Saturday, February 08, 2020

Thoughts on Collaboration 6: Literary Collaboration part three

All posts in this 'Collaboration' strand may be accessed via links on the first post, a hubpost, as I call it, here:

[I want to also announce that I've found the line up of the Literary Collaboration Symposium I convened at Edge Hill, which I referrred to from memory, and I've just added it to that first post above.]

Yes, I wrote a collaboration with Zoe Skoulding for a Camarade/Enemies reading in Manchester. We’d not collaborated before but we were friends by then, 2012. Weirdly this was another reading I missed (a bad cold, I seem to remember), and Zoe was forced to read the poem solo. Instead of taking turns – the default mode of delivery at Camarades (about which I write in the previous post here.) – it was just her. Oddly, this added to the text, in my opinion, rather than detracting from it, because we had undertaken a particular kind of collaboration, one that was consciously creating a ‘third voice’, and it suited a solo delivery. You cannot tell who wrote what! (This was a major discovery to carry forward into the EUOIA project.)

I’ve written about the context of this quite often, though it is the last fact that seems to be of importance here, in relation to collaboration. In writing my ‘fictional poet’ project, which became A Translated Man, I had also invented a whole pantheon of European poets. I wrote a few of their poems at the end of A Translated Man and claimed them as authored by my fictional poet: Belgian dolls with Rene Van Valckenborch. (You can read about him here:

A whole page with lots of links. My own reflections on A Translated Man may be read here.

Of course, it was only the beginning as I then began to work on the other imaginary poets that I had ‘invented’, nudged by Zoe’s suggestion, and you can see she has another part to play in that last post: I was billed as Van Valckenborch when I read at the North Wales International Poetry Festival. I was Belgian!

Here’s Zoe reading that first collaboration, the work of the Turkish Cypriot poet Gurkan Arnavut:

It was held on March 30th 2012 at the Cornerhouse in central Manchester, as part of Enemies of the North.

As is quite well known I worked with a number of other poets to produce a full roster of the 28 poets of the European Union of Imaginary Authors (the EUOIA), all before Brexit (and Shexit). There’s loads and loads on it here

and here (which I won’t repeat).

SJ Fowler writes generously on the EUOIA here:

Steven Fowler was one of my collaborators and on a number of occasions integrated the EUOIA into his Enemies performances. Here’s a video of one in Liverpool in 2015: Croatia’s Martina Marković (1982-) with James Byrne, Bulgaria’s Ivaylo Dimitrov (1979-) with Patricia Farrell, Sweden’s Kajsa Bergström (1956-) with Steven Fowler, Malta’s Hubert Zuba (1964-) with Scott Thurston, and Luxembourg’s outrageous Georg Bleinstein (1965-2046), with Tom Jenks.

There’s a range of reading styles, although I favoured a single voice for a complete poem, though Tom and I read one word each and Patricia and I read simultaneously.

Before I reflect on the range of collaborations, I want to embed the remaining EUOIA collaborations that I channelled through the Enemies/Camarades.

Bangor Enemies performers!

Another of Zoe’s interventions was to pair me up with North Walean writer Alys Conran. (Her excellent novel Pigeon had not yet been published.) She is one of only two contributors whom I’d not met. So this video taken in Bangor is of that meeting, really. We wrote both poems (again, not saying who wrote what bits) but read one each. By now I was routinely covering my tracks. We invented a Catalan poet, Christofol Subira.

Alys: Robert Sheppard and Alys Conran

In the final collaboration to be vidoed, I read Slovakia’s Matúš Dobeš (1959-), with Dr. Joanne Ashcroft. In this showing we reverted to the practice of reading ‘our own’ lines as it were, but the audience probably ‘got it’ by now. It was to be taken as a single discourse. 


This was part of the North West Camarade and held at the Edge Hill University Arts Centre, Ormskirk on January 19th 2017.

As I said, I’m not going to recapitulate the story of the writing of this co-created anthology, but it might be interesting to reflect on the modes of collaboration. Because we were creating a poet as well as poems, there was a whole fictional layer that was not there in other collaborations. It might have made it easier: it tended to make it fun. This was most notable in returning to poets I had collaborated with before: Robert Hampson, Jeff Hilson, Scott Thurston, Rupert Loydell and Patricia Farrell. In these cases, the facts of the invented poets’ lives were most important, instructive to the creation of the poems. (In the case of Luxembourg’s Georg Bleinstein (1965-2046), created with Tom Jenks, the life was the text, a shaggy puffin story.) The object was to make a seamless text. Patricia and I did create the final two part (two voiced) text together to a certain extent. I did collaborate with a machine (a cut up engine), but mostly it was to ing and fro ing over email. (Occasionally a text arrived complete and it was my job to produce a second text to match it, almost exercises in pastiche.) It was a multiple and multiply sustained collaborative experience – and truly a communal affair. It taught me a lot, mainly I think humility in the face of other people’s better ideas. I tended to let the other lead the way. That was a sure way of guaranteeing that the invented poets’ invented work would feel quite different (as they do), and it felt generous. I let more people into one of my books than I ever had. (It was a different feeling to editing an anthology, even when we later had three of my collaborators in Atlantic Drift.) I couldn’t have produced the book on my own (which is possibly why I am having problems about writing a third part to the work).

The Other Room was also generous in presenting an EUOIA evening (before the collection Twitters for a Lark appeared). Details and video here: