Above: a video on making an exquisite corpse poem that may or may not be helpful.
Some thoughts on collaborative poetry writing
Collaborative poetry goes back as far as poetry itself. You could say all writing is collaboration, how we draw from writing that precedes us, that inspires us. Some collaboration is more obvious. A poem attributed to more than one author is an examples. Other collaborations are more subtle. A poet may get a first line from another poet, a friend, or a source text, and this may or may not be mentioned in the notes of a book.
Still others collaboration is never mentioned at all. A poet write down things a friend says at a party, integrates that into a poem. Or maybe a poet remembers something overhear during a movie or television show.
There are so many reasons to bring collaboration into your writing life. The first and foremost is that it’s fun. It works a different section of your brain; it forces you to react to someone else. Often and ideally, the result is another voice entirely different than any one collaborating author. Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton, two poets who have collaborated for years, call it their third collaborative voice.
The scholarly and clinical literature out there shows that using collaborative writing techniques deepen interpersonal communication and strengthens bonds in a group. The writing activity becomes a venue of personal disclosure with other people also involved in the process, based on what one researcher calls “mutual concern.” Group members have a chance to develop and demonstrate proficiency in basic group skills. Charles Gillespie, a clinical addiction counselor who has written a number of articles on collaborative poetry writing in a therapeutic setting, talks about how writing poems together leads to a “sociopoetic process.”
“Poems that capture authentic human experience, no matter how simple or sophisticated,” Gillespie writes, “are the poems that generate the most discussion and identification.”
Collaboration with found material
“Poem Beginning with a Line by _____.” This could be another poet, which is the time-honored tradition. It could also be something overheard, a line from a TV show or magazine article. The poet Ross Gay has a poem called “Poem Beginning with a Line Overheard in the Gym,” for example.
First poet writes/says a line, second poet writes/says the next. Repeat as necessary.
One word at a time–out loud, with a note-taker, or with one person typing, or both writing/typing. The collaborative poems of Matthew Rohrer and Joshua Beckman are often done live.
The only rule we gave ourselves was that when one’s turn came, one could say either a word or use punctuation (and later, parts of words). As we got more comfortable with the back-and-forth exchange, the process became as much about challenging each other as it was about helping each other complete the poem. For instance, a phrase that, were it printed out afterwards on the page would read “weirdly eyeing” was actually made by adding suffixes and such to each other’s words, so that the content of the phrase was constantly shifting, like this: “we / ‘re / d / ly / I / ing”.
This is collaborative poetry as performance. We will be doing this for sure.
Collaboration is often two or more people in the same room. But other times it’s not. It’s done asynchronously: over snail mail, email, and now with collaborative methods online like Google documents.
I am still looking into this Japanese form. Ron Padgett’s excellent Handbook of Poetic Forms calls this form a collaborative form. Here’s how the Academy of American Poets explains how rengas are written:
To create a renga, one poet writes the first stanza, which is three lines long with a total of seventeen syllables. The next poet adds the second stanza, a couplet with seven syllables per line. The third stanza repeats the structure of the first and the fourth repeats the second, alternating in this pattern until the poem’s end.
Sestina, six poets: Each poet picks a word for each teleuton/end word; each poet then writes a stanza; all write the envoi. Generator here.
An abecedarian uses the alphabet’s order as its design. (Fun fact: Psalms 31:10-31, the famous “virtuous woman” passage,” is actually an abecedarian acrostic poem that uses the Hebrew alphabet.)
The classic group poetry exercise. “Play Exquisite Corpse” from Academy of American Poets
One teacher’s lesson plan
“All Together Now: Collaborations in Poetry Writing.” EdSITEment. National Endowment for the Humanities. Contains lesson plans for grades K-2.
Bouts-rimés, or rhyme challenge. James Addison, as he is quoted this entry in The Wikipedia, describes this as a “[list] of words that rhyme to one another, drawn up by another hand, and given to a poet, who was to make a poem to the rhymes in the same order that they were placed upon the list.” Here is an encyclopedia entry.
Some peer-reviewed research on collaborative poetry in the classroom.
Gillespie, Charles. “The use of collaborative poetry as a method of deepening interpersonal communication among adolescent girls.” Journal of Poetry Therapy. 18:4 (December 2005), 221-231. <http://www.cottonwooddetucson.com/pdf/Staff_Arti>.
Gillespie, Charles. “Recovery Poetry 101: The use of collaborative poetry in a dual-diagnosis drug and alcohol treatment program.” Journal of Poetry Therapy. 15:2 (Winter 2001), 83-92.