Wednesday, April 09, 2008

authorship and agency: found and organised poems

For the last month or so I've been working almost exclusively on found poetry as a kind of exercise for myself. Which is why, when Vivek sent a mail asking for lines, it seemed like an amazing coincidence. So many of the concerns appear to overlap: what a google search throws up is not very different, after all, from a random hunt for obscure lines; even lines that have been contributed by people who have written them specifically for an exercise must be randomised and rearranged.

Given that someone else wrote each phrase picked up for a found poem or contributed to a performance poem, who is the author? The person who arranges the lines? The one who shapes the outcome by providing a frame? Can authorship be collective or truly collaborative?

Vivek says,

"...what I didn’t realize myself at the time, is that, at the rate of a single line, the self can only express itself as a flicker, at best. Things get equalized..."

This is a very interesting observation to me. Combined with Vivek's request early on, for contributors to read the poems and let him know if 'their' line has been left out, it raises some very important question of authorship which is intricately connected to the issue of selfhood.

Every contributor will recognise her line in the poem. No one listening to the poem, however, will know just by listening to it once (or even reading it several times), who the author of any given line was. This raises some fundamental questions with regard to that loaded word, 'style', which is a unique expression of selfhood. What is the smallest unit of style?

With found poems, where lines are picked up from the oddest sources - grocery lists, advertisements, warning labels, a phrase from a book that falls open at a random page - authorship is even more distant because it is either already obscured or so diluted that it is impossible to separate the 'self' that created a certain order of words from the one that rearranges them. It is and yet is not, like the act of stringing any sentence out of a common pool of words that belong to nobody and everybody.

One question that this throws up for me is, what is the purpose of rearrangement? Is it a quest for 'meaning', whatever that is? If the arranger of lines is finding out things as she goes along, is it apparent in small parcels of revelation, each incomplete and provisional until the next line is placed? Is it an intuitive process where you have no reason in the present moment for arranging lines in a certain way, but retrospectively reasons - or possibilities- suggest themselves?

A question that Falstaff raised was one that I see as a question of sentience. If a machine were to do the randomising, would the audience know? Would they be able to tell the difference between what the machine did and what a human mind - each one individual with its own history of lived experiences; a self, in other words - produced? (Do machines have a sense of self? Is it different from the selfhood of the programmer?)

If agency is a function of selfhood, how does a contributor see her work when it is a small part of a whole which she had no hand in ordering? When I pick up phrases for a found poem, sometimes I cannot even trace it back to the creator. Even if I could, it is unlikely that I would seek permission to use a phrase any more than I would write to the executors of John Lennon's estate to ask permission to name my blog in this particular way. This tendency to quotation and sly reference is so much a part of our consciousness that ownership becomes a very rocky terrain to negotiate.

Approaching this from another direction altogether, it is possible to view this as an exercise in taking poetry back to its incantatory source. If one imagines the contributions as the items to be used in a ritual, each item contributed by a person who will 'give up' their offering and stand back to be a witness to some mysterious alchemy, then the arranger is mage and prophet, seer and wielder of great power. Power that is willingly invested in him or her. In such a scenario, the act of arrangement relies not only on repetition but also on drama, on the liturgical on a notion that agency lies elsewhere, outside the community but invoked by its presence.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. But it occurs to me that poetry emerged out of such situations too often for it to have lost all meaning as process even now. I'm thinking here of the construction of epics, religious texts, and long narratives composed by no one author.

These are fairly unordered thoughts, too long to have left as a comment on Vivek's blog but the nice thing about these discussions is that though they happen piecemeal they contribute to a larger conversation wherever it happens to take place.

Update: It occurs to me that it might help to set out clearly the different posts that this discussion refers to.

1. The Invitation that started the experiment.

2. The lines as they were received.

3. Google Gong, where Vivek sees what happens when uses the search string 'I heard'.

4. And the one really ought to be discussing, I Heard It Is One Of May Possibilities.

5. Also, his Further Thoughts on the arranged poem.

6. Falstaff's post.


equivocal said...

