Poets Hannah Lowe, Joelle Taylor, Chris McCabe and Jon Stone read their collaborative poems at The Crypt in Clerkenwell earlier this month as part of Magma’s ongoing National Conversation about Poetry.
The audience listened attentively to the new work, which responded to the theme of the four seasons, and was treated to readings by the individual poets so it was possible to hear and compare their ‘pure’ voices.
In the second half Magma’s Dominic Bury and John Canfield led a discussion about the nature of poetic voice and took questions from the audience for the panel of poets.
The poets were chosen for their distinctive and diverse voices to explore the nature of poetic voice and how the collaborations altered those voices and created new dynamics.
They were given the seasons to kick start the collaborative process – Joelle and Chris were give spring; Chris and Hannah tackled summer; Jon and Hannah worked on autumn; and Jon and Joelle wrote about winter.
The poets very kindly agreed for Magma to publish their collaborations on our blog, which we hope you enjoy reading.
A key question from the audience was how the collaborative process worked for each pair, and how the poems developed.
Chris said collaborations only work well and take you somewhere unexpected if both parties agree to shift.
“You have to work against the unified voice, but you are freed up to do something which you wouldn’t do on your own,” he said.
He said he once collaborated with a partner who refused to shift, which made him adopt a similar intransigent attitude.
Although the results of that particular collaboration were successful, Chris said he would not want to participate in another collaboration where the partners were not prepared to adapt and change.
“Neither of us shifted and the process was about speed and manliness, but it didn’t take my poems anywhere; they didn’t go anywhere new,” he said.
Chris’s and Joelle’s collaboration was kick-started by Chris’s idea that spring has an extra month – Appeledendum, and both poets were prepared to work towards each other – eventually!
“I suggested to Joelle, ‘Why don’t we make an extra month of the year? It was an idea for a nonsense poem, and I threw Joelle a curve ball, but I didn’t hear back from her for a week and thought ‘O, no!’”
Joelle said at first she was searching for the meaning, but then told herself not to.
On the subject of ‘I’ and how it related to the voice, Joelle said there is a lot of ‘I’ going on because spoken word poets are generally speaking about their own life experiences and strive to convey authenticity.
Joelle said that in undertaking the collaborations, she came to a discovery about her poetry.
“I never realised I was so logical. With Jon I did the first line about cocaine and I felt that Jon came towards me. It felt like we were in the same flat and looking out at the same doomed playground,” she said.
Jon said he felt “a slightly diminished sense of responsibility” doing a collaboration which made the work somehow easier.
“It felt like a flow where we were responding to each other. You are liberated form the intensity of self-examination and pick up on your partner’s stylistic tics,” he said.
Hannah’s and Jon’s poem about autumn has a tremendously playful quality, and the audience clearly enjoyed their performance.
The idea was based on a conceit of the autumn trees as showgirls disrobing in the dressing room.
“It was Jon’s idea putting autumn trees in the dressing room and I was very comfortable with it as I have done ballet and the dressing room is a meeting point,” said Hannah.
She said initially for her it was a Wikipedia poem.
“I was researching the different trees. If I had more time, I would have tried to work on the physical and emotional differences between the trees. I feel it exists on one level, but the suggestion was good so the collaboration worked.”
Jon and Hannah reacted and bounced ideas off each other over email, and Jon said the collaboration was an opportunity to have fun with different voices.
“It was pure ventriloquism for me. I put in jokes and the collaboration was playful; it was a way of exploring. When I work on my own, I have a set idea at the start, but with collaboration you can’t do that and you have to feel your way from beginning to end,” he said.
Inevitably individual language was affected by the collaborations – sometimes enhanced and sometimes curtailed.
During the collaboration on summer, Hannah said, “Chris fought against the idea of the narrative voice in the poem and any sentimentality.”
Chris added that he felt their collaboration did have a strange narrative quality by the end.
“Collaboration is like translation. It keeps you sharp. The work was pulled in a strange direction towards narrative,” he said.
Overall the poets felt the process of collaboration took their poetry into new areas and generated interesting dynamics, and the audience enjoyed an entertaining evening of great poetry and stimulating discussion. Read the poems and let us know what you think.
Chris & Joelle (Spring)
When that Appeledendum with is pithy sweet the droughts of Muchymuch has drowned to the root. And other reminders of the moths not eaten. Will you see me there when the dumdums are my tomtoms and all the world is great aventure? Meet me in Appeledendum when the heavens are in downloads. Appeledendum is the coolest month.
The month is coolest
When the Heavens are in down load
And rain bead curtains the concrete estate
In primary code
And where it lands
Human beings grow
A retiree in ground floor Flat number 3 –
Has sent a memorandum:
Check the appledendum
In Jawberry, season of mellow juicyfruitness, I saw a child who was dusted with saccharine. I asked where its fulcrum was? He replied, sluffing on his chudding gum: I have no fulcrum. I was borne on the hoof in the month of Jawberry.
