Lone wolf humanist here to tell you that while reading and writing in solitude are some of my favorite things, experiences with intellectual and artistic collaboration have astonished me, shaking loose all kinds of work and thinking I might never have otherwise produced. As poets

Merrill and Jackson: collaborators on a seance-based epic?

Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton say in this great piece–which ends with the “10 Commandments of Collaboration”–working with another person can produce a “third voice” likely to surprise its parents. Yes, teamwork can slow down or intensify the labor, a big problem if you’re on a tenure clock or your collaborator’s literary metabolism differs radically from yours. I’ve also seen it speed and improve work in various genres. Writing can beget more writing.

That’s why, for the early-summer edition of my Modernism/ Modernity blog on the writing process, I’m seeking short reflections from scholars, editors, teachers, students, and artists about collaboration, in hopes that a collection of perspectives will shake good work loose from other writers, too. I sent out an email to some modernist scholars who collaborate, but I’d like to hear from people outside my network, so if you have something to say, please contact me! You can post replies here or email them to wheelerlm (at), but I need responses by May 15th. The assignment:

  1. Choose one of the following prompts, or ask your own collaboration-related question, and send me an answer of under 200 words, along with a bio of 1-2 sentences.
  • How has collaboration changed your writing, your thinking, and/or the direction of your professional life?
  • What advice do you have for people considering a collaborative venture?

You can write this with a collaborator, if you want, or try a two-way interview. Just please keep it short and sweet. Alternately:

  1. Forward this to a friend or collaborator and ask him or her to write a reflection on one of these questions, or on another question you’d rather ask. It can be submitted directly to me, with a bio.

I’m looking for collaborators on modernism-related projects, but you can define that however you like. Collaborations in teaching as well as research, editing, and writing are absolutely fair game, as are student responses. Cautionary tales as well as positive stories are welcome—collaboration can be a complicated endeavor. (One of my first co-authors was my spouse, Chris Gavaler, on an article about H.D. for Sagetrieb, and we did a lot of anxious joking at the time about how commas were posing a marital problem.) My goal is to put together a June blog for the Modernism/ Modernity Print-Plus platform in many voices, with diverging perspectives. You can see the inaugural “process” blog post here, if curious.

lettersI could describe lots of other projects here, because I’ve been experimenting for a while now. Editing Letters to the World with a team of women I’d never met was a huge, at times stressful project with a beautiful result. I also love revisiting these poems I composed with Scott Nicolay in an email-based game of oneuppoetship. Last but not least, every class discussion is a collaboration, as we argue our way towards a joint reading of whatever text is to hand.

But I’d rather hear from you.

5 responses to “Collaboration”

  1. Lesley, a friend of mine and I wrote 3 collaborative poems, one won 1st place IBPC years ago and then later an HM for poem of the decade.

    He is a Brit and very strange about me trying to get these published, but I can tell you, the 3 poems in my view represented good work on both sides and each in my view couldn’t have made it without the other.

    He would have a “theme” in mind and say “what do you think of Lilith or Penelope or Icarus and then “each day write little snippets in a journal” or “write a poem about thus and so” and then he wove the pieces today.

    I hope this helps in my view this work should have been out in the public view as I thought it pretty amazing that we could put our egos aside and do this.

    Whether he did this with other writers, I do not know, you can contact him and ask if you’d like, we have as poets do, been out of touch with one another. Personal things come up, but I miss the writing.

    Peace, Laurie


      • This is not a fully formed idea, nor is it related to Modernism (although I love HD beyond all reason). In a good editing/developmental editing scenario, the editor and author have the same goal, which is the best piece of writing the author can accomplish. So they work together to make that happen. But if the editor is also a writer, sometimes she might slip over the line and do some of the writing herself. Also the writer might be writing to express something, but the editor might have one eye on the writing and the other eye on the audience or even the market. That tension also produces some interesting collaboration.

        Also I have a good 400 words somewhere in my brain on collaborating in science that is possibly linked to writing.


  2. I like “slip over the line”–as if it’s visible!–and yet I generally have a sense of when I’m doing this, helping a student with a paper. This is helpful, Ellen, thanks!


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