Dancing with words: performance poetry

On January 6, Moondustwriter’s feature, “The Duet of Poetry” extolled the fun of collaborating with another poet.  The form of the poem was a lighthearted duel between two voices, each representing a character. I loved its theatricality. It reminded me of the dialogues in Restoration Comedies with the use of conceit to build an architecture of desire and seduction. This started me thinking. What is it about Twitter that encourages these kinds of collaborations?

I do not know the provenance of The Duet of Poetry, perhaps it was written via email, like the parlour games of old. But I found out about the poem through Twitter.  And I have watched and participated in duets through Twitter. If someone’s haiku or gogyoka catches my attention, I will respond in kind and sometimes people will respond to me. I have also posted photographs and images and had them returned with poetic lines. Such moments are very touching and enriching.

There are precedents for this kind of composing. I remembered Andre Breton and the Exquisite Corpse game of the Surrealists which in turn was a variation of the Victorian parlour game Consequences. I thought too about differences: no paper or pencils, and we see the words and/or pictures that come before, unlike in Consequences and Exquisite Corpse.

I have recently also collaborated with a Twitter friend to write together. On New Years Eve (western), I posted a poem – a unique poem – Moonlight Dancing. It was written by MissyPoem and me using Twitter.We had been wanting to write together for a while, perhaps using email to flick ideas back and forth.

We wrote it as an improvisation exchanging lines through tweets using a hashtag #mmpoem. We chose to write it on the public timeline quite deliberately after deliberating because we felt our friends would enjoy seeing the poem emerge through our exchanges. We had no set shape or direction – just two themes – dancing and love. The writing became a dance between us. As we were writing it, parts were retweeted and we received direct encouragement from our followers. The audience didn’t simple sit back and ‘watch’ our improvised performance rather they joined in our dance.

The experience was different from a parlour game. The act of writing was fluid and contextualised in what had gone on before within poetic text itself . We were also potentially influenced by the responses from our followers on the side. We wrote the poem in an open system as well as in an interactive public space. We received guess about the identity of the dancer and the absent lover. We also knew who our key audience was and we knew they were there. Indeed we chose a time when they would be there live online. We discussed the outcome of the poem in public – whether to provide closure or leave a sense of mystery. We opted for the later to tease our audience because of all the questions.

Since then I have had approaches from poets who would like to dance with words with other poets impromptu in the Twitter stream. The permutations are infinite – duets, trios and so on. How many can join before the poetic integrity is lost? I feel we are on the brink of something quite magical.

Perhaps the better question is: Can I have this dance with you?

2 thoughts on “Dancing with words: performance poetry

  1. I do not think “the poetic integrity” will be lost unless if Twitter messes up and chews up something in cyberspace and a line or two of poetry is lost, but it’s like you said, it is magical. I have done so many collaborations with poets out there on Twitter. It’s amazing to see what comes out of it. You never get the same experience. That’s what I like about online collaborations (be it through a blog, Twitter, or email, etc.), it’s fast, saves a lot of trees, and you get a chance to see the process, the quick lightning bolts of ideas/thoughts coming together.

    In fact, I had made a goal to work on a collaboration or two each year. The journey’s been great. I have to thank ReadWritePoem for the majority of it, so now I know what a sense of community it brings when poets come together and write a poem. It’s like joining the dinner table or around a bonfire or a campfire. What feelings and stories do you share? So, I feel like Twitter is a lot like that, and I continue to look forward to it everyday.

    Dear Marsha (finally know your real name!), I’d love to join in the poetic dance! 🙂 Count me in!

  2. Fascinating, as usual. This idea is enchanting and ripe with possibility. I like how it combines improv, poetry and new media. If you miss the performance, though, I’m not sure that the actual output has the same weight. It loses the inflection of the moment, the energy of the audience, the blood rush of the writing, the syncronicity of the Universal Synapses firing all at once. You can’t even *film* something like that (even if you could). It’s like the relationship between a script and a play, only it’s in reverse. The play becomes the script.

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