Said One Collaborator to Another

Said One Collaborator to Another

-an interview

Pris Campbell and Scott Owens have collaborated on a book of poems called The Nature of Attraction. One of the more interesting aspects of this collaboration is that the two poets have never met. Another interesting fact is that due to illness Campbell is largely restricted to her home in Florida. Owens, on the other hand, gives frequent readings from his several books. In anticipation of fielding questions about this collaboration, Owens sent the following questions to Campbell so that her perspective could be better represented in the answers he gave. Before sending him her answers, Campbell suggested to Owens that he answer the questions as well. What follows are the answers from each of the authors as written without seeing those from the other.

1. What does this book mean to you?

Pris: It means that two poets can collaborate so successfully that an effective story can be told by way of poems so well-blended that it’s sometimes difficult for even the writers to tell who wrote which one.

Scott: It’s difficult and grossly misrepresentative to put the meaning of a single poem into words. It’s even more so to try to do it with an entire book of poems. And this book contains so many different relationship dynamics that the reader could choose to focus on any one of them to derive their understanding of the book’s meaning. For me, I suppose what is most important about these poems is that they present one potential “happy” ending to the story of abuse. I put happy in quotation marks because it is certainly a relative perspective. Sara, you could say, does the hard work that is necessary to survive abuse relatively intact. She is able to retain her sense of integrity, have a healthy relationship with her son, and even continue to exist as a sexual being. Even Norman “succeeds” in these poems by leaving before he does further damage to Sara and his son. Relative to what I usually see and to what I presented in The Persistence of Faith, I consider this a success.

2. Is Norman or Sara the hero of the book and why?

Pris: I think they’re both heroes. They’re both strong. They both are dealing with past obstacles to their present relationship. They both survive in the end in a way that works for them, albeit not necessarily in a happy way.

Scott: I definitely see Sara as the hero for all the reasons outlined above. Certainly Norman helps Sara, but he is ultimately incapable of consistently controlling the demons of his past. Sara’s successful relationship with their son is the most heroic achievement of the book. Norman avoids becoming the abuser he fears, but he has nothing to compare to Sara’s ability to be a parent.

3. How much of this book is confessional?

Pris: The roots, the emotional makeup of the two people come from events in our own lives. Where they travel in this book isn’t confessional. Norman and Sara walk a path all their own.

Scott: I don’t think it matters. What matters is whether or not it’s “real” or “genuine.” Given the backgrounds of these two characters, would the reader find their fears, desires, failures and successes true to life and thereby relevant? Certainly I think Pris and I have had enough experiences similar to those related in these poems that we feel comfortable writing about those experiences. My childhood was scarred by abuse; I have had relationships with women like Sara; but if Sara is Pris’s alter ego and Norman is mine, then given that we’ve never met, the poems have to feature only limited confessional content.

4. At times Norman sounds like a great lover; at others he sounds scary. How realistic do you think that combination is?

Pris: I find Norman very realistic. Who among us doesn’t walk with the demons at times? To Sara, he’s not scary. She sees him clearly and loves him.

Scott: Of course I think it’s very realistic. Victims of abuse come in all shapes and sizes, and I think it’s very realistic to assume that many of them can be sensitive and will try to overcome the unpredictability of psychic damage by making their lives supremely predictable.

5. These poems are often quite blunt, especially in regards to sex. What would you say to the charge that they are too explicit?

Pris: I would tell that person to go to the movies more often if he/she really want to see explicit.

Scott: I think we too often ignore or deny the complex nature of relationships in our efforts to “keep it clean” when we talk about them. Sex, money, and childrearing are probably the biggest sources of happiness and stress in a relationship. I think not talking about any of them explicitly is the easiest way to make a relationship unfulfilling.

