The Power of Collaboration

I often tell my writing students that we all write alone but we shouldn’t always write alone. What I usually mean by this that nobody can adequately read their own writing much of the time, so we need someone else—or better yet, a few someone elses—to give us feedback.

But recently I got the opportunity to work with a new friend on a new creative endeavor. Although we are both teachers, we are also artists: she, a photographer, and me, a poet. I have frequently caught my breath when seeing her photographs of the city. Sometimes they are simply (“simply”) from an unusual angle—from the ground looking down the trolley tracks, or from the top of a spiraling stairway. Sometimes it’s the filter she uses: a street corner with all the colors but blue drained away, for example. It reminds me of M.C. Escher or Georgia O’Keeffe. And of course, that’s what artists do: find some lens that stops us in our tracks and forces us to look, to actually see what is in front of us.

We were discussing this over sushi and beer on St. Patrick’s Day (because, duh, sushi on St. Patrick’s Day) and decided to set up on Instagram account to present pairs of our work. She would send me a photo and I would write a poem.

So we set it up. (Okay, TBH she set it up and I nodded and gave opinions when she asked me about choices. I did mention that I’m the poet here.) Over the second beer, we came up with the description of the project @vertexekphrases:

“Our project: creating common endpoints of two rays, where lines meet and act as a rhetorical device where one medium of art works to relate to another.”

We liked the image of the vertex, since the two rays are always at the same angle to each other, no matter how far out the rays go, so even when our two art forms are very different, we can still be in conversation with each other, or the art we make can be.

I’ve engage in ekphrasis for years, usually writing poetry about Japanese woodblock art, as I have written about here before, but also writing about the works of artists such as Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. But now, I get to write into the works of a contemporary artist. Yay me!

The Problems of Non-Concrete Poetry Where Placement on the F^*%ing Page Matters in the Context of Electronic Publishing

Okay, so a while back I was talking about concrete poetry, a poem that looks like the subject it is about and I gave my pear poem as an example. That form translates off the page and into the world of electronic publishing with no problems because most platforms will allow you to center your text. Unfortunately, as I have been working to prepare my upcoming book, Icons & Action Figures (Batteries Not Included), for e-publishing this spring, I have come across some annoying problems.


It turns out that although I rarely write concrete poetry, I do from time to time tab words and phrases away from the regular text line to suggest, say, fog or leaves or, in the example I am thinking of, foxes bouncing around a restaurant. “Fox Games” is one of my favorite poems because I achieved something that I love managing: conveying with words on the page the colors and dynamism and message and story that I see in a piece of visual art (ekphrasis).


The poem is based on a photo of an installation of the same name by artist, Sandy Skoglund. I attach the whole picture and some close ups to show the details of this vivid masterpiece.

I originally wrote the poem in two styles, alternating between sections with regular lines and sections about the foxes, where words or phrases mimicked on the page what the foxes were doing all over the print. To reproduce the effect without being able to do anymore that left-justify or center the pieces is impossible; I might be able to manage that here in a blog post, but if you try messing with styles in an e-book, you end up with…well, a mess. So I am stuck with only left-justification. So I had to choose to go for only the sound of the action, rather than sound, look and feel. Sigh. But I still love the poem. Here is the second half of it:

He begins to speak of himself. She can’t help looking at him,

imagining his face in forty years of soft folds, his voice

crinkling newsprint. Time, she thinks,

fades us to this grey. Time,

she thinks, her face blank pink attention. There is never enough

time to learn to speak in color. There’s so much we can’t say

with our bodies. We need

these foxes



on tables



at tearing out

each other’s throats






among grey tablecloths

grey baskets

grey bread


while we sit in our grey corner speaking of the blush

of the wine about to be poured out by our waiter in his grey vest,

wine that holds itself back, corked for rational inspection, grey

bottled up, wine that knows itself



ready to bark

and bite.

Skoglund, Sandy. “Fox Games.” Cibachrome print. 1990.

Spilecki, Susan. “Fox Games.” Kimera. June 2001