Jeff Erwin on collaborative poetry

Jeff Erwin explores the joy of abandoning logos and embracing poetry. Followed by three poems, written collaboratively by the Boukra Collective.

Col-labor-ative Poetry

Why do we write this way? To liberate the poem. We are patterns in a tangled fabric. You can see the knots, the weft, even the holes, the rips if you look close, but all depend on each other.

When we have made the poem this way, the poem has its own presence. As Duhamel says of her shared work with Seaton, ‘[t]he poem matters, not either one of us’.

Once upon a time poets did not dare say they owned this poem, but praised that other sacred self, the Muse. Just as no one agrees how many Muses there are, as Siculus says: 

‘some say that there are three, and others that there are nine’.

Let us be muses to each other, excellent, inspiring, loving mothers. Not museums, full of plundered art, but art in its true and public place.

To write a poem like so is to embrace death, and also immortality. The poet is consumed, the fertile page sprouts words; it has spontaneous growth, not the logos of the law, but the sacred logos of a shared rhythm.This process hastens it. The poet accepts the end of their work. 

We revel in the knowledge that through collaboration we are free from all the stops, the halts, the indecision of the lone poet, immersed in the anxiety of our productive world, the doubt. Like a mob we do not have doubt, but a shared mind and purpose. We cross the fence, the boundary, gather together.

Even the desire to be known is subsumed. If like a blazing flower the line is remarkable, it is freed from our intention.

We live in a world that is troubled, divided, scarred by the relentless desire to possess and consume. In collaboration we are social, as our bones require of us, but not selfish, as this invidious and violent system demands.

Academe, publishers, editors, they all want what can be copyrighted, claimed, sold, owned. Fossilized. The words are dissected to find intention, the words recited, memorized. We defy you to find intention here. In fact, misremember these. Recount these poems ad hoc. 

Let the errors multiply.

Everything ‘traditional’ and everything new evolves. We have entered an era of mass confusion. The Rational Man fears subliminity, the whispers of Illusion. We embrace it, glory in its caresses.

So, here are our poems, your poems, the poems themselves, owning themselves like wild beasts, like the trees, like a colony of eukaryotic life thrusting from the rich ground.

Let us cover the scarred earth with our wild growth, so that the pleasure of poetry is not in who or why, but in the fragrance of inspiration, the shapes of words, drifting across the open page.

Jeff Erwin is a strange fellow indeed. He lives in Monterey with his child and a vast amount of books. His chapbook, Not the Gods We Know, is forthcoming on Boukra Press.

Three collectively written poems by the Boukra Collective

City and not city

Until we run out of space / Folding and refolding
Separating dust from the water, hoping for
A wall-shaped apparatus / Wide-reaching
Spaces between fingers finding the field’s flowers

With no streets to guide me, I feel into gulch

Amoeba Records I think is gone now / The small lingers
Now, the longer shades have vanished / And the
Tides pulling our nails to the sea
Shoreline littered with strips of human skin

[Charity, car acara mi amor]

Televised and monetized
And subtle, / john zorn opens a ticket booth and
Falls. But with orange light haloed through hair.

Bind, bind, bind trice knotted this curse upon them
Periphery of my inner city,
The ink stain

All our hair ends / So many comets playing our old game
Glad in tissue paper and sweat, shining, swaying,
My way through sky spreading
Among the bramble and disrepair

This map is not the territory

The rain approves
Invisibly lingering on black keys
White bones in the lower room
As authentic as ventriloquism

Blink slowly
The rough birds harshly patter
This map is not the territory
It’s utterly scuppered, sideways, tits-up

Projects transform
Into neighboring rainfall
Multiplied, without help
The floor of sand mirrored a ceiling of sand

In the trunk are our sweaters
Frayed, undone
A slow buzz, a burgeoning cacophony
Served in a leather suitcase.

Storm’s sweet breath to our lungs
The city is bones, thriving.

The Cold Propaganda

Tomorrow will come covered in the pebbles of today
Dystopia wrestles with its center
Not the cold propaganda
Are they going to believe us when we say the light is on?
Test for the night show
Healing and cooling
Our smoke is to the sky
I had never seen such a spark before, ever
Even Ovid’s madness fell into gloating and dickery
Bad bright star shining
We rejoice in our torn lines
A happy well-adjusted tarantula
We so easily share this window through the window
Let’s climb the great mountain of our time, for the gesture,
Whose vastness is a unnamed gutter
I heard you back on the wireless back in nineteen fifty-two
We will pass this between us
This is not our last word

These poems were written and edited by Brian Sheffield, Jeff Erwin, Claire Durand-Gasselin, Stephanie England, Penel Alden, Heather Flescher, and Garrett Calcagno

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