6. Would you describe the collaborative process you and Scott undertook to write this book.

Pris: I can describe my side of the process. One of Scott’s Norman poems inspired me to write a “Sara” response. Sara has appeared off and on in my poems in the past as offbeat, “wilde childe” free spirit. Scott responded with a poem. Neither of us intended a collaboration. I’m still half convinced that Norman and Sara arranged the whole thing (only half joking). As we both saw the poems increase in number, I found myself also occasionally writing a Norman poem and Scott a Sara one. We began honing each poem together and even the individually written poems became a blend of both voices.

Scott: Pris initially asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a different series of poems. She had already written most of them and sent them to me to look over. After reading the poems, I told I would not collaborate on that series and that she shouldn’t let anyone else do so either because the series was finished and worthy of publication. She took me at my word and those poems shortly became her chapbook Hesitant Commitments. Then Pris saw the poem “Norman’s Enormous Thing” and wrote a response to it. I thought the poem had the potential to be really good, so I made some comments and sent it back to her. She made some unanticipated changes, and I made further recommendations. We did this a few more times, and Pris finally declared that she felt we had to both claim authorship of that poem. From there it was just a matter of each of us writing poems in response to the newest poem from the other one, although after awhile, we became so comfortable with the two characters that she started writing Norman poems and I began writing Sara poems. We got so caught up in the story, that I’m not sure we really know sometimes who wrote which poem.

7. How would you characterize that process? Positive? Negative? In what sense?

Pris: Very positive. It was fun, first of all, and working with a poet who totally “got” my writing was something I had not experienced.

Scott: I would say mostly it was great fun. I looked forward to every new poem Pris would send just like I would look forward to a new chapter in a novel. Then, of course, I would write the chapter after that. Pris was incredibly easy to work with, and I think having two perspectives on the same story kept it fresh and moving in a direction that was more realistic because it wasn’t as linear as a story written by one person might be.

8. Did writing this book and going through the collaborative process change you as a writer? As a person?

Pris: It didn’t change me as a person, but I learned a lot writing with Scott. He is a fantastic poet.

Scott: Every poem changes me as a writer and a person. I’m not sure I could tell you exactly how, but I definitely feel like I understand Sara, Norman, Pris, and myself better than I did before.

9. Could you have written this book alone?

Pris: Alone? Never. This was a collaborative book all the way. I couldn’t have created Norman out of the blue. I could only relate to him through Sara.

Scott: If I had, it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. I guess this goes back to the prior question. I could never have written those poems from Sara’s perspective without Pris’s involvement. And while I’m better at that now, I don’t think I would attempt it without some sort of female involvement.

10. Have you collaborated before? If so, tell us about it.

Pris: Years ago I tried writing one collaborative poem as part of the Poetry League Challenges. The other poet kept sending paragraphs of “gothic” English. Nothing ever hung together and I swore I would never collaborate on poetry again.

Scott: Sure, but never so thoroughly. I’ve collaborated with every poet I’ve ever read by learning from them. I’ve collaborated with poets and artists by creating works based on their work. I’ve collaborated with members of various writing groups who have given me feedback on my poems. And the same could be said about various editors and publishers. But I’ve never collaborated to the point of sharing authorship.

11. Do you think you will collaborate again? On anything in particular? With anyone in particular?

Pris: It’s possible I would collaborate again, given the right project and someone compatible and a good writer to do it with. One poet has mentioned a collaboration. I don’t know if it will happen. I think, now, that it would have to be spontaneous. Maybe one day Norman and Sara will reunite in a rest home–one never knows.

Scott: I have no plans to do so, but I didn’t plan on this one either.

12. Is Sara’s story finished?

Pris: Sara’s story isn’t finished for me. She’ll be popping up again from time to time.

Scott: No way. Pris has already written Sara poems, and I suspect I will too at some point.

13. Is Norman’s

Pris: Norman’s? Only Scott can answer that, but Sara has never believed Norman is doomed to a life of isolation.

Scott: Well, this is the second time I’ve created resolution to his very restless life. I have to assume further resolution will be needed. Again, no concrete plans right now, but Norman is too much a part of my psyche to ever go away completely.