I have no fulcrum
I am all of it
All pithy cud and great adventure
Sluffing gum and saccharine hoofs
Will I see you again? It was blue red and yellow last Yonkie. The curtains open to the stairs. I looked up at the attic: blackberry light pulsar. Already it is Velveton. Month fifteen.
Chris & Hannah (Summer)
There was a yellow field, I remember that: and a pylon
I dreamt of climbing; the farmer’s truck, the farmer
The year, whatever it was then, was written out in dust
Do you remember? That hot windless day
A wooden door went down into the earth
and we went down into the earth. Cooler there,
the crab apples like varnished globes of wood
in my hands, and although you said don’t, I did
A written note: ‘I just can’t do this, you know that much?’
You’ve left the door unlocked, the television on
the worms blinded by sugar in the granular Autumn
slinking steadily up our path, their bodies shining
with the news of where the old world had lapsed:
the store below the ground caved in, the rapeseed dead.
Ladybirds in thousands, dying on doorstep
the floorboards poxed with scything wings
the tarmac bucked below my feet; this heatwave
in March which has silenced the birds
and kept you sick and breathless, in bed
besides the blossom dish & salvaged eucharists,
the mobile phone you slip into her hand
‘I just can’t do this, you know that much?’
And she’s out in the street, running back to
the farm declared hex by the priest
where she was made, its sickly fields
like the jaundiced face of the wedlocked child,
The pylon like a gallows below blue bright sky
A bump inside her; the door she can’t leave behind.
Jon & Hannah (Autumn)
Autumn as a Dressing Room After the Show
I’m gunna be here all night
unpinning these helicopters. Nuts. Wingnuts.
Whatever you wanna call them. Feel like
I spend more time in here than out there,
under the lights. Where it’s warm. Say,
do you think the audience is getting smaller?
LONDON PLANE TREE
for the common girls yes, but I’m the green oasis
of Berkeley Square, one doesn’t like to boast
of being named the nation’s most expensive eyeful –
it’s been a busy year for me, I’m glad to shed
these emeralds, and all their looks, winter
allows one to decompress?
Sure – and strut about like a sweet, skinny thing.
Get ready, girls – once I, huhn, haul this gorgeous rig
over my, huk, head it’s put-your-eyes-out, knot-happy
fright wig time. Oh, hell, I’m just tearing off all fistfuls
of paper chillis. Hey, who wants to get their slink on
and join me for a drink at The Riverbank tonight?
Love to, duck, but can’t. Yves needs me to sit:
a new series, he says: Nuits D’Hiver, pleads
he can’t brush a stroke without me. Bet we
end up on Christmas cards. Again. The cheap ones.
Boxed. Close-ups of baubles or robins.
I don’t care, but who buys those things?
You want to look into the Asian market, lovely.
A cousin of mine does film work in Yokohama.
Booked up solid all summer, she says. Contrast –
that’s what gets their blood hot. Cocoa and cream.
Crimson and pink. I worry my complexion’s just too …
honeyed? But this sunset! So in season.
I’m all about block colour. Passion. Ardour.
Spring-summer, I’m the after-show party. Men
luxuriate in me – something about the
way I smell. Only had one fella out of season
and never again. Disaster. Said without my clothes,
I’m all stalk and thorn.
Have you tried yoga? You should. Keeps you
seriously sinuous, even through bone-cracking cold.
I tell you, you could tie me in a boy scout knot.
Shoot, what a mess. You only have to shiver these things
and they turn into a bug swarm. Where’s the dustpan?
Now it’s in my eyes. Ow, ow, it’s like a tiny knife!!
Hell, what a mess! Better clean up before old
boss-man starts shouting he won’t renew contracts.
That schmuck. Know what he said today? You girls,
you’re all about the drama, the tragedy! Told him
to shove his show where the sun don’t shine.
Then took it back. Now, did someone say wine?
Joelle & Jon (Winter)
Is the thin line of cocaine you stepped over
White against a smeared mirror
In which you try not to see the fallow field of your face
Or the lines that radiate
From your eyes like Winter sun
The frozen plough lines around your mouth
In which are planted
Huddled seeds of doubt.
Or else Winter
Is in the background to this scene,
Beyond the window’s creamy flakes,
The ceiling’s supple floss of spiderwebs,
Over the next row of houses, the bitter marsh,
The foreshore, the river, the gas works, peninsula,
The doomed playgrounds and barbarised gardens,
Moving too fast and too dark to be ground-hugger,
Surely the shadow of something in the air.
Is not white but dark
The fluttering shadow of a lost thought caught in web, a stuttering heart
That taps a Morse Code across the silent kitchen, through the living room
And out across concrete and deserted buildings
To find her again. To find her.
Winter is a word frozen on letter box lips
And a feeling you cannot spell
Blow on your heart
Hold it close tonight.
Or else Winter
Will want you more than whimsy,
Weasel in and do your bones the way it does,
With a fingerslide, with a bored detective’s air,
Will be kissing up to the optic
After all the other guests have gone, lucid, lecherous,
Waking up with you in a half-shovelled snowdrift,
Saying “Hey, I like it here. I like
Your faltering light, your heart’s paratactics.
Why don’t I stay” and you won’t say no.