Wednesday, March 2, 2016


    In the past, I have attempted collaborations with some musician friends of mine. Rather than working together, I offered them a handful of poems, and they either ran or didn't with an idea inspired by my words. Generally the results were far removed in mood and style from my original notions, although it's always been fascinating to see someone else's take and elaboration on your creation.

    Although I have prided myself on having excellent pitch ever since my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Deutsch, told me I had it, I have never had the urge to create my own music. When I write, I hear the rhythms of the language, the flow of the words, and nothing more. I admire songwriters who can write both words and music, but they are definitely doing something different. Kissing cousins, but not identical twins.

    I still recall a one-time attendee of the Hudson Valley Folk Guild Kingston Coffeehouse who, while nervously introducing himself, remarked that he used to be a poet but that now he was a songwriter. The implication was clearly that his art was more complete now that it contained both words and music. Oddly, I don't recall his performance.

    My friend Guy and I are in the early stages of putting together a chapbook of poems by both of us. I consider this a collaboration of sorts, although the work we use will not be new. I have suggested a conversational format, with us sitting down and tossing poems back and forth until they fall into some organically logical order. It will be an experiment.

    It will also be an extension of the conversation Guy and I have had about poetry and life for the last fifteen. We've been to countless Dodge Festivals (RIP), and even more open mics and literary events throughout the Hudson Valley. We have never tried to compose a poem together, and I can't think of a truly meaningful way for me to do that with him, or with anyone. My poems are personal and rise from my memories, reactions and experiences. To mingle those images with someone else's doesn't seem to me at the moment as a way to producing substantive work.

    That being said, I do know of some amazing work that Will Nixon is doing with other poets. He's been writing collaborative poems in what I understand to be a back-and-forth process, something like an 'exquisite corpse'. They are rich, vivid and highly entertaining, but pretty far removed from my own poetic practices. In recent years, I have made an effort towards experimentation, but this has progressed more slowly than I might like.

    And in the meantime, the poems keep on coming in the old way, one line sticking in my head, urging me to get it down, following the stream of words and images trickling out of my untethered brain, until I reach the conclusion that my subconscious was aiming for all along. It's not pretty, but it generally works for me.

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