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Is poetry always a solo endeavor?

TV scriptwriting is classically done in a Writer's Room, where the show-runner outlines the main plot/character beats for a season, they and senior writers break out those elements into individual shows, then one or two writers create the draft, then collaboratively more jokes are added or the pacing is adjusted, etc.

Movie scriptwriting (from what I understand) is a little more solitary, but often it's layers of re-writes upon rewrites, with different writers/teams brought in every few drafts (or with new producers) to tear it down and start over.)

Book and short stories are often done alone, but there's also a fair tradition of collaboration: see Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman for a popular example.

What about poetry? Is there a way that it can be done, and done well, collaboratively? "I've got imagery, you've got vocabulary?"

Is it the same as technical-writing's editing: (My editor -- "ok, you've got all the things the user needs to do, but this could really be 5 separate sentences in 2 steps.")
Cowriter to potential Poet: I like your rant on facebook this morning -- let's play around with the words to see if we can distill that anger?

Just a thought. Any examples of poetic collaboration I can look at?

  • Not enough oomph for an answer but the two examples (vs speculation) I know are: 1) Anthologies. 2) Illustrations/graphics. For example, my spouse turns my short work into scripts and, sometimes, they get pulled into projects that require an artist. He has a couple of my poems to do this with though they haven't been drawn yet (no point paying for an artist until we have an accepted submission). – Cyn Apr 3 at 15:07
  • I know it's not at all uncommon for writers of hymns and religious poetry to re-frame psalms or scriptural passages. (Handel's Messiah is a famous collection of passages arranged and set to music.) Usually the poet doesn't so much "collaborate" as credit the source? – Jedediah Apr 3 at 16:42
  • There's a haikujam app out there where one person write only a line of haiku and pass it on to world to finish other two lines. But it's not preserving the strict structure of haiku - it's only preserving 5-7-5 3 line rule. – Karan Desai Apr 5 at 5:59
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It depends on the kind of collaboration you mean, but usually no.

Poetry - worth reading - is a solitary venture.

Years ago, I began something that was quite entertaining and humorous; a poem by committee that was essentially an anti Idylls of the King. One rule existed - couplets only.

Couplets were submitted and the piece grew. Nine Cantos and two thousand lines later, it was a curiosity and not a ballad. I tried to give it some cohesion, but the many voices in one piece pull it apart.

It can be fun to read, follows the conventions, but is absolutely not poetry. Anything that I have written alone surpasses it and a few of mine I truly think qualify as poetry and not just verse.

In prose, you will see coauthors. Even some novels have coauthors; the Belgariad, for example, was written by two people (David and Lee Eddings). How much of it each wrote is something the reader does not see as the two voices blend and become one.

The term poem by committee is sometimes used to describe something that is undesirable.

Anthologies and combining poems with art is a different kind of collaboration. Anthologies tend to be collections of poems written by single voices. Adding a photograph to a poem about the subject of the photo creates an enhanced and cooperative piece.

  • I downvoted because I disagree with the bolded headline. Poets often exist primarily in community and in communication with one another, even if they write alone. – Chris Sunami May 7 at 15:46
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    @ChrisSumani - How is writing alone not solitary? – Rasdashan May 7 at 16:23
  • Your headline doesn't say "writing poetry is solitary." It says "poetry is solitary." My point is that poetry comprises more than just the writing, and that much of the remainder is typically done in community. Poetry is primarily an oral art, it demands to be read out loud to an audience. – Chris Sunami May 7 at 16:33
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It happens rarely but it does happen. I remember a few years ago at a writers' conference (Conversations & Connections, organized by Barrelhouse Press) attending a session where two women who co-wrote a book of poetry discussed what they did. I can't remember their names or the name of the book, unfortunately. I do remember that they were not co-located and so did their sharing via email. If I'm remembering correctly, they each wrote parts and then passed those to the other person for review, and back and forth as needed. They had an overall plan for what they wanted to do with the book before they started. The result was good enough to be published by a reputable press, so it is possible to make "real" poetry this way.

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It's rare for multiple writers to be credited for a single poem, perhaps because poems are usually brief, and as close to pure self-expression as one gets in the world of writing. However this doesn't mean that collaboration is not taking place in alternate forms:

  • A community of poets - This is perhaps the most important and central exception. Many great poets have been birthed out of a community of poets who may not directly collaborate, but whose work informs each other in significant ways. Nearly all communities have groups of poets who congregate around public readings of one type or another. Do some research, and find your local poets and join them. Poetry slams are one notable form of this, but most larger communities have poets' open mics in a variety of different styles. Those are probably the closest thing to the "writers' room" of your headline.

  • Editors - There are poets we know mainly or exclusively through the actions of an editor or conservator. Emily Dickinson is a key example, her work was largely published posthumously, and might not have achieved its initial popularity without the edits that made it less idiosyncratic.

  • Translation - Translating a poem is really a collaboration --the creation of a new poem from the old one.

There's also a form of collaboration when one person is a poet and the other person is not. In my work teaching, I've frequently transformed the raw words and emotions students bring me into poetry --which then is probably best said to have two authors. This is similar to your idea of using a Facebook rant as raw material for a poem. I think this is probably not uncommon, although I'm guessing that the original source usually goes uncredited (or conversely, when a student works with a teacher, the teacher typically foregoes credit).

It's also not unheard of for two poets to publish together.

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