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!

Zoom Lens

Watching from the shadows, the heart wears dark

Glasses, a trenchcoat, carries a camera optimized

For distance and details. Curiosity kills cats

Regularly, it seems, but hearts don’t learn. They long

To know, to be prepared, to study the pictures–

Foreground, background, shadow on top of shadow.


Photo+graphein: Greek, to draw with light. We think

That light reveals, unveils, shows us an image

We can recognized. We know that the eyes

Rely on light to differentiate what (and who)

We should walk toward or away from. The heart

More private than the eye, remains in shadows.

The Thing About a Bridge

By day, a bridge is all about departure and destination, a way

Of getting from place to place:

We focus on the ends as if they were the whole point, as if

The middle span was mere

Afterthought and not the central reason for being. We think

Perhaps of the view visible

As we speed our way across, some water usually and perhaps

A boat or two, the kind

Of thing we don’t tend to see so much in the city. Then we focus

Again on our objective,

Where we are headed to, the grand goal of the journey, but not

The journey itself.

But the thing about a bridge is precisely its bridgeness, its span,

Its willingness to stretch

Itself from here to there for our benefit. There is an elaborate

Geometry to a bridge,

Squares, triangles, and at dusk the lights become stars, so there is

Astronomy as well,

And the tiny curved moon hangs as if by a grey-blue thread of sky

Underneath the bridge

And above the setting sun as it blushes the horizon, to remind us

To pause up there

And just be in the in-between space, neither here nor there, but

Content like stars.

Night Photography

Even without a camera, humans are always drawing

With light: every two hundred feet across the bridge

Street lamps hold out hope in pools of grey light

Across the tar. From a distance the bridge is almost

Perforated, an embroidery picked out in stars.


Holidays bring out our artistry. Look at the building,

Its roof, eaves and colonnade shining like a geometry

Problem written with a magic wand. And over there,

Across the river, fir trees like pointed wizard hats

Shimmer in gold, red, green and blue, silently.


But summer is best, when we let the colors fly

Into the black silk sky, an explosion of fire flowers:

Ice blue chrysanthemums, connect-the-dot

Scarlet tiger lilies, and the flash and flare of white

Snowbells that fall in a flurry into the river.


The river reflects on the sizzling stamens

As they disintegrate into its depths. It thinks

We are making offerings and perhaps we are.

Take these scattered petals of fire.

Grant us, in return, a year full of light.