CONFESSIONS OF A COLLABORATOR
In the late Seventies and early Eighties, I wanted to write, I wanted to play and I was in love. Two out of the three involved collaboration. I wanted three out of three. I believed in collaboration. I wrote the first part of “Confessions of a Collaborator” for John’s Maker magazine around this time. “Confessions of a Collaborator” was supposed to be a series of articles about the collaborative creative process: inspiration, approaches and execution. I never did get around to the other parts because I was busy working on collaborative projects and didn’t want to waste my time explaining what and how I was doing what I was doing. At the core of it was finding ways to reunite, to counter all the ways the world seemed to be coming apart. And maybe that is why I am still fool enough to be doing it.
After our editorial association with Véhicule Press came apart, I spent from 1980 to 1985 collaborating with artists from other disciplines, touring and getting my publishing house, The Muses’ Company, off the ground.
During this time Catpoto, an all female Contact Improvisation group from Montreal, commissioned me to create a text for them. This resulted in a three-part piece “Face-Off/Mise au Jeu”. Then I was asked by Fulcrum, a Vancouver based Contact Improvisation Company, to do something along the same lines: text & movement. This resulted in “Sound Bodies”. In these collaborations I was looking to make the texts kinetic, to make the words move, combine and recombine them, to make them dance the way the dancers did. These collaborations, forced, taught and led me to create “modular poems”, texts to play with.
These pieces led to one of my strangest collaboration. Composer Ted Dawson asked me to work on something that became “Close-up”. I, being very unmusical (tone deaf), couldn’t understand why he would want to work with me but the challenge and the irony was too great to pass up. The piece consisted of me on stage, half naked, wired to eight or nine sound sources which, in turn, were hooked up to a computer programmed to randomly select no more than three sound sources (text, breath, heart, muscle, brain, etc.) at a time. My body’s silent sounds were the orchestra, the instruments, and the lyrics.
As well, I worked with various actors and dancers to develop, produce and tour performance pieces. My most complex piece to that point was “An Evening with The Muses’ Company” It consisted of four pieces that seemed to be heading towards a post-modernist, cabaret-theatre.
In looking back, I realize that my performance collaborations were rarely with the Véhicule poets. Ken, the page-based poet was the only one who participated in a couple of sound pieces. He can be heard on “Er/words/ah” er-ing, ah-ing, breathing hard and screaming on the L.P. Sounds Like.
On the literary collaborative side, I was publishing. The Muses’ mission was to publish new voices, like exiled Chilean poet Elias Letelier, Somalian poet Mohamud Siad Togane, queer/punk poet Ian Stephens and Ruth Taylor, who can not be labeled. The Muses was also now the publishing home for Ken Norris, Artie Gold, Tom Konyves and Cel (Claudia Lapp)
By the late Eighties, the formerly known “Véhicule Poets” were drifting off, physically and/or creatively, into their own solo spaces. In my solitary work, I was returning to the page using a “straight poetry” approach to deal with the mysteries of being human, of creating new life, and dealing with demons of forced exile. In How To I was looking to renovate the poem and my life. The fact that I had children led me to deal with the quotidian in a stripped-down fashion, because “When a little one comes into your life/you have little time./So you write little poems/about the little things she does/with her little hands, feet and tooth.//Little do you realize/that little by little/she takes over//And there is little you can do.”
And even though it was a quickie, there was a fun collaborative interlude with Ken and Ruth (for which Ruth did not get credit and she has not let me forget it). We worked on Howl To, Eh, a book of parody and satire.
Surviving Words followed in 1994. It was about my past, through my parents’ concentration camp experiences, our escape from Communist Hungary in 1956 and the present horrors of the world. I adapted this book into a play Surviving Wor(l)ds which was performed at the Centaur Theatre in 2000. Through this adaptation, I reentered the collaborative world. My new collaborator was Liz Valdez, a director. She helped me to shape my multi-voiced texts into a theatrical experience. Since then, we have collaborated on a number projects; Voices being the most recent. At the same time Ruth Taylor and I co-wrote “Radio Love”, a commissioned text and musical collage for CBC radio. The collaborative addiction is a hard habit to kick and in the grand scheme of things not a bad one to have.
It was those Véhicule days that gave me, and continues to this day, the freedom to explore the ways and means to push the limits of poetry and allowed me to share in the spirit of the times with others who were responsible for regenerating a decaying poetry scene globally and in Montreal locally. We opened the doors & windows to let in fresh air. I am glad to have been a part of it.