Collaborative poetry is an excellent way to challenge and grow your art.
Generally, most of the writing a poet does is pretty solitary. Many poets write poetry collections or poems alone. Given the nature of writing, often being birthed of the self, writing in a group or as a duo is an often overlooked form of expression. Sometimes it feels unnatural. How do you meet at the center of your individual experiences? Is it even possible?
And yet, it has been done — a lot. In fact, collaborative poetry is an amazing testament to creativity. Have you ever participated in an exquisite corprse? This old parlor game technique was invented by the Surrealists and is done by having everyone write on a sheet of paper, and then pass it to the next player. The previous writing is kept hidden.
In fact, a well-known French Surrealist book, Ralentir Travaux, was collaboratively written in the 1930s — in five days — by Andre Breton, Rene Char and Paul Eluard.
Modern Collaborative Poetry
Another more recent example of collaborative poetry is in Asdaa magazine’s “Poem Factory” experiment. The experiment has people using MediaWiki to write modern poetry in Arabic. The Poem Factory’s purpose is one worth thinking about: “To liberate poetry from the disease of ownership and its pathological offsprings, such as fame obsession and copy rights, which have become characteristic of creative production.”
If you’re looking to get a taste for collaborative poetry, read Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry, edited by Maureen Seaton, Denise Duhamel, and David Trinidad. Of course, this is limited to American poets — so you should also check out Japenese collaborative poetry, like Renga, or
When we think about collaborative poetry, something new happens. It’s a birthing, in a sense. We are able to let go of the reigns in a vulnerable way, a way that depends on others and decenters our own voice.
Our pain becomes our collaborators’ pain. Their pain becomes ours. Their beauty becomes ours. Our beauty, theirs. In two distinct voices, for example, a third new, or wholly individual voice is born. Unity and humanity is etched into words.
Collaborative Poetry and My Work
I wrote collaborative work here and there amongst friends, usually as a writing exercise. My last book, Nympholepsy, was co-written by with another poet, Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein. I’m not sure, looking back, that we set out to publish the book or not. I think not. We began what turned in our book as a sort of cathartic writing process.
We had often shared poems we’d written with one another, but this, we decided, would be a conversation — a back and forth, a book within which we’d explore the same world and people and time but from the points of view of our narrators. The narrators, of course, existed alongside one another, both revealing parts of themselves — sometimes within context to one another and sometimes as separate beings.
We’d decided what the book would be, and then we’d work independently, later splicing our separate works into one document. We’d place poems side by side or write new poems to follow one another’s. And we set the book so that she wrote one page and I wrote the next.
How Collaborative Poetry Can Work for You
I think all poets should experiment with collaborative writing. Not only does it help you develop and understand your voice and craft process, it teaches you how to create something with someone else. How to trust them. How to honor their work. How to work toward a beautiful, common goal. How to bring two perspectives into one space to create a new thing.