OPINION Judy Brown & Katrina Naomi

NWR Issue 106

Call & Response: A Friendship in Poems

What we do

Our collaboration is now two-and-a-half years’ old. We got the idea from Like Starlings, so we’re well aware it’s nothing new, but it’s taught us a lot. The nuts and bolts are these: one of us sends the other a poem (by post now, given that we’re no longer living in the same town). The other has two weeks to respond. The connection can be anything: subject matter, technique, a stolen word or two. The only rule is that the poem must be newly written for this purpose and posted back in two weeks.

The process has left us wondering whether we’re collaborating with another poet, or simply with another poem. On balance we think it’s both, because sometimes it seems to be a series of dares between us, and in other cases we’re spinning off from subjects that we otherwise might have broached in old-fashioned letters (we do also often write each other old-fashioned letters).

It’s a different game, too, than writing in response to a poem you admire from a collection (which we both also do), not because of lack of respect but because of the reciprocal nature of the exchange. The other is a theft and homage; here we find we’re as interested in what our poem will tease the other into writing as well as in what they’ve amazed us into producing. This satisfies a different curiosity, because it’s a way of spying on another’s process (we’re both rather interested in process) and trying to deduce why they went in the direction they did.

What has come of it?
Apart from a number of poems we like (including a second prizewinner in the Poetry on the Lake competition, and various publications in the London Magazine, the London Magazine 2014 Diary, the Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, and Judy’s pamphlet, One of the Summer People, written while she was poet in residence at the Wordsworth Trust), we’ve found the collaboration fascinating...

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