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Introduction

What is important about collaborative textual poetry?  Several elements come to mind. First, it invites a practice that liberates the individual from him/herself, by virtue of a far different skill set from that which is used when working alone. Collaboration is something like ear training in music: one must hear the other writer’s piece to respond to it. That hearing equally extends to the passage’s visual dimension. Writing with another person provides an opportunity for textual artists to engage in something resembling chamber music, those delicate and often intricate works that incorporate various features of separate instrumentation into single musical works.

 

While existing as a category unto itself, collaborative textual creation is featured only infrequently as an entity that is separate from other, individual work. While selected collaborative creation have appeared as full-length books, but anthologies are rare, and, as of this writing, critical discussion is sparse.

But, to use the well-worn phrase: who’s counting? Does collaboration really matter? Textual collaboration has not yet established a presence as a category of work, yet examples of it appear, intermingled with individual writing, within print magazines and web-based publications, including blogzines. Typically, venues characterized as avant tend to feature collaboration more frequently than relatively more traditional periodicals. As with many categorical avenues in the arts, collaborative textual writing is better characterized by examples of excellence than by theoretical arguments for its existence.

This issue of Sugar Mule is intended as a selection of current, vital work in the realm of collaboration. Rather than aspiring to be all-inclusive, my intention has been to introduce some of the range of active, contemporary collaborative projects, while hoping to inspire further work. A further limitation: I have deliberately omitted any collaborative efforts that bear my name, and leave that task to others who may wish to initiate related projects. My role as guest editor permits me to savor the work of others from the perspective of someone for whom collaboration has taken on a life of its own, as I continue being privileged to work with many different writers and artists.

The textual artists included in this issue have impressive independent writing projects. Many of have added to their practice the act of writing in pairs or in larger groups, thereby broadening the scope of their creative process and output. Regardless of whether one’s collaborations relate to individual composition, there does seem to be a separate “being” that comes to the fore. The energy of this separate being seems in every case to be distinctive and to facilitate the development of distinctive works. Within this volume are long poems, many of them sequential works, and short poems. Many texts lend themselves to performance, while some other works may be intended mainly for the screen or for the page.

My own interest in literary collaboration emerged upon the publication of Absence Sensorium, a book-length work by Daniel Davidson and Tom Mandel, created as an email exchange and published by Peter Ganick’s Potes & Poets Press in 1997. George Lakoff used the word “seamless” to characterize this long-poem. To me, the book signaled a new trend in the creation of literary work. Dan Davidson’s untimely death left Tom Mandel to represent the remarkable literary achievement. Not long after the book’s publication, I interviewed Tom, seeking to explore the process and the volume itself. Among its admirable characteristics was the definite sense that the book existed as an entity distinct from the individual creative output of either author.

Two years later, Lyn Hejinian’s and Leslie Scalapino’s Sight emerged from Edge Books, differing from the Davidson/Mandel book in its use of authorial designation. In a similar vein, Canadian poets Anne Szumigalski and Terrence Heath created Journey/Journee (rdc press), indicating who wrote which part of the jointly created piece. Still another approach was exemplified by Daphne Marlatt and Betsy Warland who created Double Negative, in which two writers’ work merges into a single poem, followed by a self-interview and a series of pieces written by lines in the earlier poem.

During the 1990s, I was unfamiliar with the highly accomplished work of the Canadian collaborative entity Pain Not Bread formed in 1990 by poets Roo Borson, Kim Maltman, and Andy Patton. Years later, I reviewed their brilliant book An Introduction to the Introduction of Wang Wei for John Tranter’s Jacket Magazine, happy to discover the heights to which collaborative intelligence and pleasure could reach.

 More recent volumes of critical significance include Literature Nation and pleasureTEXTpossession by Maria Damon and mIEKAL aND, characterized by interwriting and available technological advances by both writers who are also important visual poets.

 Sound poetry represents a powerful trend in the tradition of The Four Horsemen, Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery, and bp Nichol. I have been privileged to experience strong performances by Douglas Barbour and Stephen Scobie, whose work has followed in this tradition, as has that of Owen Sound, creating unified performance work. Meeting Douglas and Stephen led to my long-term work with Douglas Barbour, recently culminating in the appearance of Continuations (The University of Alberta Press), a collaborative venture that began in November of 2000 and continues to this day. I include several examples of work that has been or will be performed, notably that of Alan Halsey and Jesse Glass, and Penn Kemp working with Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy and Susan McMaster, respectively.

