Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Solo Thoughts on Collaboration 4: Literary Collaboration part one

The first three parts of these posts may be accessed from this post here:

I want to finally get round to defining literary collaboration as the co-creation of a literary work or works by two or more writers by whatever method. And I want to begin by exploring the instances where I have adopted this possibly large range of methods. In other words, where there is no other medium involved (music, dance, visual art practices), although there are elements of vocal performance involved now and again. As with other parts of this enquiry, I shall be considering the activities on the ‘Collaboration’ page of my website, which I believe is comprehensive. (I update it each summer, here.) They fall into three categories: early literary collaborations, ones deriving from the ‘Enemies’ project and its offshoots, and the EUIOA project resulting in Twitters for a Lark. Later posts will cover the last two areas: if you want to read those use the link above.

Bob Cobbing

With Bob Cobbing I made two collaborations. On both occasions Bob wanted the text to be … well, text. Not to be sound or visual poetry. Possibly he thought I was incapable of producing such work (he was right) or he wanted to do what he seldom did in later years: produce a purely lexical text. 
First there was Codes and Diodes (Writers Forum 1991), a processual piece using the text and left-overs from my poetic introduction to Processual. (That may be read here: )

I literally gave him the scraps of paper in a bag and he made the extraordinary opening text, out of it. The following texts are produced from this ‘fixed’ vocabulary, which of course is not the vocabulary of the introduction. They were the parts that were used! We took turns about 4 times.

Then, a year before Cobbing’s death, we worked on Blatent Blather/ Virulent Whoops, a text written between July and October 2001, whose text may be read
here. A video of Patricia Farrell and I reading a revival of the text at The Other Room is visible on The Other Room website. (See video here: Written via the post (other collaborations have involved email) we took turns to write however many three line stanzas we desired. It somewhat scrambles a reader’s sense of who wrote what. That’s something I think is quite important, so that contributions can’t be assigned, sourced, and a text begins to stand on its own, as though authored by a single, though plural entity. Dialogue becomes collaboration. In terms of content, it picked up themes or motifs, e.g. names of rivers, kinds of animal, etc. (I suspect Bob had books of facts and word lists to work from.)
[NB 2021: These two collaborations are now available together, from Veer: see Pages: COLLABORATIONS (Bob Cobbing - Robert Sheppard) published in a box by Veer - out now ]

Scott Thurston

In contrast, the poems emphatically lyrical, with Scott Thurston I produced Turns (published by Ship of Fools/The Radiator, 2003). This was a slow to-and fro-ing collaboration undertaken over several years, one poem each. It begins with ‘The Blickling Hall Poem’, which I wrote in 1980 (when Scott was 7!
‘The Blickling Hall Poem’ may be read Here. ), and decades later Scott responded to it with a single lyric poem. And so on, taking, as the title reminds us, turns. Then after 2003 there was a long gap, but the poem Scott wrote for the book he edited, An Educated Desire, which appeared (literally) on my 60th birthday in 2015, seems another ‘turn’. I’ve lazily said I’ll write a response to that and ‘Turns’ will then be started again. Though if Scott waits another 12 years that’s going to be a long wait. It’s clear who wrote what poem, although it doesn't say so. It is self-consciously a dialogue. Mind-bendingly slow. (News just in 31 January 2020: I've jut received a request from an editor to include 'The Blickling Hall Poem' in an anthology of 'country house' poems! Interestingly, the editor found the poem on this blog. Kevin Gardner and John Greening edit this  anthology Hollow Palaces. Read about that here, and watch me read the poem on video: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The Blickling Hall Poem (re: History or Sleep Selected Poems) .)  

With Rupert Loydell, our book Risk Assessment (Damaged Goods, 2006) resulted from a fast email exchange. I still have copies available free. We adopted a method (not saying what!) that means you can’t discern who wrote what. Re-reading them, I can’t. Here’s a few still online:

I hadn’t realized so much of it was online. I hope some of you stop to read them.

Rupert Loydell

Rupert Loydell I regard as one of the two Mr Collaborations. Rupert has undertaken a lot of collaborative writing and art projects, and his creativity seems to bounce off of his collaborative encounters. I think I agree, although my own collaborative work (until the EUOIA) was sporadic, although writing these posts, I’m discovering that I’ve collaborated far more frequently and variously than I would have imagined. It breaks up the monotony of solo production, throws one’s imagination into the pit of somebody else’s, with whom you will, must, interact. You can change and they can too. Something unforeseen (though not necessarily unplanned) is produced. Something neither could have produced on his or her own. Possibly something in a third voice.