Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Poetry Conversation

I have this habit that manifests itself, I think, primarily as a musical phenomenon. It is the sort of thing that musicians do with each other, where it is called improvisation. They play with each other back and forth, embellishing the theme and changing it, listening to each other with a joy of the moment.

This can happen in poetry too. Rachel Westfall has a lovely poetic voice. I don't need to inquire why she touches me like she does. She has been very kind, and apparently this works for her too. The following conversation is only the latest of several we have held. It is easy to write to her, which involves going into some world or other and revealing what life would be like there.

Rachel lives in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory of Canada. That is fairly far north. I live in Gladstone, a town south of Portland, Oregon in the USA. Rachel and I have never met, but in some ways we may have known each other for a very long time. You can see this poetry conversation in its original location here. This conversation or collaboration started last Monday and has continued throughout the week as you may notice. There are two more poems that extend the conversation beyond the four I have chosen, one by Rachel, one by me that appear here but these poems are not included directly in this response to the Big Tent prompt. It's been a busy week.

You might stay and read other things this beautiful lady writes. If you look hard, you will find other examples of our collaboration. She was also kind enough to post one of my poems in her sidebar. For that matter, you can find our conversations from time to time in my archives too because when the fancy strikes it may be her posted poem that starts it, or it may be mine.

Go to Big Tent's poetry prompt, to see the prompt that the Big Tent poets are responding to.

Go to The Big Tent Come One, Come All site for the responses.

Rachel wrote:


Something froze on the shore
etched in lines
scratched by feet of the passing gulls
cast in red-gold rays
of the sudden dawn startling night’s chill
scuttling back to a huddled place
under rocks, in the cool moist dens
of the red-backed crabs
Something froze
on the shore in the salt-tinged sand
where the wind braided hair
and summer freckles smiled
as we combed
tidal pools to fill our treasure chests
Something froze
and I’ve lost your name

Rachel Westfall
October 4, 2010

I replied:

The Gray Sea

You know my frantic
hopes, my pleas that you decide
to stay in my arms,
but like the gray sea
of this late autumn morning,
like the slick scaled sides
of the creatures there,
you slip free and go. I can't
keep you home this time.

This forces me out
of my dream. I must admit
I no longer know
your true and private

October 4, 2010

Then Rachel wrote:

The day you lost my name

I was sleek, limbs fresh
and soft as wax
newly emerged
when you first drew me up
in a long embrace
and spoke
my true name in my ear.
You told me I was real,
grew me lean and strong
to run colt-limbed
across the sand, the wind
stroking long ripples
through my hair.
You say you do not know me
now, you say
you’ve lost my name.
Without your hands,
your breath, your hawk’s whisper
I have no name at all.

October 4, 2010

And I replied,

Your Gone Away Posture

To me you have gone
and taken your name away.
I no longer know
what it is to say
it, what aroma
and shape it takes when I say
it in day's early
light or in moonshine.
It's your gone away posture
that strafes my soul's face
with large caliber
plugs of gray sea ice
and my peeled back skin reveals
my sunk thews and bones.

October 5, 2010


  1. What fathomless conversations you have, Christopher! And sensual. I particularly love Rachel's opening phrase in "The day you lost my name". Such exchanges are special.

  2. Yessssss. Reminds me of one of my favorite proverbs: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." What a gift to have that kind of collaboration!

  3. I like the collaboration in these, they tie together so well. But even more I like how well they also stand alone.

  4. Derrick, the specialness of this is not lost on me. It couldn't happen if either of us had to slave over poems. We don't. To think in allegory and image so easily is a blessing for us both. As with most blessings, however, there is a down side. I don't know about Rachel, but my downside manifests in the long term consequences of not fitting that well in the mundane world.

    Rachel, (a different Rachel, by the way) our collaboration was a spontaneous thing, a surprise for both of us. I am sure that we each at times have to navigate intimacy. We have gotten used to it, but poems are really intimate spaces. It is part of the blessing that we each have to grow up enough to handle this with equanimity and delight in equal measure.

    Anthony, as I wrote above, you can see in yet another pair of poems in a later post on Rachel's blog (second one down the line) the continuation of the collaboration. Rachel took it off in a new but related direction and I replied in that same tangent. I am of the same opinion as you that the poems do stand alone.

  5. What a pleasure to be able to reach out to another on the great virtual waves and save such lovely thoughts!

  6. Tumblewords, the craft is the thing. Rachel and I are both shape shifters and familiar with sorcery of a very special kind. Part of this as I have said is that poetry must be rapid for this to work. You get the draft, edit and final in a matter of hours at most or else there can be no conversation. It works even better if the poem can be done in minutes. There is risk and courage involved. Poetry that rapid may reveal too much unless you are already transparent in that way.

  7. (((Christopher))) I have responded to you on my blog.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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