Outside where I work there are two homeless people jamming. One is playing flute, the other, guitar. There’s no better backdrop for thoughts on collaboration, even if I do wish they’d quiet down and stop drowning out my music.
Collaboration is, for me, a fairly foreign beast. One I appreciate and look up to, but don’t fully understand the logistics of. I have to admit, even as the frontman in a band I was much more of a dictator than a collaborator. My feeling was that I had written the songs and wanted to make sure they were presented in the way I wanted them to be presented. And that is the crux of my difficulty with collaboration: when I do something I feel an inherent ownership and as a result want that project to reflect what I want it to reflect. To collaborate is to give up some of your ownership, which requires trust, and trusting isn’t something I’m great at, either.
Certainly as a publisher there’s a level of collaboration in the presentation of a writer’s work. It’s an enormous weight I feel when I work on the design of someone else’s writing. If I do it correctly, in my opinion, the design should compliment the writing, almost as if it were in stage directions to me from the writer. But at the same time there is the impulse to put a little of one’s own artistic aesthetic into it.
Recently, while reading PANK 4 I was really impressed with the collaborative poems by Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney that started off the issue, which is what started the wheels rolling on my questions about collaboration. I then thought about Twin Sons of Different Mirrors a book of collaborative poems by Jack Driscoll and Bill Meissner. Having had the good fortune to work with Driscoll during my MFA I know that these poems started when Meissner, out of the blue, sent a piece of paper with two lines on it to Driscoll, who then wrote two lines and sent it back. All the poems in the book were written this way.
Certainly, not all collaborations work the same way, which makes it even harder for me to pin down and understand in some sort of logical way that I could make my brain try to process. So what is your favorite writerly collaboration? What is your favorite story about a collaborative process?
Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.