Mutating the Signature

Submissions are open for a new qarrtsiluni theme, Mutating the Signature. This is a process- rather than a subject-oriented theme, requiring all submissions to spring from a creative collaboration between two or more people. Be sure to study the theme description carefully before submitting. The deadline is January 15, and we expect to start publishing the first pieces for the new issue shortly after January 1. It seemed like a good way to kick off the new year. The guest editors, Dana Guthrie Martin and Nathan Moore, have been going great guns at their own collaborative poetry experiments, as readers of their blogs will know, so they seemed as qualified as anyone to edit such an issue.

The current issue, Journaling the Apocalypse, will continue through December. In fact, we’ll have to pick up the pace of posting if we’re going to fit everything in. Suffice it to say that we have many more good things in store — and if the holiday season doesn’t seem like the best time to contemplate the apocalypse, all I can say is you haven’t gone shopping lately.

***

Shortly before Halloween, I tried my hand at collaborative poeming with Dana. We used Skype IM, and followed a procedure based on the surrealist game called exquisite corpse, which seemed appropriate to our subject: vampirism. Or, as Dana would have it, hemotophagy. We wrote alternate lines, and each of us saw only the second half of the preceding line. Here’s what I saw:

Hemotaphagy

We walked arm in arm on the sunset strip, red at night
___________________ inside me, my mouth parts
like a coffin lid lined with velvet & redolent of formaldehyde
___________________ carotid, its point of bifurcation
the wye-shaped crossroads of all my midnight appointments,
___________________ my hands, how I lap up
everything your heart has to say in its simple syntax.
__________________________without enormous effort,
like typing a heart smiley in lieu of using that dread word
____________________ attack, my bending over you,
mother of my suffocation nightmares, homeothermic swamp.
________________________ handkerchief, stuff it in my blazer.
It’s a gloomy affair, this filling of my coffin-sized hole
__________________________ My desires coagulate near your wounds,
plaster for that red fresco where my shadow lost its way.

Then came the reveal, as they say in TV land.

Hemotaphagy

We walked arm in arm on the sunset strip, red at night
blood the only hunger inside me, my mouth parts
like a coffin lid lined with velvet & redolent of formaldehyde
I feel for your common carotid, its point of bifurcation
the wye-shaped crossroads of all my midnight appointments,
skin pulled taut between my hands, how I lap up
everything your heart has to say in its simple syntax.
This is living: to take you without enormous effort,
like typing a heart smiley in lieu of using that dread word
fang. This is not an attack, my bending over you,
mother of my suffocation nightmares, homeothermic swamp.
I wipe up the access with a handkerchief, stuff it in my blazer.
It’s a gloomy affair, this filling of my coffin-sized hole
will never bring satiety. My desires coagulate near your wounds
plaster for that red fresco where my shadow lost its way.

I found this quite a bit wordier than I was used to dealing with — which was more my fault than Dana’s — so when we finally returned to the thing a couple weeks later, I left all the heavy lifting up to her. After half an hour or so, she came up with the following edit (ignore her account of events at the link):

Hemotaphagy

I
My mouth parts to reveal velvet lining
redolent of formaldehyde.

II
I feel for your common carotid,
its point of bifurcation,
the wye-shaped crossroads
of all my midnight appointments.

III
Skin taut between my hands,
I lap up your heart’s simple syntax.

IV
To take you without enormous effort,
without using that dread word “fang.”

V
Mother of my suffocation nightmares,
homeothermic swamp.
I wipe up the excess with a handkerchief.

VI
This gloomy affair. This filling of my coffin-
sized hole will never bring satiety.

VII
My desires coagulate near your wounds,
plaster for that red fresco
where my shadow lost its way.

Being the contrary sort, I tried to see if I could make a poem using the words that didn’t appear in her edit. I had to add a bunch more words. I’m not sure the result could still be considered a collaboration. But it was fun!

Now You See It

We walk arm in arm
on the sunset strip,
red at night like a plush coffin lid,
like a cartoon heart used as a glyph
to stand in for that dread word
as I bend over you in my blazer
& count to ten.
The only hunger that matters now
can hide in a silk handkerchief
& reappear in a deck of cards:
club, diamond, spade.
You learn to dig.

In one final transmogrification, I ran the text of our rough draft through Wordle to produce the image at the top of this post, symbolically releasing the words and ideas we’d been playing with. That’s kind of what “mutating the signature” is all about, I think.

4 Comments


  1. Hi. I hadn’t seen your final version. Very cool. You sure did add some words. I think we’ve found the secret to writing poetry — write some words, take some away, add some in. That’s all there is to it. ;)

    Reply

  2. Yeah! But keep it quiet, or a lot of poetry workshop teachers could be out of a job. And lord knows what kind of mischief a gang of unemployed poets could get into.

    Reply

  3. I love the account of the process here. I think my favorite of all of these is the one you cobbled together from unused parts:

    We walk arm in arm
    on the sunset strip,
    red at night like a plush coffin lid

    — wow.

    Reply

  4. Hi Rachel – Thanks for commenting here. I wasn’t sure this stuff was any good or not, but you like it, along with Dana, I suppose it must be O.K.!

    Reply

Leave a Reply