Space--some very interesting, complex thoughts here, and a lot to work through and read again. For now I only have one thing-- I would insist again that the arranger's power has to be balanced by a sense of responsibility. Very often found poetry gets its sole charge by cultivating an ironic distance from its source materials. That can be interesting, but also ultimately limited; in good found poetry it has to be balanced with the idea of homage. But when an arranger has a personal relationship with the authors of the materials and the materials themselves (through the act of solicitation or otherwise), then the question of responsibility becomes unavoidable. It's very interesting and useful that you bring up the collective authors of the epics: I suppose each new author of the Ramayan has to deal with the tension between homage and critique...?

When there are different arrangements of the same set of lines and / or when, in subsequent performances, when the contributors have more of a sense of what larger form their lines might be incorporated in and thus can compose their lines with this in mind-- that will shift the power equations in various ways, I think.

Falstaff said...

SB: Some thoughts

First, it's a question of sentience, yes, but also a question of intentionality (remember this?). If we believe that a computer has no 'intention' then any and all meaning one finds in a computer generated arrangement belongs entirely to the reader and has nothing to do with the 'author'. Which raises the question of how much that's true anyway. How much of the 'meaning' I experience when I read Vivek's arrangement of those lines is meaning that Vivek intentionally created, and how much of it is just my own imagination at work? We tend to attribute the interpretations, juxtapositions and meanings we find in poems to their authors, but we can never really know whether that is, in fact, what they meant. And if what I'm reading in the poem is not what Vivek meant to put there, then is he still the 'author' of the poem? Or could one argue that I'm the author of my own version of his poem? More generally, can any subjective experience truly be attributed to an external agent?

Second, I think we need to distinguish between 'found' poems that deliberately abstract away from the context where the object was found, so that the source of the phrase / sentence is irrelevant and work that builds on prior work so that part of its richness comes from the interplay / dialog with the earlier material - the act of finding vs. the act of quotation. I see the former as an exercise in reconsidering language - after all, all poems are 'found' poems in the sense that the words we use are not really our own but come from a shared pool developed over time (What was it Eliot said? "I've got to use words when I talk to you"). But what if we used not words but phrases, even sentences, as the building blocks of language? That, to me, is what 'found' poetry is about - poetry with phrases instead of words. Or alternately (to go back to Vivek's discussion about mechanized processes) about mechanizing the process of generating phrases so as to focus on the process of arrangement.

'Quotation' is, to me, something entirely different, because when I quote something, however slyly, I want (or at least hope) that the reader will recognize the reference and where it comes from, because I believe that this will enhance his or her experience of the poem.

The really interesting question, coming out of Vivek's experiment (or at least made possible by it) is what happens when we reverse the process - that is to say if we develop the 'source' from which the quotation comes after we write the text that quotes it. If people were to take lines from Vivek's 'found' poem (if we can call it that) and develop them into poems how and to what extent would that change the meaning of Vivek's poem - because the lines he's using would now have a context (and therefore a meaning or at least a personality) they didn't have before.

km said...

Are you guys suggesting a Turing test for Poetry?

*shaking head in disbelief*

Alok said...

Lots of interesting and deep thoughts here. I also missed the discussion on falstaff's blog and the poetry blog that he linked... really fascinating.

I agree intentionality is the key here. Philosophers like John Searle and Daniel Dennett reject the standard computing models of consciousness by arguing that they lack intentionality. Although I think Dennett says that an "intentional stance" is the result of evolutionary processes and so can be modelled. This is a very complex subject and I have read only the basics and I might be wrong too..

I actually just wanted to say that intentionality is the key to what metaphors and other linguistic contructs which enable indirection are and without it there can be no poetic use of language also. In fact if you remove the conscious agent you will just end up with a purely "nominalistic" language (the kind of language computer programmers are familiar with)-- language that just names things in an arbitrary but agreed-upon manner. This kind of language can't be used in the exploration of ideas, subjective thoughts and feelings as poetry does. I don't know may be someone has tried writing poetry in Java, Perl or C++... I suspect there must be some :) It is only in poetic / metaphorical language can we say that when I say something I actually mean something else and that is what makes me a conscious agent.

