The question of collaboration is one that arguably can't be ignored in contemporary academia, creative fields, or current philosophical and critical landscapes. The word ‘collaboration’ at once brings to mind the conspiratorial nature of crime as well as the cooperative nature of teamwork and the harmonious meeting of minds and practices. It is, then, a slippery word, and for this reason serves as a fertile provocation for the inquiries unpacked and developed in this special issue of Axon.
The articles in this collection inhabit a rotation of three important inflections in the notion of collaboration. In this way, collaboration can be approached via the figure of an equilateral triangle. On one triangular vertex we could posit collaboration as a canny strategy for individual advancement, a modish technique and modus operandi that enables a discrete artist or thinker to progress—launched and supported by arrangements that are to varying degrees consensual or mutually beneficial. In this sense collaboration brings whole and self-sufficient subjects together for alchemies and surprises, betrayals and loyalties, happy accidents and impasses, and one wherein the projects concerned may morph and explode, or plod along contentedly, but where the subject itself—the artist, maker, thinker, critic—remains intact, ontologically unchallenged by the collaborative approach. The latter then is akin to a professional or craft configuration, or to a methodology, but arguably involves negligible transformation at the level of category, posing little challenge to identity per se.
Positioned at the second triangular vertex is a tangle of interrelated questions. This region of our figure corresponds to a species of collaboration that brings two apparently discrete subjects together in order to unleash a process of making and unmaking, of unsettling and generation, one that creates at the level of artefact but also foreseeably at the level of category itself. This second mode of collaboration is ontologically potent, since it works to render questionable the identities we assume and defend, and upon which we normally rely.
The third triangular vertex is inhabited by the potential for individual collaboration with existing text and technology. Whether this constitutes a genuine form of collaboration or whether it is more closely aligned to creative inspiration, is a pertinent consideration taken up by several authors in this collection. Is ekphrastic poetry, for instance, collaboration between poet and artist? Is a prequel to Pride and Prejudice collaborating with Jane Austen? This hinges upon concepts and interrogations of what it means to work together. The surrealists reanimated dead writers, poets and artists in the 1920s and early 1930s, adding to their manuscripts and artwork in processes they believed were collaborative. At the heart of this was an intention to secure legitimacy, partly achieved in the way in which they placed themselves on equal footing with these luminaries, in a series of otherwise unlikely partnerships. This has, in some arenas, been termed one-way collaboration because one or more of the partners is unable to communicate, contribute or consent to the ensuing process. Interestingly, in an effort to address this, Google has released an automated version of Google Documents that allows you to collaborate with dead writers. Advertising material states, ‘As a story unfolds, you’ll see Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare and a few others pop into your writing, adding a phrase or word here and there, and maybe even an entire sentence.’ Ultimately, this form of collaboration is more a coupling of humans with text than dead authors with live ones. Working with text or images to grow ideas can be productive, but highlights questions of transparency, attribution, consent and perhaps an awareness of the other vertices of our proposed triangle. Given that acknowledgement of references—under copyright or not—remains an issue prominent in discussions of writing and plagiarism, any form of co-authorship flirts with ethical dilemmas. In this collection, a number of authors approach this question from various angles and grapple with its nuances.
These three collaborative models—our triangle of collaboration—explore different appeals to ethics, from individuals trying to maintain ownership over parts of a collaborative document, to the use and redeployment of someone else’s work within the frame of a new piece of writing. If collaboration is discussed as an equilateral triangle here, then the ethics of collaboration is arguably to be found inhabiting the centre of the triangle, and in varying relation to each vertex.
This special issue of Axon focuses on the theme of poetry in light of various forms of collaboration. The issue seeks both to extend and clarify the notion of what constitutes collaboration, as well as to make explicit how the laboratory that is collaborative creative practice impacts on what we understand poetry to be, and by extension what we understand ‘poets’ to be. Does collaboration in poetry make us different? Who is in control of, and who steers and benefits from, these transitions in identity and impulses to making? In other words, in what ways might poetry and poetic practices have a singular contribution to make to what it means to collaborate?
This issue reflects to some extent the event that first evinced responses from a variety of practitioners and theorists—namely, a symposium, hosted by Deakin University, the University of Canberra and IPSI (the International Poetry Studies Institute in the Faculty of Arts and Design there), called 'The Poetics of Collaboration'. During the event, in late 2014, contributors were asked to read an anonymous poem assigned to them, and the game was to guess the poem's author, who was among those attending. In this way, readers contributed a new interpretation of an anonymous poem in a way that reverberated even after the poem’s author was identified. To continue this spirit of hearing one's own work read in the voice of another, and performing the work of someone present—and yet not identified—the structure of what follows here includes an iteration of this exchange. Each essay is preceded by a poem written by another poet in the issue, and in some cases the essay's author has read the poem as an audio artefact for the purpose of this publication. We hope that this cross-fertilisation of criticism and reflection coupled with a creative work will produce its own resonances of collaborative pleasure. There are also discrete place-markers within the flow of articles, consisting of small suites of poems by local and international poets. We are thrilled to have work by Fiona Hile, Ross Gibson and John Saul.
In conclusion, we would like to thank all the contributors that follow here, as well as others involved in the original symposium, such as Peter Rose and Paul Carter, for their salient contributions on the day. Collaboration, no doubt, will continue to be a space of anxiety and delight for many makers, and we hope that this special issue serves to clarify the terms on which we can discuss this mode of work and innovation, foregoing both the pious and the predatory, as we walk the creative tightrope that makes more possible, and changes us.
There are many ways to navigate this issue that would intensify and alter the collaborative resonances already at work between the contributions. One possible pathway, should the current reader prefer a map, would be to follow the pairings of poems and essays which the editors themselves mobilised to generate the current order of works. See here below for the collaborative couplets that made up the making up of this issue, set among poetry by Fiona Hile, Ross Gibson, John Saul and Jan Pulsford, as well as works of The Prose Poetry Project collective and a companion essay by Shane Strange.
'A kind of ritual'
'Ghostly Sisters: Feminist Collaborative Performance in Australia'
'Calliope's Run' (read by Amanda Johnson)
'Collaborative authorship: experimental performance after The Scream of Nature'
'Quartet for Strings' (read by Owen Bullock)
'Joining the pages – collaborative poetry in New Zealand'
'Slipperiness, strange attractors, and collaborative sociability'
'Palimpsestuous Voices: Difference, Distance, and Collaboration in Speaking Geographies and Speedfactory'
'Icarus at the All Night Supply' (read by Cassandra Atherton)
'Give Back the Human': Poetic collaboration and hibakusha poems
'Dirty Words' (read by Antonia Pont)
'Precarious Decencies—negotiating creative (im)mortalities, in life, together'
'On Recognising Collaboration'