Said One Collaborator to Another
Said One Collaborator to Another
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