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Alicia Elkort


& Jenn Givhan

Life is beautiful, truly. Even in the dark. We might be moved by seeing the riot of pink bougainvillea next door and begin a conversation in a collaborative poem. One person sees in the pink leaves hope or transformation. The other might see a ripped pink dress. Together the texture of the writing is heightened. It can be an emotional experience, like singing a call and response. I speak a line, and “I hear you” comes back over the transom, in the context of the poem. What could be more healing than that being heard? We both feel blessed to have found a Sister Muse. Writing together is an immeasurable treasure.

Our experiences share the theme of what it means to be a girl/woman in Western culture. Collaborative writing is a form of sharing experience that allows us to be heard (which itself is enough), and also to learn, to inform, to heal, and to uplift. In our collaborative writing we are creating and updating myths as a way of interpreting our pasts, and, in this, we are mentoring ourselves, our daughters, and the girls we hope will be strengthened by our poems.

We wrote this poem to describe how we’ve had to teach ourselves to overcome inherited trauma—the trauma of the parent that is passed onto the child (if the parents had known better, they would have done better), and the trauma patterns repeated by the child.

In the first version of the poem, written back and forth through email, we found what we wanted to say. It started with the first line Alicia emailed to Jenn: “I once was bound to my mother/rooted in the salty loam.” To which Jenn responded, “My mother was a box of rocks/weighted by the gold she craved.” As we continued, the theme developed.

Once we had the skeleton of the poem, we could focus on craft, including word choice and form.Couplets benefit this poem by providing a way to order the traumatic experience and also arrive at something of elegance. Poetry takes our pain and lays it out on the page, a graphic demonstration of beauty.

As for word choice, this is where collaborative writing can be incredible. Two people see different things and together can push the language in unusual and unordinary ways, partly like a random cut-up.Word choice develops organically from the synergy of the collaborative writing experience. This synergy creates a new spirit, a twofold spirit that allows for new energy and play.

When we’re writing solo, we might want things to make more cognitive sense, more logical or linear sense, but working together, we accept and welcome the mystery of communal knowing; we don’t need all the answers individually, because together we form a more complete picture. In fact, when our collaborative writing fails, it’s usually because one of us hasn’t surrendered. All of this to say that the compound words in the diction like “brokenmothers,” “globemallow girls,” “firepitched”—all of these ideas meld together wisdom that we’ve arrived at together and allow us to keep working toward the heart of the collaborative spirit of healing.

*

This poem appears in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing.

< draft >

we return to the beginning

 

We rooted to our mothers, 
boxes of rocks
weighted not by salt, not by stone
but by the gold they craved
and we? Mallow girls we didn’t want 
the gold―we wanted only our mother’s 
eyes. Crowblack mother or Yellowcurse
mother. We giftgirls we girlchilds
we who stopped dancing when 
not even Firepitched mothers could keep us
from evil (meaning fearspreading meaning privilege 
meaning entitled) & believing 
our giftbodies were for men. 

then came the day we had to unbound
ourselves, scrape by scrape
[please mother tell me who I am]
but mothers words were not our words
we had to write the alphabet of
our own beings, this is our mouth
this is our heart [you cannot
touch us until we say yes]
this is our spirit [she’s mag-

nificent]

< REVISION >

we return to the beginning [teach ourselves consent]


Rooted to our Brokenmothers
rocks [weighted not] by salt, not by stone

but by the gold they craved
& we? Globemallow girls we didn’t want 

the gold [we wanted only]—our mother’s 
eyes. Crowblack mother or Yellowcurse

mother. We giftgirls we clever girlchilds
we who stopped dancing only when 

Firepitched mothers couldn’t keep us
from that anvil man’s broken words, his cut-

gourd slapdowns, thrown to the pit-
drop where he wouldn’t 

untouch [& us believing] our gift-
bodies were for men.

Then came the day we [unbound]
ourselves, scrape by scrape

[please Truthmother tell me who I am]
but mothers’ words were not our words—

We had to scratch the peel before we could eat
the alphabet of

our own beings, this is our mouth
[I choose my words] 

this is our heart  
[I choose my 

self] you cannot touch us 
until we say 

Yes this is our spirit [she’s mag-
nificent]