Dave and Beth’s excellent chapbook adventure, and Dana and Nathan’s far-from-bogus collaborative journey

At Read Write Poem, Dana Guthrie Martin has interviewed Beth Adams and me about our experiences publishing a chapbook — check it out. As with our live podcasts at qarrtsiluni, we seem to fall naturally into roles quite analogous to those of sports commentators on the radio: Beth calls the plays, and I provide the color commentary.

Speaking of Dana Guthrie Martin, last night I stayed up much too late reading the final, “curated” version of the inaugural issue of Mutating the Signature, a new and very innovative online literary magazine spun off from a qarrtsiluni issue of the same name. The inaugural issue is the work of Dana and her usual writing partner (and qarrtsiluni co-editor) Nathan Moore, writing in collaboration as described on the About page:

Mutating the Signature is a place for two poets — or one poet and one artist of any type — to work and write to, for and with one another as creators and curators of an issue of the journal.

Curators will select a theme to work with for the duration of their issue. Each issue will unfold over the course of one to three months, depending on how long it takes for the curators to fully explore their topic and the issue they are creating.

Curators are encouraged to “talk” to one another not only with poetry but with prose, artwork, music, photography, and other means of communication and expression, and to explore fully the possibilities of the online journal space. Each piece shared will contribute to illustrating, furthering and even complicating their issue’s theme, whatever that may be, wherever that may go.

Since this is kind of a new concept in literary periodical publishing — to put it mildly — Dana and Nathan decided to go first and show what was possible. The result is Untelling Stories, a very satisfying, nicely designed PDF book of 86 pages. It is by turns earthy and cerebral, and despite watching it unfold in draft form on the website, in many cases I had trouble telling who wrote what — that’s how well-matched their styles are. I was surprised to find a quote from yours truly as an epigraph at the front of the book, but that was minor compared to my surprise and pleasure at how well all the disparate parts fit together: paintings, diagrams, lists, B.S., and of course poetry, ranging from the lyrical to the postmodern.

Perhaps my favorite thing about it is how many incantations it includes — artful repetition can make even the driest of material come alive. And there is plenty of material here that could’ve become dry as dust in the wrong hands: as the title suggests, Untelling Stories confronts the human preoccupation with narrative head-on, kind of like the Talking Heads with Stop Making Sense, but employing less obvious rhythms. The writing process included exercises in which the same words and phrases were reused in different forms, which provides refrain-like motifs and helps knit the book together. There are a few parts I don’t get, but they are vastly outnumbered by images that astonish and lines that delight. Overall, Untelling Stories tastes like a small cosmic soup, wholesome and warming and full of strangeness:

  • A delicate rumor of dust coagulates on the table.
  • Love is acoustic tile where there should be sky.
  • His beliefs can be reduced to a single gesture.
  • The dog forgets/ our tension and the dead don’t believe we exist.
  • Shoelaces untied, you stumble through the exit./ You haven’t spoken to yourself in weeks.
  • Every mistaken month needs a sudden exit
  • Thou, in whose fields I dangle origami birds.
  • Who holds a lover like a can of Crisco.
  • What grows three heads then decides which will live.
  • They brought an exit wound. They brought an evolving gill slit. They brought the early morning raid.
  • Infiltrated by tiny legs of printed letters.

Can you see why I was flattered to have some words of my own added to this highly quotable mix? It’s amazing that Dana and Nathan managed to write this entire collection in just two months. I worry that they may have set the bar too high for those who will follow, but the next two authors, Emily Van Duyne and W.F. Roby, should be up to the challenge. Their theme is Ante/Anti, and they start tomorrow. I’ll be reading.

3 Comments


  1. Wow Dave, thanks for the kind words. The whole process was a joy to participate in and I hope the work reflects that.

    Emily and Will’s run with issue two should offer plenty of excitement. I can’t wait to see what they do.

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  2. Ahem … we wrote the collection in 4 weeks’ time. (We actually had 5 weeks to write it, but Nathan was out here visiting for a week during that time, and we don’t write when we’re hanging out together. We just dick around aimlessly, which is the best way to hang out.)

    We curated the issue — meaning edited, organized, selected the final work to include, and laid the document out — in less than 2 weeks. We were shooting for 1 week, but it just didn’t happen.

    Thank you for this wonderful write-up, Dave. And if by B.S., you are referring to the directions for making a papier-mâché narrative piñata, just know that someday you might want to do just that. And you know exactly what document you will be referencing when that time comes. It won’t be your Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.

    Funny, Nathan wrote six of the lines you quoted, and I wrote five of them. You really *do* seem to like both his and my writing styles. (Not that I sit at home doubting my own writing, worried that the only words of value in any collaborative poem Nathan and I write are the ones he provides. Heavens no.)

    If it helps, I also get lost reading the pieces. The other day, I was reading one of the poems in the issue to Andre Tan. I kept insisting Nathan wrote it. “Of course this is Nathan’s poem,” I said. “It has a cock ring in it.” Andre insisted that I had written the poem. Turns out, I had.

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  3. Just finished reading (gulping might be more like it, I’ll have to go back and sort out the tastes later) Dana and Nathan’s book. Your Talking Heads/Stop Making Sense analogy is apt, especially on a day when a brilliant president makes a nonsensical decision. This is very exciting stuff that ought to jump-start anyone’s creativity: the best response to a postmodern world that makes no sense anymore.

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