Also about collaborative art, I think this is what makes films so fascinating to me... the nature of the collective authorship specially in the classical Hollywood films. actors, writers, producers, directors all bring their own sensibilities and personalities into what they do, at least in the great films, and how they clash and mingle with each other really makes it very fascinating to me. I am also reading a Hindi novel called "Ek Inch Muskaan" which is written by Rajendra Yadav and Mannu Bhandari who were married when they wrote it. They write the alternate chapters of the novel in the voice of the male and female protagonists. I haven't yet finished it and I don't know if it is successful but it is quite interesting. I don't know of any other examples like this.

I didn't really understand how found poetry can be called collaboration.

Space Bar said...

Equivocal: would insist again that the arranger's power has to be balanced by a sense of responsibility.

That is very interesting. A responsibility to what? I'm really interested in this matter of 'responsibility' because I suspect that to answer it would be to define the 'purpose' of the poem. A responsibility to use a line so that it is not diminished compared to others around it? Do fragments have intrinsic worth? How does this relate to your thought of 'a flicker of self'?

Too many questions! :D

Re your point about the found poem having to be balanced with the idea of homage: thise seems to tie in with what Falstaff is saying below about quotation - which implies similar knowledge in the reader - vs. anonymous phrases or sentences that have no echoes.

I just want to say, in my own experiments, I've realised that I tend to look for what you yourself called 'a few good lines'. That's another post in there!

Falstaff: This intention/sentience thing needs much more thought. The reason I'm avoiding it is because it's a series of well-word paths with key phrases that one can throw out like bits of bread.

But I agree about the distinction between using phrases as quotation and using whole sentences to 'reconsider language'. Like I said in my comment to Equivocal, I find in myself the tendency to look for memorable phrases - but that's a whole other post.

km: Go read the comments on Equivocal's blog. :D

Alok: Some very interesting thoughts in your comment. I've often wondered why collaborations aren't as easy in poetry, which is why Vivek's experiment is so fascinating. But the point also is, that in cinematic terms, the arranger is the auteur, the only one who can see the bigger picture, though each person's contribution along the way is unique and individual.

Equivocal talks in one post about the reluctance of poets to part with their work easily, and to be more sensitive about copyright and ownership. I suspect an exaggerated sense of self (worth) contributes to this reluctance to participate in projects where authorship is uncertain and shifting.

Found poetry is a Collaboration of the Unwilling! :D or the unasked, at any rate.

Space Bar said...

Alok: Dammit, no! I meant, A Collaboration of the Unsuspecting.

Cheshire Cat said...

I think intentionality is a red herring; absolutely scarlet, in fact. It's very distracting, but then again, I like to be distracted. What interests me about intentionality is that there isn't really much room for argument - obviously, any reader must possess some theory of how meaning is made, and equally, the writer, whether he intends or not/intends to or not, cannot communicate his wisdom to the reader in its pristine form. People like to stake out positions in the intentionality debate that are too close for comfort, and they tend to compensate by pushing and jostling and pointing fingers at each other; their faces go absolutely scarlet, such extremism! Intentionality comes in useful when a new political movement (oh, did I say "political", I meant "poetical") is looking to make its presence felt. It seems to me the New Critics were really arguing for poems as artifacts, things of certain value in a world gone awry. Hence the subtle devaluation of argument and rhetoric, of the human voice behind the poem that was so vulnerable, so incorrigible, so sure of itself. What is written might survive; good riddance to the vagueness and futility of speech. Poems are not people, to have conversations with. But all these things, said plainly, might alarm the sayers, so let's have at the Intentional Fallacy instead, and at the naifs (did I say "naifs"? I meant "blockheads") who persist in it.

I love the New Critics, by the way. I wallow in nostalgia for their world...

OK, enough about the New Critics; I'm just trying to do my bit to contribute to the long dull paragraphs of text. If I've gone off on a tangent, I don't apologise - there's nothing straighter than a tangent.

