That We Come To A Consensus by Noah Eli Gordon and Sara Veglahn

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 10.21.38 AMIn an exchange of what is and isn’t said, That We Come To A Consensus meets in the antiplace where the cult of the author—and his or her ego—is dethroned. As a collaborative work, the fingerprints and audible identifiable gestures of voice are smeared, scrubbed. And the possible problem of attribution begets a kind of envy: Who wrote that? That’s a Gordon line. That’s a Veglahn sound.

Poetic collaboration, in recent history, is perhaps exemplified by the mid-twentieth century so-called “New York School” of writers. The shared art-making practice codified a gesture towards art’s potential but more so, the friendships made in mutual admiration based in that same act. A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery and James Schuyler; Bean Spasms by Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett and Joe Brainard; The Altos by Barbara Guest and Richard Tuttle—to name a few.

As David Lehman suggests in his compelling chronicle of the inner sanctum of New York School poets, The Last Avant-Garde, one of the many great lessons that poets learned from Action Painters—like Jackson Pollock or Willem DeKooning—was that “it was okay for a poem to chronicle the history of its own making—that the mind of the poet, rather than the world, could be the true subject of the poem—and that it was possible for a poem to be (or to perform) a statement without making a statement.”

In TWCTAC, the minds of Gordon and Veglahn enact a kind of sympathy for the possible poem and its making. The resulting poem offers a record of the dynamism of exchanges between poets. This work is not only a gesture toward art but also a record of that transmission in understanding and, of that relationship.

Lehman also suggests, “all poetry [is] the product of a collaboration with language.” To that end: all writing is collaboration—with not only language, but with other writers. As the voice of these poems are the voices of Gordon and Veglahn as much as they are the voices of other writers, overheard conversations, magazine headlines, etc.

What connects people in language is the result of the trial and error of communication during communication: the understanding of how we mean when we try to say what we mean.

TWCTAC happens in a transit of hidden exchanges—perhaps a letter or an email, a phone call, notes on a napkin. The behind-the-scenes is not visible in the poem. What is visible is a suggestive text that occupies Gordon and Veglahn simultaneously. This is a collaborative poem about collaborating and dissolving the authority of the author. This blurring of boundaries makes a mask for many faces.

I’ve been inside a vault
could say we meet at the airport
as an appendix to an apology
you arriving in a sombrero
me wearing a white carnation
a kind of greeting

The romance and the strangeness of partnering in language is perhaps not sexy but sensual, as this scene connotes a kind of first-time-meeting where the other needs to be visually identifiable by wearing “a sombrero” or a “white carnation”—regardless of the fact that the “we” is both the “you” and the “me”—such that, the person we find is wearing both a sombrero and a carnation.

In addition to words of transport—planes, trains, elevators, etc.—the voice of this poem speaks in a mid-transport where the traveller finds herself. The speaker asserts, “it’s my hotel face” and “I’ve never been to that hotel.” The poem and thus the documentation of the poem is the “hotel” or the temporary space for this voice/these voices to inhabit while in transit.

Say I have a hotel of catastrophe
in a fiction the hotel collapses
boots & rags branded & back tomorrow
one way to assassinate the newly canonized

It is a kind of “bird migration” done together and, to do so, means to be on the same schedule: on time and in time.

Dream a watchmaker & make him tangible
don’t say that because I’m using it
which clock is correct when the mission bell chimes
what divisive thought when dancing alone

And yet, how do we talk about collaboration for fear of the penalty of being wrong in attribution, in meaning—lest we run out of ideas of ideas of ourselves to project on a work.

A collaboration in poetry is perhaps the permission to be impractical. How will this poem hold up to my canon? The Canon? In this sense TWCTAC affirms that poetry can be a way of life between people. To nurture a life in art when the artist might “[h]ave nothing to say” or when the artist feels they “haven’t said anything.”

The poem climaxes in a litany in which the refrain “that we” rings and rings like an anxious child at a doorbell.

That we come to consensus
that we cling to a key
that we turned on the light
that we rained down our glances
that we exist in intervals


that we didn’t quite agree
that we recognize many faces
that we are not fast like machines

In a circus of subjectivity the poet and poem perform to practice life in a particular way, to “cling to a key” to make meaning and relate—not just a poet to a poet but, to the world and everything in it. Yet, life is a clumsy thing, and although we can be machine-like, “we are not fast like machines.” TWCTAC acknowledges the validity of the “many faces” of meaning and embraces the fallible yet generative potential of collective capital.

That We Come To A Consensus is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse

Douglas Piccinnini is the author of the forthcoming book of poems, Blood Oboe (Omindawn, 2015) and a novella, Story Book (The Cultural Society, 2014), as well as numerous chapbooks, including Flag (Well Greased Press, 2013) and ∆ (TPR Press, 2013) — a bilingual book of poems with Cynthia Gray and Camilo Roldán. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Antioch Review, Aufgabe, So & So, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Lana Turner, Vanitas, Verse, Vlak  — among others. He is a winner of the 2014 SLS Contest for Poetry, judged by Dorothea Lasky.

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