Literary Shelf

How’s and Why’s of Collaborative Poetry

History of collaborative goes back many centuries when poets collaborated with their contemporaries to refine and augment their poetic skills. Development of Renga in Japan and Renku in Chinese could be good examples of collaborative poetry which is as popular today as it was hundreds of years ago. Renaissance poetry in France is marked by ‘virtuoso circles’ wherein many professional poets would collaborate with their contemporaries and engage with their predecessors. Several anthologies were produced as a result. In modern times, collaborative poetry continue to flourish along with avant garde found poetry, erasure poetry and shape poetry as well as several other modern poetic forms.

There are many types of collaborative poetry involving two or more poets. Thanks to internet and social media, poets don’t have to be present at the same place to write a poem together. Epistolary poem-writing is a part of this category along with “in response to” poetry. Translations also fall within the category of collaborative poetry and so does the poetic response to a photograph or a painting. My purpose of writing this article is to share the silent but exciting wave of collaborative poetry sweeping the literary world in the present times and encourage more poets to try this particular form of writing that has proved to be extremely rewarding to me as a poet.

When I first started sharing my poems on Facebook, I didn’t have the faintest idea about collaborative poetry. A poet friend, D Russel Micnhimer whom I befriended on Facebook and who is well known for practicing form poetry suggested that we should try writing sedoka.

The Sedoka is an unrhymed poem made up of two three-line katauta with the following syllable counts: 5/7/7, 5/7/7. It can be a standalone poem but frequently written in the form of mond?ka (??? dialogue poem dialogue poem between two lovers.

Now, I live in India and Russel lives in Oregon, US and had a job that required traveling so it wasn’t possible for us to write at the same time. Moreover, I had not tried any Japanese poetry form other than haiku and therefore, I was both excited and apprehensive at the same time. Over several emails, one sedoka at a time, our first Mondoka emerged. Russel kept it interesting by constantly altering the standard 5/7/7, 5/7/7 pattern with each sedoka. I just followed his lead and the whole experience turned out to be so enjoyable that we decided to repeat it. Here are a few sedoka for your reference.

Verses too fragile
For platitude of paper
Crave parchment of his broad chest
With kohl of her eyes
She spins yarns of solitude
Into pillow book of love

Unraveling pages
Between old empty covers
Feels new dark ink drops
Painting fresh squeezed breath
On soft mounds of rising suns
By brush tip bidden

They come in waves
Lay half forgotten by dawn
Dreams stuck in empty covers
Fodder for musing
Beads of rudraksh slip between
Fingers of her compulsion

Encouraged by the result we also tried Katuata, (??, side poem or half poem which dates back to 8th century Japan found in the Manyõshú (the oldest collection of Japanese poetry) and soon enough we had a couple of series. For instance, here are a few katauta-

You fondly burnish
Pieces of my existence
Nurture me to flowering

Polishing edges   
Buffing your glistening joy
To shimmering reflections

 Light of our loving
Unlock enchanting visions
Sweet symphony to twain souls

Focus of living
Shining key to ecstasy
Opens all chests of treasures

However, not all collaborative poetry we write is premeditated. For instance, I discovered several kinuginu tanka on Russel’s page one morning and was so charmed that I decided to find out more about it.

Kinuginu were the exchange waka that lovers exchanged in the morning when they met at the woman’s house. Murasaki Shikibu wrote 795 waka in her book The Tale of Genji representing them as waka written by the characters of her story.

Soon enough, I replied to his tanka post as a comment which was followed by another tanka by him and soon enough we had a series of kinuginu tanka.

But perhaps the most collaborative poems Russel and I have written which are now part of poetry collection, Lines Across Oceans, are those that fall in the category of  “in response to” poems. One of us would post in poetry group we belonged to and the other would come up with another poem as a response. For instance-  Russel posted this picture and poem and as a response, I wrote the second part.

Now you know
How I conjured you
From amongst
Tattered tomes
On the poetry shelves
Now you know
of another conjuring
unfolding in another dimension
when pen started bleeding
slivers of my liver
and drunk on desolation
I tied corners of my dupatta
in tight knots
invoked blessing of blue throated god
I did not believe in
by denying self of viaticum
rocked gently on my feet
chanting soundlessly
one hundred names of love

Then sometime we both approached the same topic from different perspectives. The poem may seem to contradict itself but actually the first stanza speaks for the dust and the second, for the drop.

I am dust
When drops
of your love
splash into me
we merge
and rise
as a crown
of new born mud
seeking the firing
of the sun

A forlorn drop
I turn into love
The moment
We embrace
Cease all seeking
Home at last

There are a few poems that we wrote together sitting thousands of miles apart. A facebook friend, Sakina Minhaj Shikari, who is an artist and photographer was visiting Sri Lanka and posting breathtaking pictures. As we clicked on those pictures and expressed our wish to visit the beaches someday, imagining started crystallizing into words and before we knew we had a poem. I arranged it into stanzas, doing away with repetitions and sent it to Russel the next day. He chiseled it and gave it final shape.

Let us quench our thirst with coconut water
untangle miscarried quests from wet hair
discover lifetimes we missed
in crinkles around our eyes
our hearts beating to the rhythm of uddekki
oblivious to the swaying dancers at twilight
(an excerpt)

Though Russel and I have been collaborating for last couple of years and our writings have now been compiled into a collection titled Lines Across Ocean, we both keep collaborating with other poets and artists too. For instance, I collaborated with Denise Zygadlo for SpringFling, Scotland’s Premier Art and Craft Open Studio Event where I wrote a poem for her art. We also write renga with other poet friends in facebook poetry group, The Wordsmiths and each time it fills me with wonder and new enthusiasm.

Collaboration between two poets living miles apart may be rare but not entirely impossible. Another outcome of such collaboration is OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti a superb poetry collection by Jen Walls and Dr. Ram Sharma. In fact, social media has made it easier to connect with like minded people and collaborate across time-zones and nationalities.

There are several other literary journals that invite and encourage collaborative endeavors by writers and artists including The Toad Journal, Duane’s Poetree, Whispers in The Wind etc.  One can always find interesting and thought provoking collaborative poems there. It wouldn’t be off the mark if I say, no other time in the history of literature was as exciting as now for collaborative poetry or fiction and nonfiction.


More by :  Nalini Priyadarshni

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