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silence: a courtyard

March 22, 2009

I shudder through the bones
of the courtyard

the silence it seeks is a curious sound

how speak a cluster of pines?
how hold such small echoes:

words in two voices a flutter in two
hearts a finch
I fear to touch a whisper
behind my ear

under the blooming cherry
this place a single word
dreamt and    wrapped in dormant
seeds, a slice of black     earth

I clang the gate shut — the scattered clouds
look me straight in the eye
push me about because they can.

by Rob Taylor and Daniela Elza

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Process Notes

Our collaboration was preceded by a bit of creative borrowing on both our parts. Having only met once at a local reading, I became enamored with the form Daniela was employing in her work, the triptych: three vertical columns of words that read both horizontally (across the columns, left to right, like a traditional poem) and vertically (down each of the three columns). These triptychs were, in fact, four poems in one, and I was very interested in trying my hand at one (four?). I was especially interested in using blank spaces in the columns to emphasize silences — to see how hollow parts of the poem became when a single word from a single column was removed. I wrote a poem entitled “We speak of silence, not in breath,” which focused on the theme of silence and included the sudden interruption of a quiet scene by a bird.

I sent my poem to Daniela, quite unsure if she would either be upset that I was moving in on her form, or dismissive because I didn’t really get what the triptych was all about. Instead she was enthusiastic, so much so that when I sent her a note about qarrtsiluni’s collaborative writing issue, she quickly responded with a revised version of my poem — and we were off!

I sprinkled in nature images, Rob kneaded the emotions in. At first we had a bit of a hiccup. We took too much out. I went back and dragged some of the stuff back in. There were dormant moments between. There were questions: what makes a good poem? I feared about the process at times because I had never done this with someone I practically did not know. I did not want it to fail. All along I cherished the fearless meeting of minds.

I was nervous about adding to the poem after the initial creative moment. When I edit I am almost always paring away at the poem, but if that’s all both peole do in a collaborative exercise then pretty soon you have nothing to work with. My excitement was in seeing the poem go places I know I would never have taken it — rarely does a cherry blossom spontaneously appear in the middle of one of my poems, or a line like “how speak a cluster of pines,” a question I’ve asked to myself many times without finding a way to put it on paper.

All the while the poem was molding and shaping itself, and was saying, “Hey, guys, cut it out with these process notes. What about me? Over here? This is about me, after all, not about these notes you keep processing.” We thought in the beginning the poem was about a single word. But at the end it seemed to be about so much more.

  1. March 23, 2009 at 7:46 am

    This is fascinating stuff, the resulting poem very moving. It took a reading or two for it to begin to gel, but I was excited and enthusiastic from the start.

  2. March 25, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Thank you David for your thoughts. This piece did grow on me slowly. The simplicity of the images with their ability to hold something so elusive as being stolen by a place.

  3. March 31, 2009 at 6:18 am

    WOW. This is gorgeous! I love the seamless beauty of it. My favorite lines:

    words in two voices a flutter in two

    because of how they also speak for this poem. Beautiful work, Daniela and Rob!

  4. April 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you, Arlene,

    It would be fun in a live reading rendition to overlap the two voices in those lines when reading.:-)

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