Strong Writing, Shared Writing


Saints of Hysteria: a Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry,
edited by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, David Trinidad
[397 pp. $19.95. Softskull Press, Brooklyn NY]


Saints of Hysteria stimulates the reader with a selection of strong writing, interesting writing (the back cover notes 'sounds like fun', and the book is) that encompasses a half century of American letters. All of the work included is collaborative. Each of the pieces is distinctive in character, demonstrating some new artistic possibility that can be accomplished best in literary form.

According to Robert Creeley, 'Think of Anything' was '. . .the only time I collaborated with Ted (Berrigan), or quite possibly with anyone else either. It was fun!' The poem:

     The Rose of Sharon
     lights up
     Grand Valley

     Now
     Robert Creeley speaks:

     The air is getting
     darker
     and darker

     the Rose of Sharon
     moves

     towards the door

     and through.

Readers will be struck by the particular pairings of writers, some familiar to this reader (Eileen Myles and Alice Notley, Joe Ross and Rod Smith); others, a welcome surprise to me (Thomas Fink and Timothy Liu, Norma Cole and Michael Palmer, Jack Collom and Lyn Hejinian, Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser).

For any connoisseur or participant in the collaborative enterprise, process notes are revealing and of great value. I was struck by the useful and intriguing quality of the notes, inclusive of how various collaborations came to be, as well as their unique evolutions. In some cases, writers elected to share how the collaboration had affected their individual work. In others, a sense of shared aesthetics, often a priori, was referenced by one or both writers.

One is sometimes tempted to look at an anthology and point out what isn't
there. My reading of Saints of Hysteria has resulted in applause for the work of Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, and David Trinidad in assembling a vibrant expanse of work is very much worth reading. The reader will savor the a myriad of graceful, funny, tender, explosive, and imaginative poems, and in so doing, amass fine points of discovery, and gain excellent learning from exposure to what is included between these covers, adorned by Joe Brainard's 'Good'n Fruity Madonna' (1968). Buy this book and love it!

         Sheila E Murphy 2007