During my first year living in Ann Arbor, I was inspired by a group of poets in the year above me who, as the WCWPCCS (the Washtenaw County Women’s Poetry Collective and Casserole Society), published a chapbook of collaborative poems. Though others made appearances in it (including male poets) the primary collaborators were Amy Berkowitz, Beth Divis, Emma Gorenberg, Kellen Grady, Elisa McCool and Jessica Young. Their first chapbook was called The Feeling is Mutual. Having not written collaboratively for a few years at that stage (and then only on theatrical and operatic works) I was inspired by the ways in which the group mind opened out so many possibilities.
This was further highlighted in my first workshop in Ann Arbor, in which we discussed one of Elisa McCool’s poems. She used the phrase “the third mind” (which she in turn told us she had found from Anne Waldman—though it has been used by many people) and reading that made something click for me. Bringing together two things, a third thing emerges that is the thread linking the two. To collaborate with another is to create a third mind: because anyone who has really let themselves enter this alchemical process knows that what emerges is a creative neither collaborator could have made alone.
While still in Michigan I participated in a few collaboration sessions, and always found them incredibly rejuvenating; since getting back I’ve pulled out a notebook with relative frequency when sitting with other people to see what happens. Not knowing what will happen is among the most exciting parts of the game: something appears, sometimes quite lumpishly, word by word or line by line or in any other increments that seem to work—and suddenly there it is.
As a writer, I live in my own head a lot of the time. I’m not the only person I know who fits that description. When in social situations I am usually jolly, but I often creep away from events early to recharge quietly at home. I chase the subjects I want to write about obsessively, and that often involves being alone with the page. I don’t mind these things: I like that time spent in thought. But I’ve discovered that writing with someone else can also be a form of rejuvenation: because the discoveries in those conversational poems are often so surprising.
Tomorrow (Sunday 27 May) I’m giving a reading at the Brett Whiteley Studio (2 Raper Street, Surry Hills; the reading is at 2pm—there is no charge) with friends and fellow poets Michelle Cahill and Toby Fitch. For this reading I wanted to think about the fact that this monthly reading series takes place in a gallery—and a gallery that was once the working space of one of Australia’s most iconic artists. At the moment Whiteley’s massive work “Alchemy” is on display: what better subject for collaboration? It’s all alchemy.
As poets we have all responded to Whiteley’s art in different ways—in our ways collaborating with the artist himself—but one element of the reading that I’m looking forward to is reading a couple of collaborative poems written with Toby Fitch as we pored over Whiteley’s work. As a reading this is something of an experiment—both nerve-wracking and exciting. As ever, I’m glad to have found myself in such a state: doing something new to me that I hope proves as refreshing to an audience as it has been for myself as a writer.
Brett Whiteley Studio
2 Raper Street, Surry Hills
2pm, no charge