As for found poetry, I'd welcome it, Space, if you'd acquaint us with some of your experiments. Found poetry is fascinating, as it so simply reconciles poetic authority and poetic humility. Authority, because Author (the one who exercises authority) recognizes as poetry what the non-initiate cannot. The more they gawk and wonder, the more certain Author is of itself. Humility, because Author is utterly ineffective - beaten at its own game by that which is not even aware there's a game being played...

And language is master of us all. (I was going to say "mistress", but that would be too PC and too unPC at the same time.)

equivocal said...

I remember when I was taking a "History of Theory"-type class in grad school (anthro), there was the resident theory-nerd-cum-slacker, if you know the kind, whom I suspect hardly ever did any of the readings. In every class, after we had had one or another heated debate about the text, there would be a certain point at which he would screw his face up, wave his hands about, and ask, inevitably, dismissively, the same question every time: "But.. but.... how exactly are you construing intentionality here?" (Stretching out the "naaaality" in his nasal American, as if his point automatically invalidated all we had said or even could hope to say.) And we would groan and cringe as, with equal inevitability, the prof. would say, "Yes, yes, good question!" A good question it may be, but a dead end, I think.

equivocal said...

Space-- a responsibility to the other participants of lines, in this case, that I won't use their lines to belittle or make fun of them. A responsibility to our relationship. The more I think about this exercise, the more it seems to tell me that poetry, and perhaps language itself, is essentially about activating relationships (this may be as basic as the relationship between one reader and one writer, or it could be the relationships between several writers, the relationship between different lines in a poem, between writer and arranger, etc.). This is probably why I think intentionality is a red herring. The idea of some monumental great poem, written by a machine or a human, existing and being great in a vacumn is a nice notion, but somehow besides the point.

AhKnownMouse said...

There was a quote in a favourite book about education being a "taking out, not a putting in". Writing, more so poetry, probably fits that definition. The most obvious thing that a reader brings to the table is essentially a grasp of the language, to be able to understand the meaning, without context, of the words themselves. But beyond this comes the context. What was once a political parody, or so I read, is now a nursery ditty about London Bridge falling down. I found Nayyara Noor singing "Hum ki Tehre ajnabii" , a truly haunting piece, with certain notions about the romanticisim in it. Faiz, however, had written it as a Pakistani visiting Bangladesh in the aftermath of 1971. So yes, there is a "taking out" on my part that does majorly impact the comprehension of the idea behind a piece.

The extent to which the stringer of words or pharases indicates his train of thought, and how much he attempts to induce the reader to follow the same would determine how well or loosely the term author would be applicable.

When Gray writes his Elegy , for example, he is charting out very definite paths. How much you follow them, and whether a majority of his readers follow the same path, determines how much comfortable we are in calling Gray the creator of the piece. In this case, there is rather a tight link. This does not detract from the fact that his readership is as involved in the process as he is.

In the case of "found poetry", the very fact of the collection being random introduces the reader as a factor much more significant than the creator. The compiler being a machine (and remember the machine requires a program too, so it is arguable how mechanical the process is), or Vivek, does not really matter, as the idea in this case is to basically leave it to the reader to derive what he will. The "creators" who penned the original jingles or random sentences cannot really lay claim to authorship since their thought processes are not sought to be imposed as part of the poem. As a compiler, Vivek may take some credit since he provides the pieces of coloured glass for the kaleidoscope, but again not a very strong tie since the pattern is essentially random.

The experiment does not conform to my idea of writing, as in providing a vehicle that conveys the thought process of author A to reader B, that is an attempt on part of A to either let B partake of an experience, or share an idea, or at least induce B to ask questions.

It is far too gimmicky for my taste, and uncomfortably close to the "million monkeys on typewriters" adage. Further, if the readers require a readymade set of coloured glass pieces to shake to form a pattern, their kaleidoscopes are probably broken anyway.

Falstaff said...

cat: Of course it's a red herring. But isn't all theory (at least when it comes to poetry)?

space: Maybe we are getting too bogged down in well-worn word paths here. The point, to put it differently, is this - if we're trying to understand the role of the arranger of the found poem, we need to ask what value that arranger adds. Is it just an eye for a good line? Or is it the ability to rearrange existing (possibly noninteresting) lines / phrases into patterns that bring out non-obvious meaning? And if it's the latter, then surely that should imply, at the minimum, that the arrangement of patterns developed by the arranger is experienced as more meaningful by the audience than a purely random arrangement of those same lines. If that isn't true, then surely it's hard to take the idea of the 'arranger' as a creative agent seriously.

