We belong together; or, The (Im)possibilities of Artistic Collaboration

I have a recurring dream of/dread of doing a collaborative project of some sort, with someone or someones from other artistic disciplines. I want to be pushed/pulled out of my comfort zone…but not too far.

I dread the awkward social interactions that I presume will arise in a collaborative environment, the moments of “ugh, I don’t know if I can do this” or “oh no, I think I just hurt that person’s feelings/pissed them off” or “my feelings just got hurt/I just got pissed off” or “how can I tell this person I think this is a terrible idea” or “that person just told me my idea is terrible.” Ayee. Yeah, I know mature people work through these moments. But, ayee.

I have collaborated before, I remind myself. I worked with a videographer friend, who basically just let me order him around. Thanks, Pete! He came up with some ideas, and offered some editing ideas and suggestions, cautioned me about a couple of things, and I was grateful for his guidance. And basically he was a delight to work with, and I’m extremely proud of the video we produced.

I collaborated twice with a choreographer friend. The first time I shared with her a poem series with audio, and she set a dance to the series, incorporating me and two other readers on stage with her dancers. There may have been moments early in the process when she wanted to beat me over the head, because choreographing to human speech is not the easiest thing, varying as it does. When we started practicing, I think I did some minor edits, and at one point had a cringy moment when I heard myself undiplomatically suggesting maybe one of the choreographed movements was too literal. (Sorry, Beth!) But she took my comment in stride. I think the whole thing came out fabulously. We then worked on a revamp of The Nutcracker, trying to use some of the traditional music and dances, but in a shortened form and performed in a nontraditional setting. I started doing a spoof, but she didn’t want that exactly. So I came up with some ideas, we worked them back and forth. I did some more working out of narrative structure and we did some more brainstorming and tweaking. It was great fun. We have not gotten a chance to stage it yet, but we have a template to hit the ground running when/if we get a chance to.

So what am I afraid of? Oh, you know, I don’t like the unknown. The what ifs, the hows and whys. I fear that I don’t know what I don’t know. I fear that I’ll initiate an effort and then fail. What if I get fired as a collaborator? Ayee.

I’ve thought of putting out a call for collaborators among the visual artists, videopgraphers, and musicians with whom I’m acquainted. I’ve stopped myself basically because I can’t come up with a vision or a goal or a thematic framework or anything to basically create a nice bag around the empty space of possibility. Also, of course, there’s no money in it for any of them who actually make their livings through their art. (Well, really, who does that these days, and how on earth would they know ME? I mean, yeah, I happened to have dinner in the same empty restaurant where Laurie Anderson was eating, so consider myself having had dinner with her…but…well…there’s a limit to how far delusion can get one…) I know that I don’t necessarily need a framework, but it would be helpful for the pitch.

Or am I just afraid? Fear is good. As long as it doesn’t stop me from moving forward. My latest fantasies revolve around collaborations not with other artists but with scientists — a geologist studying the ancient terrain around here, an ornithologist tracking all these owls I’m hearing at night, or a limnologist peering at water samples in a microscope (do they do that? I just wanted to use the word limnologist in a sentence). But will they just think I’m eccentric? Who has time for a poet?

Just do something, I say to me.

Gaah, I say.

Just shut up and make work, I also say.

It’s exhausting just collaborating with my many selves. Who has room for someone else?

2 thoughts on “We belong together; or, The (Im)possibilities of Artistic Collaboration

  1. Pingback: Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 43 – Via Negativa

  2. I’ve collaborated with a composer, which was HARD; but I have also had composers ask for a poem and then do what they wanted with it–which isn’t really collaboration. I’ve collaborated with other poets on renga (is that collaboration or just response?). I’d like to do more interdisciplinary collaboration (dance, visual art, videography), but yes–it’s thorny and challenging and takes time and…who has the money and the time?

    I feel ya. Still: worth it for the experience. Remember that thing called human interaction? I would enjoy returning to that.

    Plus: Ricky Lee Jones. (sigh, ❤ ). –not Mariah Carey.


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