Rosencrantz and Gildenstern and Collaborethics
‘I quote others only the better to express myself’
–Michel de Montaigne
Whether you consider human conception to be the ultimate collaborative act or not, it’s certainly up there. Even with considerable advances in reproductive technology or, more accurately, especially in cases of assisted reproduction, conception requires co-creation between at least two people and gives rise to another set of complex, potentially life-long collaborations between parent(s) and child(ren).
Without suggesting that creative and biological conceptions are ‘the same’, there are nevertheless similarities, and neither form of collaboration ‘ever either a natural or linear progression towards a higher state of […] perfection’ (Papastergiadis). If all art is founded, as Sontag suggests in (On Style), on a certain distance from the lived reality represented, then collaboration is one way to reintroduce ‘emotional participation’, and the functions of closeness for a work about conception, pregnancy and miscarriage.
These are things we require. To make the baby. To unmake the baby. To make the work about unmaking the baby. The birth and unbirth.
I’m happiest and most satisfied as an artist when I’m collaborating. My favourite way to describe collaboration is that two or more people do their best to make the work that is exactly halfway between each other, creating a thing they couldn’t really accomplish on their own, sampling from each other’s creative DNA. There’s probably some obvious allegory there – something akin to having a baby… but I’ve never wanted to be a father. Besides, I give off more of a ‘Wacky Uncle’ vibe.
Logically, we appreciate creative collaboration is not a new phenomenon. While the image of visual artists working together in common workshops or so-called colonies is familiar to us, literary collaboration can sometimes be more veiled. Poetry especially evokes notions of artistic individuality, eliding over even the most obvious forms of collaboration with editors, mentors and the like. Marjorie Stone and Judith Thompson ask ‘[h]ow and why do writers come together to engage in textual creation, and how do they inscribe or erase their relationships in the texts they produce?’ (5). Exposing those relational texts through the process of collaboration is a kind of unveiling.
I know that I trust Tom. I’ve trusted him with love and death before.
I trust that Tom can take serious things and hold them with seriousness, without labouring the whole bloody point. It’s death. Every body dies.
When I became pregnant for a second time, I decided to revisit the manuscript I drafted during my first pregnancy, a sixty-something cycle of poems that tracked the week by week experiences of conception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting. Unfortunately (for the writing, but probably fortunately for my child), once the baby itself moved from conceptual (in utero) to actual (ex utero), I realised I no longer had time to write.
The possibility of a new pregnancy, another baby (the demands, the lack of sleep, the liquefying of self for someone else’s nourishment), terrorised me into action: ‘what if I never get time to write again?’ I began furiously editing, revisiting the previous pregnancy through the lens of the new one. Then I miscarried.
In Australia, it is estimated that up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. At my age, the average rate of miscarriage rises substantially. I was aware of that fact when I got pregnant.
After that foetus ceased to exist, there were the poems. These are the artefacts of that existence.
Working with Eleanor on this work though, is unlike any other collaboration I’ve done. I think I want to explain that.