 John M. Bennett, who founded and edited over a 30-year period the magazine Lost and Found Times, has collaborated with a myriad of writers in textual and visual poetry. This volume includes John’s work with Jim Leftwich, with Geof Huth, and with Stacey Allam. Dr. Bennett has championed collaborations among poets and writers, selections of which can be seen in the anthology Loose Watch. The performance group with which he is affiliated, The Be Blank Consort, performs both individually created and collaboratively made works in textual and visual modes created by its roving membership, other charter members of which include K.S. (Kathy) Ernst, Scott Helmes, and others.

 While all of the writers in this volume have individual work of interest, I was particularly pleased to learn of some combinations of people working together. Tom Beckett and Thomas Fink, for instance, have created brilliantly together, adding further dimension to my appreciation of what they do. Tilla Brading, whom I’ve known and admired for many years, has joined Frances Presley in a wonderful sequence of work, including individual and collaborative pieces excerpted here; Bob Brueckl and Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Nico Vassilakis and Robert Mittenthal, in addition to Nico’s work with Crystal Curry, Rupert Loydell’s work with Luke Kennard, Mackenzie Carignan and Scott Glassman, and Dan Waber and Jennifer Hill-Kaucher. 

 For some of the writers included in this issue, collaboration has become a way of life. Jim Leftwich, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, John Crouse, John M. Bennett, and others, appear to write excellent collaborations on a daily or even more frequent basis, and to work with multiple writers on a variety of projects. Nico Vassilakis, Peter Ganick, Michelle Greenblatt, Vernon Frazer, Tom Taylor and Rupert Loydell join the writers listed above in their participation in jointly creating texts that may differ from their own individual work, bringing out distinctive dimensions through their combined sensibilities.

 For other writers, the commitment to collaboration assumes a different shape, and comes to be a kind of event, either orchestrated and planned or emergent and (at least partly) random. Eileen Tabios and David Baptiste-Chirot have used the hay(na)ku sequence, applying an extended form of Eileen’s invention to their collaboration that appears here.

 Many writers have been collaborating exclusively by snail mail long before the advent of electronic communication. The ubiquity of email now makes linking with other writers as natural as answering the door. For many of us, writing together is something akin to conversing, but at a higher level than the normal fare discussion might assume. That writers can make something together offers a rich yield of refinement involving process and product alike. Visit Jim Leftwich’s blog site textimagepoem to find a bounty of brilliance, with wide-ranging appearances of mail art, visual poetry, textual collaboration, among various individual pieces. Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and others offer treasure troves of similar excitement on their blogs and websites.

 The invitational process used to assemble selected examples of textual collaboration brought forth several surprises. In some instances, friends were doing work I was unaware of, but delighted to read, such as the piece by Mary Rising Higgins with George Kalamaras. I have appreciated the work of Jesse Glass, but only upon extending this invitation did I come to focus on his fine work with Alan Halsey. I have long admired the collaboration between Maria Damon and mIEKAL aND, and was very happy to extend that appreciation to a collaborative trio that included jUStin katKO. Work introduced by my long-time collaborator, Douglas Barbour, included Penn Kemp’s collaborations with Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy and with Susan McMaster. To my further delight, some of the creative teams included partners Dan Waber and Jennifer Hill-Kaucher, and father and daughter writers Michael and Natalie Basinski.

 My appreciation is further extended to all of the writers who participated in this project. Their willingness to have their creative products featured has made this compilation process not only enjoyable, but an excellent learning experience. I am grateful to Marc Weber, the editor of Sugar Mule, for inviting me to guest-edit this issue of Sugar Mule (perhaps to be a future print anthology). Assembling the selections of textual collaborative work shared by invited writers has been rewarding, based upon the variety of work and the range of approach to a definite trend in contemporary writing.

 During the final phases of editing this anthology, the community of writers received the painful and shocking news of kari edwards’ passing. We are fortunate to include kari’s work with erica kaufman and Anny Ballardini in this volume. kari edwards’ generosity and dedication made this a better world, and kari’s presence will be greatly missed.

 Sheila E. Murphy

December, 2006

 

Sheila E. Murphy’s most recent publication is a book-length collaborative poem with Douglas Barbour titled Continuations (The University of Alberta Press, 2006). In addition to her work with Douglas Barbour, Murphy has established a history of collaboration with musicians, visual artists and musicians, including Megha Morganifield, Celtic harpist, K.S. Ernst and Andrew Topel, visual poets, Paula Silverberg, photographer, Linda Mundwiler, visual artist, and writers Al Ackerman, Stacey (Sollfrey) Allam, Charles Alexander, David Baratier, John M. Bennett, Beverly Carver, Peter Ganick, Scott Glassman, Michelle Greenblatt, Scott Helmes, Lewis LaCook, Jim Leftwich, Andrew Lundwall, Tom Taylor, Andrew Topel, Dan Waber, and a quartet with Gene Frumkin, Mary Rising Higgins, and John Tritica.

 

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