14. If this book were turned into a movie, who would you want to play Sara? Norman?

Pris: Movie characters. Tough one since ideal people are too old now. She has more of a latter day sixties feel to her–an essence I haven’t seen much in modern female leads. She can be flighty, but she has a core of toughness. She’s bright. A young Joni Mitchell almost fits her. A younger Jennifer Aniston could carry it off. Norman? Oh dear, Scott would have to pick that lead.

Scott: Tough one. In my mind Norman and Sara are in their late 20’s throughout most of this book, so I guess that would determine the possible range of actors. I think Colin Farrel and Ed Norton would be the best bets for Norman. They both have a “tightly controlled surface barely concealing a much rougher interior” sense about them. Sara is much tougher for me, but I would go with Liv Tyler or Milla Jovovich because I don’t think of either of them as cute or gorgeous but still irresistible, and I think they both have the ability to convey the complexity of Sara’s character.

-refers from the word poems in Melanie Faith’s non-fiction piece Sifting Through: Writing a Way Into and Through Stalled Pieces

  1. Richard Allen Taylor

    The success of Pris’ and Scott’s collaborative efforts are evident in THE NATURE OF ATTRACTION, an excellent collection of poems. They make it sound easy, and maybe it is easier if you find the right collaborator. I recall working with a co-author on a few magazine articles many years ago and it was like rolling a boulder uphill. Congratulations to Pris and Scott for making their collaboration so enormously fruitful.

  2. High praise from someone as well-versed as you, Richard. Thanks for reading the book and the interview. Hope to see you back in Hickory in the near future.

  3. wow, this interview method must have been (almost) as interesting a process as the book itself! i’ve been resisting ordering “the nature of attraction”, and i really can’t tell you why. i guess i love pris campbell’s poetry so much, and over the past few months, i’ve gotten to know and love scott’s. maybe i got burnt out buying my friends’ poetry books that, because of my own cfs, i can’t always read! but the storyline sounds so interesting that i will now have to order. i know i won’t be sorry. i’ll just believe that i’ll be able to read it as i just ordered new glasses. love to you guys! a wonderful interview. xoxoxooxoxo

  4. As a friend from the Arab world! so forgive my “Arabic” English!- I believe it wouldn’t be fair to comment on both poets, so I’ll do it on my dear friend Pris’ side. I still can see that capacity of your love covering both Sara and Norman:”I think they’re both heroes”. As far back as 10 years now, I have been attracted to firstly only through your poems on the screen, and still with more “reasons for attractions!”. As an Arabic poet, the only thing I’m sorry for, in joining such beautiful experience, is the language barrier, or could it be a bond to be seen? could the “materialistic West” collaborate with the “mysterious East” in a parallel way? Pris, your sense of hummer always makes me laugh. A movie star? I can imagine you on the big screen telling Sara’s story like that lady in the “titanic”. Mosaad of Egypt

  5. Loving these comments guys! Thanks so much for making this more than just a dialogue, but rather a conversation :)

  6. I really appreciate these comments, too. Laura, I can’t always read, either, so just know that whenever you feel you can, we’ll make sure a book is available for you.

    Mosaad, how very kind of you to post a comment, my ‘mysterious Eastern friend’. I wish the mail system in Egypt was more reliable so I could send you a copy of the book. Ahmed has the other one. Maybe he could bring this one, too, next visit. And as you know, I love your poetry, too, and only wish you had more time and energy to do it again.

  7. Thanks for the lovely comments, Laura. Here is a link to a reading from the book that I gave with Jane Crown (Pris wasn’t feeling up to it that day). http://referentialmagazine.com/contents/non-fiction/scottnpris/. You can just listen and not have to worry with reading.

  8. Hmm, collaboration — I need to find people who like me enough to be in the same room with me.

  9. Audrey Nicholson

    I savoured every word, reading the book in my garden where the ghost of their love seemed to be watching from the shadows. The collaboration intrigued me, now, learning you have never met, it amazes me… This blurring of your two minds is a miracle in true fiction. Synchronicity at its best !

