The Making Of ‘Duets’ – Our Book Of Collaborative Poems


As the publication date for Duets draws close I thought of sharing how James and I wrote all the poems that are part of the collection.

Very often people say that writing poetry is a solitary art. For some it may be true but at the same time collaborative poetry also has a long history and now, especially in the days of the Internet, it has become easier to collaborate over messages, text, emails, or even working within the same document while living miles apart, sometimes the collaborators do not even know or meet each other before sharing the space in a book. The collaboration of visual art and poetry is also very exciting thing that we get to see now more often than before.

There are so many mediums to collaborate and so many ways to write the poems too. Renga in Japan and Renku in China are good examples of collaborative poetry forms. French Renaissance poetry was often a joint project where poets collaborated with their contemporaries.

The poems in Duet originated in the conversations between James and I on Facebook Messenger. The process was simple. We decide on posting the poems alternately. The one whose turn it was to post came up with a first line, and then we added lines alternately until one of us yelled stop. Then we each took the text and edited it into a form that we thought worked.  We then had two versions of the piece and decided which one we should post. Sometimes we didn’t agree and kept both the versions but it was rare. These poems can be termed impromptu as they were written and posted at the same time. Usually it took us an hour or three approximately to finish one poem and post.

When we began neither of us had thought it would come this far. We did it for fun and posted for friends to read and within a short span we had some twenty poems and then the number kept growing. It was then we decided to save them in a document file. We could see an opportunity of a book. James is a seasoned writer so this whole exercise was very exciting for me and a great learning process too. I think it was difficult than the usual process of collaboration where you have time to think and create once the other person has written his/her lines. Here we had no time. Once we sat down in front of the open chat window and the first line was posted it had to take shape of a poem. There was no escape or postponing. This kind of built a pressure especially on me as I am yet a student learning the craft but I must say it kicked me out of my comfort zone ..lol.. It also taught me discipline though James will laugh and say I still need a lot of it.. 😀

It is exciting and at the same time liberating to watch a new voice emerge as a piece develops. We were open to the poem leading us rather than one of us leading it and yet it was an intimate experience. Words are portals and we saw this during our writing of these poems. Suddenly a line would change the entire thought process and lead you to somewhere totally different. It was an exercise to be ready for a quick response to the wordplay that is not yours, a thought completely different from yours, to recognize another voice and be comfortable with its uniqueness and be ready to get startled by constant surprises. Sometimes not being in control gives you more strength to break mental barriers and create something beautiful and totally unexpected. The feeling is overwhelming. Sometimes frustrating too, which of course is human. We are conditioned to follow our thought process and this sort of intense exercise messes with the brain’s normal conditioned way of working. I can tell you that many times I would envisage a poem leading in a certain way and suddenly a line from James would change the coarse leaving me lost for words and ideas but he would patiently wait till I gathered my thoughts again and wrote my part. Many times I would try to steer it in a certain direction but then eventually the poem would take its own course. That is the beauty of words. They lead the way.

It is amazing how an impromptu collaborative work grows organically into a form challenging the roles like gender, age, personality, culture and other differences which usually mark your individual work.  Here all bets were off. We trusted each other and took the direction we were steered into without being judgmental. What we loved most about our work is how this exercise blurred individual lines. While reading the final poem one could really not point out who wrote which line and that was something beautiful.

The joy to create something together is irreplaceable. Time was a big challenge as both of us are writers with a tremendous amount of workload but we somehow managed to hold on to it and assigned a time to get online just to write a new piece and enjoyed our collaborative time together.  I think my creativity has grown with this collaboration.

The name ‘Duets’ is the brainchild of our mutual friend Sabine who was one of the regular readers of the poems as they were shared on Facebook. She began calling them Duets and the name stuck. Thank you Sabine for the love.

 

I asked James to give his side of the story and this is what he sent me :

 

I quote

I’m not totally sure how the collaborative poems between Tikuli and I came about. I think perhaps one of us said—and I’ll give the credit to Tikuli—“let’s write a poem together”, and so we did. Then we wrote another and another and another, and suddenly there were enough poems for our book ‘Duets’, even after leaving a few of the less good poems out of the mix.

 

For some time before we started collaborating, I had been using whatever expertise I have as an editor in trying to help Tikuli with her writing—mostly working on fiction, a long-form narrative, an as yet incomplete novel, and short stories.I think Tikuli came to realise that the best way to learn is often by example, and so she suggested that perhaps we could write something together. As I didn’t have the time to commit to writing anything of length, we began writing poems whenever we could find a bit of time to work together.

 

Writing is, by it’s very nature, a solitary occupation, so collaborating on the writing of poetry or anything else is not a natural process, but is instead a challenge, something to be mastered for no other reason than the determination to master it. In the finished work two minds have to come together as one. The writing must seem as fluid and natural as if it had been written by one person. This means compromise from both writers, without compromise nothing would ever be completed. Compromise was difficult when we both had fixed ideas in mind.

 

How can I describe the process of writing together? Think of it as being like a tug-of-war between two mules, for we both have a capacity for stubbornness. There’s a knot in the centre of a rope and a marker on the ground dividing the territories of the mules, then the mules pull in different directions until that knot passes into the territory of one mule or the other. That rope, of course, is woven from the alternate lines we wrote, the territories are the directions that we each thought the poems should turn towards. Sometimes we argued. Sometimes we discussed. Sometimes we disagreed. But always we remained amicable, for our friendship is far, far stronger than any momentary disagreement.

 

I differ with him on one point. It was his suggestion to start writing collaborative poems. Trust him for not taking credit. I wouldn’t have suggested at any cost ..lol.. I’m so jittery about getting into a new thing. I can tell now that it was worth all the fretting, nervousness and brain storming.

Here is a treat for all of you, a poem from the collection.

DINNER

only tears would clean the stains
hunger left on her face
as she tried to understand
what was wrong with the rich
and decadent food she ate
as unsatisfying as lost love
it left her gaunt and empty
her starved reflection stared at her
from the shine of her empty plate
absentmindedly her finger
traced the contours
of the plate’s cracked surface
as she dreamed of better times
twilight gathered in her eyes
and fed her inner darkness
soon the starless night would come
and invisible in the night
her empty plate might fill

( © Duets – collaborative poems by Tikuli & James Goddard)

Do pre-order your copies. The book releases on 19th of November. It will be available with all online book vendors.

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