we simply continued to alternate lines. The varying line lengths and freer use of white space were Susan’s ideas. Ron followed her lead. Susan’s poems are replete with words that are surprising but never arbitrary. Ron offers as a good example of this her use of “echolocation.” Ron’s post-modern leanings stretched Susan’s approach.

Our biggest stumbling block was sticking with it. Our busy lives and other work intruded, and we constantly had to prod each other to come back to the collaboration. There were long periods when both of us struggled to come up with the right line, one that would not only carry forward what came before but also lead towards a felt, though always unknown, conclusion. The poem even includes a line Ron appropriated from a poem by Rae Armantrout, who he was reading at the time of the collaboration. Oddly enough, all of our lines survived editing! We each thought very carefully about what psychic gift we were sending the other person. Susan loved anticipating what the next line from Ron would be. Both of us think it’s important to collaborate with someone whose work and sensibility you enjoy and respect, but having different styles makes it more interesting. We hope to do more together in the future.

  1. February 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    i like the surprises in this poem, the thought that moves through it, and the things that are hard to talk about. thanks.

  2. February 28, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks, Daniela! It was surprising for us too and a lot of fun to write.

  3. March 1, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Gorgeous poem! And beautifully, intelligently read, too. This is one of my all time Qarrtsiluni favorites!
    More collaboration from Susan and Ron, please!
    All the best,
    Laura F.

  4. March 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I can relate to the process notes, we also have the trouble with sticking with it, with finding time to continue. I love this poem and look forward to more.

  5. Mary
    March 1, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Outstanding–intelligent and lyrical. The language and shape worked
    well with the disquieting elements of the story. Smooth and seamless work.
    The poem will stay with me for a very long time. Thanks.

    You two have a good thing going.


  6. Mike Kriesel
    March 9, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Lots of really good lines, floating in a fractured style that works. The poems works well. And good advice, to collaberate with someone whose style is at least a little distant / different from yours.

  7. March 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks, Mike, and everyone else for your comments. It’s nice to know someone is reading!

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