Collaborative poetics: Beyond the Bother of Sunlight

Lewis LaCook & Sheila E Murphy. Beyond the Bother of Sunlight (BlazeVOX [books] 2011).

Poetic collaborations make for interesting reading (& I speak as another collaborator with Sheila E Murphy): the actual form the collaboration takes makes demands on both authors, especially in the way it asks them to submerse their own writing egos to the new author(ing). I don’t know exactly how Lewis LaCook & Murphy split their writing duties in Beyond the Bother of Sunlight, but the result is an often challenging, engaging, entertaining, & linguistically playful work in 52 sections.

As a long-time reader of Sheila E Murphy’s startling poetry, I do see occasional swerves of language that I suspect come from her lively imagination. Nevertheless, the I who often speaks here is clearly someone else (than either her or LaCook), & that I has much to say, in a slowly gathering series of fragmented sequiturs, about art, life, politics (social & sexual), & the ways language can both open & occlude one’s understanding of them all.
Whoever is writing here, s/he has lots to say. There’s a neat physicality to this language of thinking through: ‘How she bleeds impulsively / In the dry burn of too early Sunday / Pressed between voices writing on gods / Ungraspable the more they sing’. And here’s the sly poetics of politics: ‘Our land is white awaiting –isms / Verging on the foreign act of conquering,’ even though ‘We’re a conquered people, servants / In our own land.’ I’d say this collaboration is pretty recent.

There’s a spiritual dimension too: ‘Eternity grows hypothetical in talk,’ however, given ‘The precipice that guides our faith.’ This speaker is tough: ‘I remain your gentle militant.’ The poem moves across a wide range of perceptions & situations. Although much of it will seem a kind of intellectual exploration, it can also turn suddenly to what feels deeply personal (but to whom?) or to a natural imagery that hums with the new: ‘Speaking of November, / Scorpions scald fear of the desert blue / Furs limit cadence.’ The collaborative writer clearly loves the play of sound & image, letting ‘meaning’ follow in their footsteps.

As often happens in such collaborative efforts, the poem often turns to the act of writing, thinking through the possibilities. Murphy tends to work with male collaborators. This can lead them to some delightful apercus: ‘Apology is as male as narration / We change colors into paths to favorites on the hard drive // Peppered with the tone poem of unrest, each composition / Stokes each pending composition.’ One way of naming the process by which this book came into being. When ‘I try to pretend I am imaginary’ (as this doubled single speaker certainly is), ‘I like to imagine // A rationale for international boundaries’ or almost anything else. So s/he can tell us ‘I pretend to know where I am going / But, like you, the way I’m going / Seems to know me more.’ That’s we readers addressed there, & Beyond the Bother of Sunlight offers us a way to go reading through a journey that can show us more. It’s a striking example of the new collaborative poetry.

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