Recent years have seen an increased interest in collaboration within the poetry community, resulting in projects as diverse as Carol Guess & Kelly Magee’s excursions into magical realism in With Animal, Joshua Beckman & Matthew Rohrer’s wonderful experiments in live improvisation, and Jeannie Hoag & Kyle McCord’s fractured and glittering epistolary exchanges. Though such dialogic compositional models have become increasingly commonplace, there is something undoubtedly uncommon about the collaborative poems written by Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton.
Like many emerging writers, I grew up reading, admiring, and aspiring to single-author poems written by both Duhamel and Seaton. Duhamel’s many full-length collections from the prestigious Pitt Poetry Series showed readers that wit, humor, fierce intelligence, and the female experience can be made to coexist and speak to one another in the space of only a few lines. Similarly, Seaton’s luminous lyrics offer discussions of time and history that are as expansive as they are self-aware. A dialogue between two such innovative and forward thinking poets is a wish come true for many readers. Of course, when I first encountered their collaborative writings, I was thrilled.
When writing together, Duhamel & Seaton craft poems that are visibly in dialogue with their single-author projects, but at the same time, collaboration unlocks a little door to something that lies just beyond what any one author can accomplish in isolation. In a recent interview about their co-authored collection, G.C. Waldrep & John Gallaher, describe this phenomenon in terms of a “third voice,” which belongs to both collaborators and neither one of them.
In “Congested,” that third voice is made to reflect on its own making, its own limitations, and its place in a digitized cultural landscape. Here we see language as a source of transformation and theft, a vehicle for both the intentional proclamation and a wild, dangerous proliferation of meaning, a profound and timely reminder that even when speaking in unison, we are worlds apart.