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This article is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

‘Fun with Friends’: Collaboration and the New York School Sam Buchan-Watts
When asked recently why he began an undergraduate degree in film and turned to poetry, the American poet Timothy Donnelly said that he hadn’t bargained for how collaborative filmmaking is. Though we should acknowledge that the aesthetic roles in making film, and indeed other performance arts like dance and opera, are not undifferentiated (we usually still designate relative successes and failures squarely on the head of the director), writing poetry seems savagely autonomous by comparison. But does the writer only collaborate with himself, his reflectiveness? Surely he collaborates in some respect with a keyboard, typewriter, the material page – the latent intentionality of the tool? And does he not also pre-emptively collaborate with a future reader?

‘Collaboration’ is a slippery term; much like ‘translation’, there’s a whole subdepartment of metaphorical associations it throws up and people can be choosy with how they interpret it. Taking its OED definition of ‘a united labour, [a] cooperation’, can we say, for example, that a cento acts in collaboration with other works, that a pantoum is a poem in collaboration with itself? Or in a broader sense, can a poet be in collaboration with his city, as Frank O’Hara is in ‘A Step Away from Them’, where New York acts as a seemingly decisive, living and breathing influence on the subject, on the way it will itself be received? Could we go so far as to call love a collaboration of feeling? Or gossip a collaboration of manner and interest?

Jenni Quilter’s splendorous new coffee table book New York School Painters & Poets: Neon in ...

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