For the last few years I have written collaboratively with poet and academic Cat Woodward. United by our interests in voice, gender and lyric forms, we write primarily by email, trying new collaborative methodologies and borrowing each other’s techniques for individual work, too. Each poem comes into being alongside the traces of its process.
Our collaborative poem “Dear Other, with pink dish” is published in The White Review. We were commissioned by Sidekick Books to write a poem, “wetware”, for their No, Robot, No! anthology in 2018. “wetware” took place as an epistolary exchange over email, developing a dialogue into a single, cyborg voice. This is a real-world bond played out in two places and no place, a quantum micro-politics, oozing & feminist. We ask, ‘what would lyric look like if Sappho’d been playing a theremin?’ The joins, breaks, glitches are left for the reader to hear if she wants to.
Read our collaborative statement below. Visit Cat’s website here.
Cat is in New Zealand and Flo is in the UK; over this distance we write poems together.
The poems we write are singularly voiced but produced through dialogue. This happens over email. One of us will start the poem, then we take it in turns (or out of turn) to add the next line/word/section. The poem changes and develops and grows between us until it is finished. At the same time we keep up a running commentary on the project, reflecting on and critiquing our poems, but also describing the process of producing them and how it affects us.
The result is not the usual performative posture between writer and reader. It also incorporates the interpersonal relationship between two specific women in the real world, two friends. Cat supposes that what she’s really interested in is the material human element, how this project is a product of and an influence upon our relationship as two friends, how this project interacts with the physical distance between us. The way in which it creates something like a space for us to temporarily inhabit together.
We seem to materialise each other or dematerialise, appearing from or receding from the language of the other, which is itself a public language. For the duration Flo can use her voice to conjure Cat specifically and Cat Flo by the virtue of their particular dialogue. Perhaps we sequester the public language there for a moment, make it work on extra, improvisational terms for a time, then step quietly out of its and each other’s light. Then it belongs to the reader for a time, but always to us and always to the language. This poetry is pointing to all sorts of things (especially to Cat and Flo) but never possessed.
The voice of the poems is both singular and dialogical. There’s room for both of us in the singular voicing but in the sense that we push against each other, speak to each other but don’t necessarily blend; we are both parts and a whole, grafts and originals. Any blending is consensual and orchestrated by the form, to which we both agree and both make as we go along together. The poem comes to have room for so many Other things without breaking. It feels like an infinitely accommodating space. The join lines are left for the reader to hear if she wants to. It is a political demonstration played out at the level of a single, real-world bond. A material micro-politics and, we believe, very meaningfully feminist.
This collaborative process breaks some loop of voicing and audition as it’s usually received, and in a positive way that might even be described as loving. It’s a lovely unlonely poetry, an art so long associated with the lone voice crying from the desert.