Interview by George Sandifer-Smith
“The notion of sole authorship is inherently political; there is an accepted hierarchy to the question who wrote it? and we challenge that by writing from the body, and from the lived space between us“
Methods of Thirteen and Female (iii)
make a box. fold paper into valleys. flatten along the creases to make crisp corners and angles. a sharp edge is important says here is the fold. fold the floor up at this line no pleats ⇇ no crimps ⇞ no rabbit ears ⬅︎ do not unfold ↯ do not be flat and open. floor ↑ wall ← ceiling ↓ corner ↻ everything has a dead end. inside the box there is no abyss. there is no question of door. close the door. unscrew the handle. the door shall never be
open. they want to come in and upholster. they need to mind their own fucking business. look how white the box. sharp the edges. use their fucking eyes. be architectural. focus on room and forget body. draw the outline of body so that body can be put elsewhere. outline is an example of absence. everything is absent. pre-occupied. even outline is pre-occupied by the rabbit and its pink fears. highly present in the slender moment of now and now and now is the fear that so many added moments make the present obese. how fat and heavy is the present. swollen like a midge bite. fold. collapse inwards. everything should fall into place easily.
The above is an attempt to recreate Methods of Thirteen and Female (iii) within the confines of our website’s formatting. Read the original piece below:
Collaborative poetry is a fascinating process, and it’s understood that every collaborative team works in their own way – how did the two of you end up collaborating?
We teamed up over two years ago to write a poem for an issue of Magma dedicated to collaboration – something neither of us had done before. We lived miles apart and Covid was on the way. We discovered that we both work from visual and physical stimuli, and we did not want to have the influence of words as our source, so we began with an exchange of childhood photos. We wrote responses to not just the images but the energies of our young female bodies. Back and forth, adding, cutting, questioning, laughing, swearing.
Alongside and underneath the poems, we kept an online Lockdown Journal, which became the container for fragments of our life experiences, our reactions to each other’s stories, quotations from other writers, frustrations, jokes, memories. It was intended as a sharing, as a way of opening ourselves up one to the other, and week by week it grew into a rich resource for our collaborative work. One poem has become many, became our collection Burst Necklace that we have just finished editing, a collection that questions the versions of ourselves as women and seeks to write us anew.
We noticed that it was from our bodies and through our bodies that we were, and would be, speaking. We quickly established a rule of ruthless honesty and humility, abandoning ownership of any idea, word, line – open to everything.
The notion of sole authorship is inherently political; there is an accepted hierarchy to the question who wrote it? and we challenge that by writing from the body, and from the lived space between us.
Writing in this way releases us from the ego, the tendency to protect our ‘own’ words and enables us to edit with economy and ruthlessness. If one of us wants to reinstate an edited word or line, we have to advocate hard for it!
‘there is no question of door’ – How important is the physical in your work and who decides on the objects to take on that physicality in the subject of your poems?
The title of our first poem Knee to Knee suggests an equal meeting, a point of touch, but also a generous space. There is no scarcity, no sense of one person taking available space from another. We are listening with our bodies, making free with grammar, punctuation, symbols, sound, to create something completely new which is open to anybody else to share. Yet in our lives we have felt trapped: by gender, by learnt rules, by the shapes given to us that we are supposed to inhabit. The experience of restriction and freedom, of pushing against and letting go, can be felt in the rigidity or softness of body. Physicality is not all, but it is both signpost and the way through; a physicality that is not focussed on sex or sexiness, but is the form our quiddity takes.
This poem Methods of thirteen and female (ii) explores the agony of being a body in a world that doesn’t fit us. It expresses longing for absence whilst acknowledging the impossibility of escaping the body: ‘outline is an example of absence. everything is absent. pre-occupied. even outline is pre-occupied by the rabbit and its pink fears.’
Other poems engage with skin, food, blood, spices, clouds, sand, buttercups, pockets, wings – the initial subject or totem of a poem may come from one or other of us, from our shared journal, or from a quotation or photograph. The important thing is that neither of us lays claim to its origins, every item is a shared seed.
‘be architectural’ – This seems to apply to the act of reading the poem and using the space on the page as well as within the context of the poem. How important is the use of shape and space in your work, and how does the collaborative process help form that shape?
We are enthusiastic about the physical action of reading, or navigating, a poem. Sometimes we will not make it clear whether the eye should go up, down or across. We try to avoid markers that command the reader’s eye, but would rather allow the poem to take the reader by the hand and heart and go wandering.
We employ a range of styles, and have fun with white space, formatting and the line-break. We allow the poem to dictate the form that best reveals its meaning, whilst always being aware that there is quite likely to be more than one way! In our very first poem, we found symbols arising, and in the writing, we discovered what the symbols meant, how to wield the full meaning that they offered. They also act as an interruption to the familiar currents of language and lead us into discovery of alternative selves. So for example there are two uprights || which have extended meanings of pause, breath, insertion, rotation.
|| claims a place where we slide the planks in
to make space for us and our iteration(s)
The emotion of a poem may dictate whether it flows visually across the page or moves jaggedly. We are rigorous in questioning the whys of a particular format and whether it serves the heart of the poem sufficiently. One of the many advantages of working collaboratively is the fillip of ‘Why not…’, a flip of perspective. A change to the visual architecture of a poem can lift it: one poet has almost given up on a sagging poem and in the hands of the other, it is suddenly flying.
Rachel Goodman is a poet, gardener and portrait painter | Follow her on Twitter @RHannyngton and Instagram @rachelhannyngton
Elvire Roberts is a poet and signed language interpreter | Follow her on Instagram @laconicpicnic
They have been published in a range of publications including Magma, Under the Radar, Finished Creatures, Aesthetica, The Rialto, Ink Sweat & Tears, Reliquiae and Tears in the Fence. Their work has won or been placed in various poetry competitions.
Poetry Wales One Year Print Subscription | RecurringFrom: £20.00 / year
Poetry Wales Student/Low Income SubscriptionFrom: £2.00 / month and a £5.00 sign-up fee
Poetry Wales Print Subscription | Non-Recurring (One or Two Years)£27.00 – £102.00
Poetry Wales Supporter SubscriptionFrom: £7.00 / month and a £11.00 sign-up fee
Poetry Wales Two Year Print Subscription | RecurringFrom: £48.00 every 2 years
Poetry Wales Digital Subscription£5.99