More specifically, my null hypothesis on Vivek's experiment is that a purely random arrangement of the lines he chooses to include in his poem would make for just as good a poem as the one he puts together. As with any null hypothesis, I don't think that's true, but I don't know that it isn't, which is why I would like to see it experimentally tested.

On 'found' poetry, I tend to agree with Alok in finding it difficult to see it as a collaboration. I think at a minimum a collaboration should require knowledge of and effort by all parties involved. Would you say, for example, that The Waste Land was a collaborative effort between Wagner, Marvell and Eliot (to name but a few)? More to the point, collaboration between an arranger and unsuspecting contributors has never been hard - after all, every word you use in a poem is a contribution from someone else (well, unless you're Lewis Carroll), so that all poems are collaborations of the unsuspecting in some sense. And Pound, Eliot et al. have done 'collaborations' of that sort all along. (I'm tempted to throw in Finnegan's Wake, but let it go). It's only when poets need to collaborate in the sense of working jointly on a poem that collaboration becomes difficult.

Let's think about why collaboration is difficult. You say it's because of an exaggerated sense of self, and that may be true. But I'd say there are two larger problems: a) There's a lack of defined roles. Think about the cinema example - collaboration in film making works because everyone's clear on what the scope of their contribution is and who's responsible for each part. Most importantly, the audience is aware of this too, so that it's possible for the artist to isolate his or her contribution and have that judged independently. We've all seen films where we've said the acting was terrible but the script / direction was great and vice versa. Collaboration in a poem rarely allows that kind of divisibility and b) judgment about the final output from the exercise is inherently subjective and will vary based on individual sensibility. Which means that coming to an agreement on the final version of the poem is always going to involve compromise, and to the extent that the two people collaborating have very different sensibilities (which, of course, is what make the collaboration interesting in the first place) fairly severe compromise. Put that together with the indivisibility of attribution and it's not hard to see why it's hard for poets to collaborate. The challenge, I think, is this: how do you allow yourself to doubt your own judgment when that judgment is all you have as an artist?

The implication is that where roles are defined (as they are in this experiment) and where the contributors are neither required to identify themselves nor in any way to bear responsibility for the final outcome, collaboration is easy. If Vivek were to invite me to work with him on arranging those lines I promise you it would be a lot harder to arrive at a final poem. And if he extended that invitation to everyone who contributed the lines it would be near impossible.

A lot of this comes down to how much a poet wants to, or should, experiment, which, I suspect is where your notion of exaggerated sense of self is coming from. But that's a whole other post. (Or given the way I'm going, half another comment).

equivocal: I have to say I'm unconvinced about all this responsibility to contributors / relationship between them business. Speaking as a contributor of two of the lines in that poem, I have to say that I don't give a hang what you do with them or whether you include them at all - precisely because they're not, to me, expressions of the self but just a couple of throwaway sentences I put together in my head. And by extension, I don't see myself as being a co-author of your poem, or the poem as a collaborative / collective act. As far as I'm concerned it's your poem. I may happen to have written a line or two in it, but that's trivial and irrelevant.

I do think you're right about the single line format being an equalizer. But that's also precisely what makes the idea of authorship by anyone but you problematic. Since I can only contribute one sentence (and a sentence in prescribed format at that) my ability to shape the tone / style / meaning of the overall poem (even assuming I wanted to) is limited to the point of being nonexistent. Which is precisely why the idea that I'm in any real way a contributor to this exercise makes little sense. To use SB's cinema analogy - if this were a movie, I would be one of the nameless extras. You talk about your relationship to the contributors - what relationship? Since all you have to work with is the artifact of the single line, you can only have a relationship with the contributor to the extent that the line is an expression of the contributor's self. But if it isn't an expression of the contributor (and you admit yourself that it's at best a flicker, and I'd say even that is, in most cases, an exaggeration) then where does the question of relationships come from?

