Wednesday, February 3, 2010

creative collaborations and creative snarls...

I have collaboration on the mind, largely because I learned just yesterday that my friend & grad school classmate Neil de la Flor and friend & former professor Maureen Seaton's co-authored book of poetry, Sinead O'Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Blue Birds, won the Sentence Book Award and will be published by Firewheel Editions. It's a big year for Neil, as his solo book of poetry, Almost Dorothy, will be published in the spring. As for me, I can say I knew him way back when, drinking red wine and eating chocolate crepes on South Beach.

Aside from being a fantabulous poet, Neil is a natural collaborator. The only successful collaborative work I've done was with him, and Mario Villa, back in grad school. Of course, this was for Maureen's class, collaborative conspirator that she is. Our work ended up being published in Admit2, an online journal of collaborative work, which still pleases me, that our fun tickled someone else enough to put it out in the world.

I think about Maureen's class a great deal (particularly any time I hear the word transliminal), and the experience of building something together. It takes a certain chemistry for that to work out well, and even then, it's damn tricky. Oddly, I had the most fun not with the words, but with the piece of plywood that the three of use (Neil, Mario & I) painted while we were playing with words too. The painting was lower stress - god knows, I have no idea what I'm doing - strictly for our own amusement (well, and to have some physical element to our altar). It serves as a visual reminder of some pretty goofy conversations, an interesting starting point. I think the painting is still in Neil's garage. Gads, I hope the raccoons that keep breaking in haven't gotten to it.

Maureen & Neil's book started when they were shuttered inside during a hurricane, trapped with little to do but worry about getting blown away and write, and over several years, it grew and grew. I'm ridiculously excited to read it, as I was to read Maureen's fantastic memoir, Sex Talks to Girls. Did I remember to send her a fan letter for that? Probably not. And yet, I adored it. Sometimes my inertia / shyness grates on me.

But back to the point: the chemistry of collaboration seems, on this tiny sampling, to also require just a wee bit of stress (a deadline for class, 110 mph winds). But revealing ones' own weird little creative world generates stress too. I remember feeling outnumbered by the image hungry poets, and as a result trying too hard with my language (something I still do, overwriting, when I'm anxious or uneasy with a topic). I also remember the frustrations of simple organizing...creatives aren't known for their consistency, the phrase "like herding cats" was probably used at least once in aggravation. Still, when the time was up, we had something that each of us at least liked pieces of - not the same pieces, I can't imagine, but likeable sections for each of us.

Unlike building a bridge, there isn't a ribbon cutting ceremony when the last nail is hammered in on a poem or novel or book. There aren't blueprints, so who knows if the nails are in the right place or not. Neil told me they'd sent the book out to a couple of different places with no response, then they changed the title, and it won. Is that the way things go, if you move a nail half and inch, or pull it out and hammer in one that's longer, shorter, or a deeper color gray, and that's the difference between structural collapse? Or do you just find the right river to span, and it fits there? Who knows, and this metaphor is getting muddy, and I'm not perhaps sure what my point is. Maybe it's just that I'm happy for my friends' continuing success, and that I miss the creative energy, despite many frustrations, that colored my life in grad school. Time to go to Florida, drink some red wine, and eat some crepes.

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