Monday, April 7, 2014

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Leslie LaChance

Today we welcome Leslie LaChance, editor of of Mixitini Matrix: AJournal of Creative Collaboration. She kindly shares her thoughts on creative collaboration. I was excited to meet Leslie at the recent AWP conference, where we tabled for Toadlily Press. If you haven't read her collection of poems, How She Got That Way, published by Toadlily Press (2013) in the chapbook quartet Mend & Hone, I really recommend it.

Leslie lives in Nashville, Tennessee and teaches writing and literature at The University of Tennessee at Martin.

Plays Well With Others: Why I Like Group Work
Nearly two decades ago, I was cruising the interwebs in an attempt to teach myself something about an emerging publication form: the online magazine.  It was a fad, detractors scoffed; e-zines would never be as important as their stalwart print counterparts, they declared. Easy to laugh at such snobbery now, right? Back then I flirted with lots of the early adopters but really fell for Born Magazine and, later, Broadsided, both focusing on collaborative work, pairing writers and artists responding to each other’s creations.
In a fit of boldness, I sent some pieces to Broadsided, and when one was accepted, the poem was passed on to artist Elizabeth Terhune, who created a shadowy, moody watercolor in response to my shadowy, moody poem “Mahogany.”  I’d never met, spoken to, or corresponded with Elizabeth, and yet, when I saw the finished broadside incorporating her painting, I felt as if my words, indeed the soul of the poem, had been directly translated into pigment and shape. I was amazed and deeply touched by how well this artist and the editors who paired us had read the poem and made it into something new. The collaborative experience with Broadsided was rich, surprising, and, well, fun.
That moment was just one in a long series of affirmations that nearly everything creative I had been doing -- music, art, writing, performing -- came from or developed into a collaborative effort, broadly defined. I wrote songs with friends; I made collages from found images and texts; I wrote poems in response to other poems or art, participated in writing groups, and performed poems and plays in ensemble events.  I’d also collaborated on several locally circulating print publications over the years, including a broadside series, which was celebrated in an art show and performance in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I was living at the time. Sure collaborative work can be fraught with personal conflict, boundary issues, and other kinds of messiness, but it also fires the imagination. And when I know other artists or writers are likely to hold me accountable on a project I do with them, collaboration becomes its own kind of discipline. It helps me to be more productive when I feel connected to a community of writers and artists I can turn to for inspiration and advice.
So, when I decided to get more serious about creating an online publication, I ended up following the early lead of the ones I’d loved and made collaboration the centerpiece of this new project.  The publication itself, Mixitini Matrix, was born of a collaborative process; writers Mattie Davenport, Kate Hein, and Brittney Reed, and designer Jeff Wilkerson shaped the publication from the start. We thought it was a cool idea, but when I began to approach other writers and artists about submitting work, I heard over and over again “I don’t play well with others,” and “Oh, I hate group work,” or “I’m kind of a loner.”  Clearly they were not thinking of collaboration in the same terms as my co-founders and I were. 
Certainly, working in solitude is an important part of the creative process for many artists and writers. And, understandably, creative people have a great deal invested in the notion of uniqueness and originality. That may have a bit to do with our Romantic notion of the divinely inspired artist-as-visionary, and certainly we don’t intend to undervalue that important aspect of creativity. But I think most artists and writers would readily admit that other creative thinkers have shaped their work in some way, which is, truly, the broadest form of collaboration. So, what we’re trying to do at Mixitini is to keep that definition of collaboration broad and to encourage artists and writers to celebrate this aspect of their work, to reveal how influence and collaborative efforts bring them to their unique vision. Of course in considering submissions, we look for work created by two or more people, but we’re not limited to that. We also consider translations, ekphrastics, homages, collages, remixes, riffs, multi-genre works, and other collaborative possibilities in the belief that one of the most vital sources for art is art itself.  Collaborative practice is a kind of lively, ongoing conversation. Engaging with art, writing back to it, appropriating and reshaping it can energize our own work. Mixitini Matrix gives us the chance to continue that freewheeling, associative art of conversation, and to honor it.

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