None of this is to say that the exercise isn't interesting. But I think it's interesting only in the sense that found poetry is usually interesting - the challenge of taking predetermined lines and patterns and arranging them into a meaningful whole. I'm unconvinced that the exercise as it stands right now is any real sense a collaboration.

That said, I think the way the contributors could partially reclaim their part in the project would be for them to take some of those lines and provide them with context by writing a poem around them - that way they'd (retrospectively) from being anonymous contributors of a single (decontextualised and impersonal line) to writers of poems that your poem 'quotes'.

Then again, it may just be that I've been wearing my researcher hat too long, so that the notion of an experiment that doesn't start with an explicit theory it's designed to test is one I have trouble with.

equivocal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Space Bar said...

Cat: Will post one of these days.

Equivocal: I think when you say 'poetry, and perhaps language itself, is essentially about activating relationships' it is very similar to my (sometimes-held) position that poetry is conversation. And negotiation, I suppose.

ahknownmouse: you say, The experiment does not conform to my idea of writing, as in providing a vehicle that conveys the thought process of author A to reader B, that is an attempt on part of A to either let B partake of an experience, or share an idea, or at least induce B to ask questions.

Does this experiment not induce you to ask questions? Not even one?

Also, I'm not sure I agree with you when you say this experiment is gimmicky. Why do you use that word in the first place?

It's not often that an audience is let in on the process of defining the experiment (what can anyone conclude about a 'result' when there is no evidence of the terms of the experiment?) - in this case, Vivek has set out in some detail what they set out to do.

Falstaff: I ought to clarify about the 'found poetry' comparison with Vivek's experiment - (I was being facetious when I called it 'a collaboration of the unsuspecting'; I hope you knew that).

My point was not that found poetry is a collaboration like Vivek's experiment is. It was that found poetry, like Vivek's poem, is a matter of shaping. Admittedly, the differences are more sharp. 1) the call for lines that start the same way vs. the apparently random picking out of lines from several places; 2) the inevitable repetitions vs. the variations of found poetry; 3) the lack of control over what people will make of the lines vs. the ability to choose what sounds well or what might fulfil the needs of the poem (assuming that the found poem is working to an already decided agenda).

It is this last point that I actually find to be a similarity. I'm not sure that when I sit down to write a found poem that I am not already looking for something specific that is as much of an indicator as a line that starts with "I heard'.

Also similar is the deliberate loss of control that one induces only to recover it later when the lines need to be arranged.

About collaboration: You say how do you allow yourself to doubt your own judgment when that judgment is all you have as an artist?

That is a very good question. I'm just not sure it needs to be asked about a collaboration. Are you saying that all collaborations are doomed to end in dissatisfaction because judgment is inevitable? That seems like a very confrontational attitude to take about something that is surely meant to be conversational?

I suspect I'm misunderstanding you so you should clarify!

All of this actually requires another couple of posts. There's much to think about.

AKM said...

Spacer : The question of authorship is no longer linked with the piece, as I brought out, since there is no shaping of the reader's thought process involved.

So what is left is essentially a collection of random pieces from which the reader may derive his own sense of the poem. Carrying this to its logical conclusion, there is no requirement of a poem at all, since I can derive another set of random pieces from watching the billboards on the 8-17 from Borivili.

It is gimmicky precisely becasue of this : it pretends to be an interactive means of sharing a certain thought process. But it isn't. Compare this, say, with another experiment where there is no clear authorship : people writing one line of a story or a poem at a time. There one sees that even though there may be no single guiding force, at least a coherent thought process exists that may meander, twist and turn, but at least charts a thought process, even if that of a multiple headed amorphous entity.

On the other hand, if the "arranger" starts to take a definite hand in the poem, then why, it is but authorship by another name, since he is snipping and editing, or at the least allowing and barring, a certain set of words and phrases. Like I force my poems through the constraint of rhyme, he is forcing his through the constraint of only using "found" phrases. (I'd find this inherently ironic : if you are going to "seek" phrases to put in, can it qualify as "found" poetry ?)

