The beauty of collaboration

The other night I witnessed a lovely collaboration play out at a church in downtown Ottawa. Steve Bell, Canadian Christian music icon, sat on stage with his good friend Malcolm Guite, a poet, priest and singer-songwriter from Cambridge. It was Steve who introduced me first to the work of Guite, and I’m very thankful. I knew he was hanging out with a poet, and that this poetry was impacting his own work as a songwriter. To see the collaboration play out in real time, as the two took turns reading poetry and then singing, and in some cases a song inspired by that very poem, was a rare glimpse for me into how art nurtures art. Poem begat song, song begat poem. And we all receive.

Collaboration has been a theme for me this year, in my workshops for my MFA and in my mentor feedback. Having other writers dig into my own work and tell me what they see, and what they don’t see, has been so helpful. In the very last chapter I wrote, my mentor Harry suggested I ditch a few wisecracks. What?? I pride myself on my wisecracks. He told me, it’s okay to just be serious. When I tackled my rewrite I was convinced I would leave one line in particular in, despite what he had advised, because it was so funny!!! Of course, I took it out. He was right. Thank goodness for honest collaborators.

I’ve also come to see reading as an act of  collaboration, as the smooth words of another writer inspire me and challenge me to do better. I’ve always thought of this as an elevator ride, which isn’t very poetic, but it’s the best metaphor I can come up with. Writers writing beautifully lift me up and release me on the sixth floor, instead of the second floor where I might have otherwise begun. I write better when I read better. This is good news. You can collaborate without even leaving your dining room table or your red couch, so inviting in your living room.

So, thank you to Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite for your fruitful collaboration, and for reminding me how beautiful that all can be.

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