  10. Audrey, thank you. It amazes me , too, that I could find someone I could collaborate with so easily by email alone. No meeting. No phone calls. No chats.

  11. Maren O. Mitchell

    Considering our culture’s puritanical core, it would be surprising if all responses to the sexual expression within the poems of “The Nature of Attraction” were positive. I was uncomfortable on first reading these poems. But, after several rereadings, I found that I was squirming in pain from the repercussions of the abuses in the lives of Sara and Norman. The poems also evoked admiration for the characters’ strengths which protected their fragilities.

    If these lives had been written as a short story or part of a novel, most likely they could have been more immediately assimilated. The choice of the form of poetry is unusual. Comfort does not foster innovation. Reading about satisfied love is easy and can be a joy. Writing or reading about the extremes of need is not easy. We have yet to deal adequately with the extremes of the 2000 year-old fires within the Roman poet Catullus, who vented adoration and hatred toward one person with equal and unparalleled intensity.

    I applaud the creative, informative and brave work of Pris Campbell and Scott Owens, and appreciate these enlightening interviews.

  12. Maren, your comment is both honest and beautiful….and I mean beautiful not in the traditional sense but in the sense of seeing what I think both Scott and I hoped readers would see.

  13. I am just getting to know Scott’s wonderful poetry and have not read the book. It sounds fascinating, and I cannot imagine working with a stranger on such an intimate project. But on second thought, maybe the anonymity of email was exactly what was needed. Anyway, I enjoyed reading the interview. Pris, I’m sorry to hear of your illness.

  14. Karen, first of all thank you re my illness. It slows me down but Scott is so patient and willing to do the legwork I can’t do. I appreciate him so much. Scott and I had exchanged suggestions on poems before this book so we already knew that we worked well together in that way. I can’t speak for Scott , but I instinctively trusted him all the way through this book to write the open way that we did. And yes, he’s a wonderful poet.

  15. I loved the book! It was so interesting to read the interview…something I’d hoped for when I’d finished reading “The Nature of Attraction”!

  16. I am glad I stumbled upon this via Pris website. I am familiar with Referential- what an interesting interview, and kudos to Scott and Pris for doing this. I also came from abuse, and have wanted to write about it, but been afraid my voice might not come off so well. So I look forward to reading their book!

    I am not familiar with Scott Owen, so going to check him out now!

    Great Jessie!

  17. Thanks, Pat. I appreciate your comment and reading the book.

    E., You’ll love Scott’s work. He’s a wonderful poet and a pleasure to work with. I’m not sure, but heard that Main Street Rag sold all of its copies of the book but both Scott and I bought personal copies for sale. I still have a few left if you decide to get one and want it signed, I can sell you one for the same price as Main Street. Please please know that I’m not trying to push the book. Just an offer if you decide you want one. And abuse is hard to write about. Sometimes the inference and resulting trauma comes out stronger than the actual description.

  18. wildgoosepoetryreview

    Thanks, Pris, for keeping up with these comments. Thanks also to E., Karen, and Audrey. Maren, I have been asked to read different material at two locations.

  19. Maren O. Mitchell

    Scott, will you clarify what you mean by: “I have been asked to read different material at two locations”? I’m guessing, but… If you mean what I think you mean I’d be interested in how the requests were phrased. We are a strange species!

  20. Nobody you know, Maren. One site claimed that their audience consisted of older, reserved readers who would not respond well to such material, and that I would do better (I read to mean sell more books) with more conservative material. The other remarked that the supporters of the series would not view such material favorably. I really don’t mind tailoring the reading more to the liking of those who will attend. I have plenty of material to choose from that can “push the envelope” in a variety of ways, and I definitely want to choose the way that will be the most “effective.”

  1. Pingback: (2010) The Nature of Attraction | Scott Owens

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