NOT HOME 2022: Taking Your First Steps in Collaborative Writing
by David Dykes
NOT HOME is a series of online workshops aimed at exploring the idea of collaborative creativity, specifically relating to collaboration in poetry, running from February 2022 to September 2022.
The overall driving force is David Dykes’ interest in the UK housing crisis and the growing generational divide in home ownership. However—like any good collaborator—the interests and focus of the later workshops will be led by group consensus. David and Lyrici Arts hope that through these workshops—aside from what art participants create—there is also a greater understanding of the importance of home.
When it comes to poets–and a large swath of creatives–there might be no scarier word than “collaboration”. To overturn your words, your thoughts, your art onto someone else–invite an intruder into your sacred space–can be unthinkable. But collaboration should not need to feel like a burden and it can offer powerful ways to unlock creativity.
The poet Kenneth Koch, introducing one of the earliest compilations of collaborative poetry in an issue of Locus Solus, described writing collaboratively as a way to “jar the mind into strange new positions.” For Koch and some of his contemporaries like Frank O’Hara and Bill Berkson, collaboration and the “play” it brought to writing was a goal in and of itself. This idea of play, and how to cultivate it, is at the centrepiece of the opening sessions of the Not Home workshops. Something the group discussed was “overwriting” a poem. You can encase a poem in beautiful, perfectly-picked words but end up with a piece that feels paralysed and staid; or you can leave poems to decay out of frustration that you can’t think that phrase you are convinced will bring the poem together. But when writing collaborative–at least, certains forms of collaboration–you have to learn to be content with imperfection. You may have a matter of minutes to write your next addition; conversely, you can be sure that any weak chains you place can be strengthened by your collaborators.
somonka, Jacqueline Johnson & devorah major
One of the poems we looked at was “somonka” by Jacqueline Johnson & devorah major. Somonka is a Japanese poetry form, usually written as letters between two lovers, consisting of two tankas. In this example what we were drawn to in our discussions was the difference between the two stanzas. There is a lot of silence between those lines, and we talked about what we thought the contradictions in the poem spoke to us. But either way we were struck by the inexplicable solidarity expressed in the poem. There is a suggestion of female unity in the poem which has grown organically through the “conversation” between the poem: and this becomes transcendental because of its wooliness, and the acceptance of alternate logics into the typically single-minded focus of a poet.
Collaboration in action
To close our session we wrote–in around 20 minutes, I hesitate to add before sharing it–our own collaborative poem, based loosely off the “exquisite corpse” technique by French Surrealists. Taking the first line from a random poem we each offered our own suggestions for the next line.
This truly became a collaborative poem, and part of that was the sensation that collaboration is always discovering: finding where your partner took the last line, bringing up ideas that no-one else had considered. There were lines that circled around the same subject; there are lines that became chimaeras of two poets’ suggestions as we became more comfortable voicing how we thought the poem should develop. The stanza breaks here were made “on the fly”; feeling what the poem wanted in the moment.
It is this fluidity that really opened up the session for me. Rather than a “vertical poem” with a pre-planned ideology, this was a “horizontal poem” that reacted to the group. And coming out of it–do I stand proudly by the poem? Maybe not. But the journey of writing the poem brought up so many ideas–many brilliant lines by the group that did not fit here but are ripe for use later–that it was the “play” of the writing which became most important.