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American Way

March 3, 2009

From Poetry Conversations, Part 1 of 4

Somewhere on the prairie,
A bison is learning to use an axe.
He is not good at it.
He has no opposable thumbs,
So he can’t really swing the axe with much
Accuracy. Plus he keeps on trying to eat the handle,
It is made of wood, and for some reason
Looks delicious to the bison, even though
Most bison eat grass. After being distracted
By the delicious looking handle for the
Umpteenth time, the bison finally manages
To get a good clean swing in.
The trick is putting the handle in
The mouth, not for eating but for holding,
And whipping the head around.
Now that the bison has learned
To use the axe, he realizes
With the little brainpower
That he possesses, that there is nothing
To cut down on the prairie.
The bison has finally learned the American way:
Learning a skill that has no practical application.
He might has well have learned to
Juggle chainsaws.

by Andy Anderson
Music by Andy and Ryan Hoke, Wild Goose Creative

Download the MP3

Process notes

Last Spring we had the idea to work together collaboratively on some poetry. We’d been reading each others work for a while but wanted a project we could work on together. We began sharing poems back and forth like a conversation, letting the last poem sent by one serve as a starting place for the next poem written by the other. To raise the stakes we gave each other a 72-hour time frame to be inspired, write something new, and respond.

It was interesting because our styles were very different at the outset — one of us tends toward the more absurd and delineated (Andy) while the other works more with the idea of straightforward storytelling and rhythmic language (Ryan). The four poems that will appear in qarrtsiluni comprise a section from the beginning of the process, where we were still figuring out how to respond to one another and very much using the styles we were used to. However, over time we began to learn how to explore each other’s styles and found our methods changing in response to one another, slowly drawing out previously unexplored nuances, themes, and styles.

Next, since the pieces we write are meant to be performed, we decided to choose several poems and add some original beats and music. This was an entirely new collaborative process for us as well — jointly discussing and choosing which tempos and rhythms worked best, creating new music as needed (Andy) and getting a crash course on music software (Ryan).

This collaboration is ongoing and has been a great source of creative inspiration and artistic accountability, giving us the opportunity to generate a good chunk of new work but also to be open to being influenced and changed by each other.

  1. March 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    This poem is awesome! Humorous without being overbearing and an ending that made me go “Ah-ha…” Good work. Love the music as well.

  2. March 9, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks so much! I really appreciate the feedback!

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