White: A Ghazal
An alabaster moon—sere and chaste as salt.
Loneliness: an imagined lake, sad-faced as salt.
A thin refrain settles like ashes on flesh.
Breath like smoke, thick as a paste of salt.
Nest of snakes on desert grains, a dry-boned season.
Wind veils the way, gusts of white laced with salt.
O pray for women of the pearl tattoo!
Such yearning to feel disgraced with salt.
Truth is oracle and mirage, is it not?
An infidel is buried to his waist in salt.
Caravans sense roads like soles to nowhere—
All the ancient shrines defaced by salt.
Oblivion asks the nomad only this to live:
What would you give to taste such salt?
by Scott Wiggerman and Andrea L. Watson
After reading qarrtsiluni’s call for submissions for a “Mutating the Signatures” issue, I knew I wanted to try writing collaboratively, something I’d never done before or even thought of doing. I immediately contacted Andrea Watson — my first choice in a “partner” — to see if she might be interested, as I knew her work to be inventive, lovely, and similar to my own in imagery and style.
I was delighted when Scott Wiggerman contacted me about collaborating on this poetry project. I had admired his writing for years and was happy to have made his acquaintance in a workshop at the Taos Summer Writers Conference several years ago. Then we performed with other artists and poets at an ekphrastic event, Interwoven Illuminations, at the historic Rane Gallery, in Taos, New Mexico last year. I respected his knowledge of poetic technique and his approach to poetry. This collaboration was meant to be!
The only problem — a matter of miles! 735.70 to be precise. And so, email became our modus operandi.
And so began a series of thirty-plus emails in less than a month! I did not see distance as a problem; in fact, I saw it as an opportunity to collaborate with someone whom I couldn’t see on a day-to-day basis. The miles quickly became immaterial.
I had collaborated with two women writers on a novel but had never written poetry with another person. Ever. And Scott was suggesting one of the poems be a sonnet! Oh boy! We would each write a line, back and forth, of the quatrains, but we would be free to change a word or two of the other person’s line if we wished. Soon, the sonnet took shape — a crow, powerful, menacing, ebony. Black became a central motif of the evolving Shakespearean sonnet. (Look for this poem later in the issue. —Eds.)
Thus, the color white begged to be the other motif. We chose the ghazal, a form with which I have been comfortable, and the white motif lent itself to a desert landscape. We chose to write a couplet apiece, the ghazal flowing and telling us what it wanted. We dialogued back and forth, added details, subtracted conflicting imagery, kept refining as we went along. We kept the ghazal to fourteen lines, based on an innovative ghazal/sonnet we had seen by poet Sandra Dolin.
Even in our choice of poetic forms (not that they were required), we took a collaborative approach. I had initially suggested we write two formal sonnets and that we each write the first line to one, then alternate lines after that. This is in fact how we approached the “black” sonnet. But Andrea suggested we make the second poem a ghazal, or more precisely a ghazal/sonnet, basically a ghazal of fourteen lines, and she provided the opening couplet, which we agreed would be focused on the color white.
We worked simultaneously on both the sonnet and the ghazal (something new for me, as I usually work on only one poem at a time), adding lines day after day — and offering suggestions for preceding lines, phrases, and/or words. In our back-and-forth banter, we joked about sending “draft 11 million”! At one point, I described the daily revision to Andrea as “hyper-critiquing.”
And we were diligent, nay crazy, in our approach. We wrote every day, no matter what, and made sure to touch base as the poems came to life. The holidays were on the horizon — with guests, travels, too much food, not enough wine — but we continued to email until Christmas was upon us. By then, the two poems — the two forms — had matured, and so we let the work sit. I tinkered on the airplane. Scott looked at the poems amidst a house of visitors. It would be wise to let the poems breathe….
And to let ourselves breathe too!
Later, we removed a word of two from the ghazal that conflicted with white. We kept reworking the last couplet of the sonnet. It needed to be powerful but not overpower the poem.
Though we let the drafts of the two poems “breathe” over the holidays, we already had spent quite a bit of time revising and fine-tuning them. We constantly checked with each other to see what the other thought about any changes, being respectful but blunt. Honesty was something we both required and cherished.
It is important to note that while poets have different styles, different views of metaphor or imagery, poets represent what is so hopeful about the Humanities: people collaborating together on a project such as this; people conversing with one another to make something fine; people celebrating the wonder-work of being human in the twenty-first century. And poetry is the golden thread that binds us all together.
Our “mutating” was so rewarding that we’ve both thought of continuing the process throughout 2009 (and beyond?). Someday you may see a whole chapbook of Watson/Wiggerman poems! Thank you, qarrtsiluni, for sparking this creativity!