A poem that is abstract is still asks questions, inviting the reader to generate thoughts that may or may not be exactly what the poet intended. However, knowing that it is random means throwing open one's mind to become a trashbin of orphan phrases.

Oh well, to each his own, I guess.

AKM said...

Aargh@gramer and spelung.

equivocal said...

At the cost of repeating myself, I'd just like to remind of our initial invitation to anyone's whose interested to graciously submit their own arrangements/uses of these lines. In particular, as I noted, we're looking for a) an arrangement that uses up all the lines and b) arrangements that take a different approach to form / music / arc / meaning / resonance / juxtaposition than the one I took in my arrangement. You can use any software / methodology you like to produce the poem, but please, the poem must be, in your honest opinion at least, coherent, meaningful, expressive, or useful in some way. Don't send us anything that you feel is not good or worth reading closely! We'll try to find an interesting place to publish the entries, and you'll get credited for your particular arrangement if that's ok with you.

The link to all the lines as they were received is above. Thanks Sridala.

And thanks, all.

equivocal said...

Actually, "invitation" above is not quite the word. More like we're on our knees, begging, pleading. Please!

And don't forget that we're still open for new lines. So, if you wanted to use the lines that are there in conjunction with more of your own, it would be legitimate playing of the game to contribute your line(s) to the public domain archive, and then compose the poem with yours and the other contributed lines together. Send all entries to ihearditis [at] gmail [dot] calm so we can keep track of them...

Falstaff said...

SB: I don't think disagreement and therefore compromise is inevitable, but I do think it's likely. I suppose it's possible that two people could be so completely in sympathy that they would agree on arrangement, word choice and direction of the poem, each improving on the other's work, and both agreeing wholeheartedly on the final poem. But I think that's unlikely to happen. I suspect that sooner rather than later our hypothetical collaborators will get to the point where they disagree on , say, which version of the line is better or which word would be a superior choice, and one of them will have to compromise. And since there's no objective way to prove that the choice they finally make is the right one, the person who compromises will continue to feel frustrated because there's a poem out there with his / her name on it which could have been better than it is. Moreover, my point is that this disagreement may stem from a feeling of 'ownership' and an exaggerated sense of self, but it may also come from a genuine difference of opinion. After all, we all disagree on our favorite poems and favorite poets even though there is no ownership to cloud our thinking there.

And even if you could find two people who could work in perfect agreement, would it be worth it? If their sensibilities are virtually indistinguishable, how much value is a collaboration between them going to add over and above a poem written by either one. My contention is that the most interesting / 'valuable' collaborations will be between people with fairly different sensibilities, which only makes the difference of opinion problem more likely.

Of course, as long as both people view the collaboration as a conversation intended to hone their own skills it may not matter to them if the poem is not as good as it could be because their focus is on the process not on the product. I'm wholly convinced of the value of collaborations as a learning exercise, I'm less convinced of it's ability to generate consistently good poems. So maybe the problem with collaborations is not so much an exaggerated sense of self but an exaggerated importance of the poem.

Space Bar said...

akm: another post will have to come up about Found Poetry. I'm coming around to the belief that unless one shapes it in advance - it is ironic, isn't it? but useful irony - even if by nothing more than a passing mood, there can only ever be one found poem disjointed by time and circumstance.

More about it later, however.

Falstaff: Agree with you that the point of a collaboration is, surely, to bring differing perspectives into conversation; that it can never be exactly in balance or equal; that that is precisely why it is interesting.

But -

Moreover, my point is that this disagreement may stem from a feeling of 'ownership' and an exaggerated sense of self, but it may also come from a genuine difference of opinion.

And my point is that a genuine difference of opinion is a product of a well-developed sense of self. But that is a philosophical position and we're likely to disagree on that.

Falstaff said...

SB: Interesting. I wonder if I'm misreading what you mean by well-developed sense of self? My understanding was you meant an exaggerated sense of one's own importance - but from your last comment it sounds more like the basic level of self-confidence you need to write. If you don't have an opinion on what constitutes a good poem, how can you write poetry in the first place?