The Following Mind Stretch Presentation was given at to A Room of Her Own Foundation’s 2011 Summer Retreat for Women Writers and became the seed for a new group I'll be facilitating here at She Writes titled The Collaboration Hub where collaborative pairs and others looking to partner can meet to discuss process and share resources. At the end of my presentation, AROHO retreat participants individually brainstormed a list of iconic women. Trusting in the random, benevolent synchronicity of the seat the chose to sit in that day, they exchanged lists with the woman behind them as a seed point for the coming year’s collaboration. Please visit and sign up at The Collaboration Hub if you wish to join us.
Female Power in the Face of Adversity: Collaboration as Excavation
A number of years ago, I began writing poems based on iconic women including Joan of Arc, Nefertiti, Amelia Earhart, and Lady Diana among others. At home in the domestic monastery raising three children, casting about for examples of female power and strength, I wanted to answer the question: what happens to women who go for it? One of the first poems focused on Lady Diana, later morphing into a micro-movie incorporating photographs by Robyn Beattie.
Personae poems give familiar access; each iconic woman’s life story usually resides in our shared psyche. Thus personae poems provide a safe way to slip on a cloak and delve into someone else’s incarnation until one is ready to face or grapple with one’s own core story. I used the form to explore the relationship between power, charisma, and danger in our culture (as it applies to women).
I didn’t seek out the personae form—it found me. One day while nursing my son at my sister-in-law’s house (in that sleep deprived hypnagogic state chronic nursing fosters), I saw on her coffee table the famous photograph of Lady Diana in the days before she was princess—sun pouring through her skirt, legs backlit by the sun, child on one hip. I flashed on her whole trajectory from vulnerability to royalty, her ensuing motherhood and duress of husband’s affair to her demise.
Simultaneously I struggled with witnessing my own daughter grow towards the age I was when I first encountered (as many of us have) unchecked male predatory behavior. I wanted (and still want) to raise her, and my sons, in a balanced, loving manner, with as little fear as possible. I turned then, as I always do when trying to grow, to writing.
As a teenager I used not only writing but collage to reframe those early childhood traumatic experiences, to re-order and make sense of my world. As a young woman I collaborated with a friend to co-collage, and later, we created collage books. Our focus for the collage books inevitably circled around similar questions of female power.
How did this poem for Lady Diana become a micro-movie? I had in my orbit a photographer (Robyn Beattie) coming into her own. Week after week she’d show me her photographs. Eventually, the collagist in me couldn’t resist; I asked if we could set her images to poetry. Our first collaboration became a static poem paired with photos titled Ananda’s Line (link hosts the poem and an interviews with Robyn and I on collaborating).
We deepened our process by moving to the micro-movie format. I recorded a sound track of the elegy for Lady Diana, had my musician father perform Scriabin, and plunked it all into the program Moviemaker. (She Dressed in a Hurry, For Lady Di, Text of Poem: Salome Magazine; Micro-movie: The Mom Egg). Moviemaker alchemized the project into 3D poetry, providing a relatively new way to get poetry out into the world without much cost or hassle. I am not a tech genius, but even I could use a program like Moviemaker.
I love collaborating for the sheer play and inspiration; here, taking stock of the variables of adversity in the life of Lady Diana, but also honoring her, energized by the support of my co-collaborator. I would love to have you join us at The Collaboration Hub to share your experiences over the coming year (or come find a partner).