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the long and winding marriage poem road

September 4, 2009

lines in baseball hatPay careful attention. There will be a quiz. This is what happened:

Nathan‘s poem “Recession: A User’s Guide” was published at Qarrtsiluni last week. I commented about a line in the poem being equally suited to a new poem, a follow-up, called “Marriage: A User’s Guide.”

Nathan agreed there should be such a poem, and we decided to collaborate to write it.

We arrived at the following process:

  1. Each poet writes seven sentences and breaks them in half and mixes up the halves, creating a list of 14 lines.
  2. The poets combine lists to make a giant list of 28 lines.
  3. Each poet randomly combines the lines (I printed the pieces, pulled them out of a baseball hat and pasted them onto a piece of paper as I pulled them out) into a first draft, which is nothing more than a simple assemblage of all the text.
  4. And finally, each poet works that first draft — which isn’t expected to make sense — into something that could fall under the title “Marriage: A User’s Guide.”

Here are the seven sentences I wrote (Nathan never saw these in tact):

  1. I came home with the wrong toilet paper just to start a fight.
  2. We pass the evening looking for the cat and burning popcorn.
  3. In the morning before coffee, utility poles in our field look like crosses; I think I see Jesus.
  4. Instead of kissing me in the rain, you steal my clothes and lock me out of the house.
  5. Worms hang strands of silk and mucous from cave ceilings like party streamers.
  6. The biggest challenge facing cave dwellers is finding a reliable source of food.*
  7. You only have seven seconds to open your parachute.*

*from a Discovery Channel documentary on caves from the Planet Earth series. Here is a fascinating excerpt (just three minutes) about glow worms. It is well worth the watch and a poem of its own, actually!

Here is how it looked once I broke each sentence in half and mixed them up (this is what I sent to Nathan; it is actually a list of 15 instead of 14 because I broke one longer sentence into three pieces):

  1. looking for the cat and burning popcorn
  2. I came home with
  3. is finding a reliable source of food
  4. I think I see Jesus
  5. We pass the evening
  6. From the ceiling like party streamers
  7. You steal my clothes and lock me out of the house
  8. Utility poles in our field look like crosses
  9. Instead of kissing me in the rain
  10. To open your parachute
  11. The wrong toilet paper just to start a fight
  12. In the morning before coffee
  13. Worms hang strands of silk and mucous
  14. The biggest challenge facing cave dwellers
  15. You only have seven seconds

Here is the list Nathan sent to me:

  1. remember: folding a thousand socks
  2. but to hide in the closet and watch? Seedy.
  3. study the way textiles frame the window
  4. occasionally ask to be excused for private moments of self-punishment
  5. remain silent while driving
  6. your allotment of affection
  7. given that scenario in the kitchen
  8. is not the key to recognition
  9. don’t waste insults on strangers
  10. to entertain guests is admirable
  11. if you tend to dominate conversations
  12. then ask “which would make the best hood?”
  13. whose ghost would you conjure?
  14. each day, savor

I love collaboration. I want to thank Jill for hooking me on it ages ago. If you’ve never done it, you should. It helps you try new things. It makes you listen. It turns your process — that one you turn to day in and day out because it works but is, perhaps, sometimes stale — on its head. It reminds me that I should play more and allow more randomness to enter my life poems.

I’m posting the poems in a new post, because this one got too long!

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