Saturday, November 10, 2012

WHETHER THEY WORK TOGETHER OR APART - Guest post from Scott Owens

WHETHER THEY WORK TOGETHER OR APART

By Scott Owens

So I had this character named Norman, an abused child who despite his best efforts had grown up to be an abuser himself, horribly self-conscious, well-intentioned but incapable of redirecting his fate. He had been around for more than 15 years and had figured into a couple dozen poems and been the "centerpiece" of The Fractured World, in which the only resolution to his problem is his own death.

I had no intention of letting Norman slither his way into the psyche of another writer, but then I ran across a poem online by Pris Campbell. It was very nearly a good poem, and more than 3 dozen people had commented on it, but they all missed the mark and merely proclaimed how wonderful it was. I took a chance and left a comment suggesting a couple of significant changes that would make it better. Pris liked the suggestions and wrote back to tell me so.

We began to exchange poems online, and we grew comfortable being honest with each other. She read several of my Norman poems, and I read several of her poems on her character, Sara, a sexually-abused child who despite her best efforts never learned how to love herself or to see intimacy as anything other than a tool.

Unexpectedly, as Pris and I grew closer together as writers, Sara and Norman grew closer together as characters. Pris, or perhaps Sara, made the first advance, writing a response to my earliest Norman poem, "Norman’s Enormous Thing." That response, which became "Resizing Norman," humanized Norman in a way I had never envisioned. It was as if Pris, by imagining the influence Sara could have on Norman, was able to see the potential for good in Norman.

Similarly, by thinking about how Norman could help Sara, I felt I understood potentials in her character that Pris had not yet become aware of. So, I wrote a response to her response. We continued this way for about a month, one or both of us writing a new poem each day to expand upon the story of this surprising relationship between characters that had been created without any knowledge of each other.

Initially I wrote the Norman poems, and Pris wrote the Sara poems. As we also helped each other revise, however, it became easier to cross characters, such that after the first couple of weeks, I was just as likely to begin a Sara poem, or Pris to begin a Norman poem. The revision process had also become so dynamic that often neither of us was comfortable claiming authorship of particular poems.

By the end of the month we had about 2 dozen poems that taken together formed a pretty tight narrative of this relationship. For the first time, we consciously saw these poems as a unit and this process as a collaboration. We decided to work on a few more poems to fill in the empty spaces. Upon completion of those poems, we sent off the manuscript to Scott Douglass at Main Street Rag, and a few months later, in 2010, the collaborative chapbook The Nature of Attraction with its 28 poems was published.

Norman and Sara were not, however, finished with the poets who created them. They found our record of their relationship too incomplete to be satisfied. Thus, over the course of the next two years, Pris and I continued to write and revise new Norman and Sara poems, occasionally to fill in a specific void in the story one of us had noticed, but more often just to record some nuance one of the characters revealed to us without any specific authorial intention.

The end (at least for now) result is Shadows Trail Them Home (Clemson University Press, 2012), a novel told in 71 poems about the relationship of two characters created by two different writers who have themselves never met, nor even spoken on the phone.

Scott Owens

So I had this character named Norman, an abused child who despite his best efforts had grown up to be an abuser himself, horribly self-conscious, well-intentioned but incapable of redirecting his fate. He had been around for more than 15 years and had figured into a couple dozen poems and been the "centerpiece" of The Fractured World, in which the only resolution to his problem is his own death.

I had no intention of letting Norman slither his way into the psyche of another writer, but then I ran across a poem online by Pris Campbell. It was very nearly a good poem, and more than 3 dozen people had commented on it, but they all missed the mark and merely proclaimed how wonderful it was. I took a chance and left a comment suggesting a couple of significant changes that would make it better. Pris liked the suggestions and wrote back to tell me so.

We began to exchange poems online, and we grew comfortable being honest with each other. She read several of my Norman poems, and I read several of her poems on her character, Sara, a sexually-abused child who despite her best efforts never learned how to love herself or to see intimacy as anything other than a tool.

Unexpectedly, as Pris and I grew closer together as writers, Sara and Norman grew closer together as characters. Pris, or perhaps Sara, made the first advance, writing a response to my earliest Norman poem, "Norman’s Enormous Thing." That response, which became "Resizing Norman," humanized Norman in a way I had never envisioned. It was as if Pris, by imagining the influence Sara could have on Norman, was able to see the potential for good in Norman.

Similarly, by thinking about how Norman could help Sara, I felt I understood potentials in her character that Pris had not yet become aware of. So, I wrote a response to her response. We continued this way for about a month, one or both of us writing a new poem each day to expand upon the story of this surprising relationship between characters that had been created without any knowledge of each other.

Initially I wrote the Norman poems, and Pris wrote the Sara poems. As we also helped each other revise, however, it became easier to cross characters, such that after the first couple of weeks, I was just as likely to begin a Sara poem, or Pris to begin a Norman poem. The revision process had also become so dynamic that often neither of us was comfortable claiming authorship of particular poems.

By the end of the month we had about 2 dozen poems that taken together formed a pretty tight narrative of this relationship. For the first time, we consciously saw these poems as a unit and this process as a collaboration. We decided to work on a few more poems to fill in the empty spaces. Upon completion of those poems, we sent off the manuscript to Scott Douglass at Main Street Rag, and a few months later, in 2010, the collaborative chapbook The Nature of Attraction with its 28 poems was published.

Norman and Sara were not, however, finished with the poets who created them. They found our record of their relationship too incomplete to be satisfied. Thus, over the course of the next two years, Pris and I continued to write and revise new Norman and Sara poems, occasionally to fill in a specific void in the story one of us had noticed, but more often just to record some nuance one of the characters revealed to us without any specific authorial intention.

The end (at least for now) result is Shadows Trail Them Home (Clemson University Press, 2012), a novel told in 71 poems about the relationship of two characters created by two different writers who have themselves never met, nor even spoken on the phone.