I spent last year working on an ekphrastic collection of poetry with a friend and former student of mine named Jeffrey. Ekphrastic poetry is poetry that discusses art. I’ve spent a long time editing other people’s work. I do that as a part-time job sometimes when I’m not teaching. I’ve never worked with someone in this way before, developing a collection with a clear end point and goal. It was a great collaboration, and I think I’m going to do more of this kind of work in the future.
It’s strange to work with someone in this way. I thought it was going to be similar to editing, but working and developing poems really gives you insight into the way another person sees the work and thinks. It helps you to understand his process and the way he sees. One of the things that I was surprised about was the way he starts a poem. I generally start with the history of the painting and work my way out making it relevant either to me or the world in general. I came to see that Jeffrey was working in a more physical way. He started with his reaction to the piece, and I think, spent a good deal of time trying to figure out why he reacted in this way, how the piece made him feel what he felt.
It was strange to edit a collection like this as well. Generally, when developing a collection, I’m concerned with each poem and how the poems interact to make a whole. I’m thinking about what message I’m trying to send out to the world. With Jeffrey, we had to work on this together developing our message. We don’t have exactly the same beliefs, so it could be a struggle, but the struggle caused me to think about what I was doing more precisely.
I would absolutely do this again. I’d need to work with someone like Jeffrey or Jeffrey himself on a collaboration, someone who is interested in the work and not in some kind of pointless outside drama. If you get a partner like that, you’re going to get the best work of your life.