Karla Kelsey and Nancy Kuhl
Lift, Lace, Sharpen, Unpick, Ground, Play: An Interstitial Collaboration 2021
Corsetry Within this crevasse the universe multiplies, pleats in aquamarine, cornflower, green orchid, flamingo with base notes of vetiver, ambergris, and civet. We make an interstitial when. Panther befriending dove and abolishing corsetry’s long lace first threaded through an eyelet at the waist, fed in an upward zigzag, skipping every other opening, and then looped across the top to zigzag back down, firmly tied where the affair had begun. Is or was?, isn’t that our question now? Why don’t you tell me instead, I said as we settled on the rocks at the shore, about electromagnetism. -- Turquoise, set in silver, for example, or a rod down the front of the corset: to itself, the body is always an index left alone in the crescent cut. The second option: the body is always a puppet, always dead or alive to itself. I wanted to move not you but the surface, the interval, the posture recombining: folding, knotting. What you wanted to keep for yourself: animal musk and orchid. -- Unthreaded through the eyelet the secret creates another opening, although there we find the body even in its nudity, musk, secretion, already riven with qualification. Pitch-dark, pierced in suede, not from the rabbit, as you had cried to me, nor, of course, from the cat you insist is the origin of all sacral ache—always dead or alive to itself. Before me: wind-stripped basalt to which I have brought only salt. Skin overlain with skin may be the only solace as the soul currents along its wire ungrounded and unhooked. -- What does it mean when what you wanted for yourself is already forced between corset’s skin and bone (fastened and laced with notes of ambergris which does and does not smell like the sea)? The fact is, we have direct language: the body doubled the body now beset We aren’t talking about failure. We’re talking about insufficiency or getting by or (as ladies used to say) making do. In this analogy, the comparison is to the interstitial fauna of marine sediments—to the creatures living between grains of sand. -- Silver broach and bezel, Egyptian turquoise: blue standing for a mineral past, an overlayering, sand- stone or basalt, a knotting. Such intervals thin you, pull you across inland field and rockface, finally across the sea. I dream of ancient fluid surfaces, sulfuric smoke and molten roiling. In my fist, in my pocket, flat as a watch and telling its own time. There are other options.
Environment A Sublimate, sculpt, ground 20 minutes Due: Saturday The cat is always dead or alive to itself, whereas the body, like the puppet, is constructed as an index of forces that act upon and through it. A posture, for example, ensured by a wooden or metal rod placed down the center front of the corset until volumes, always more than one, emerge from surfaces, recombining with lines, folding, bridging, knotting. A hunk of rough turquoise, set in silver. The first option was keeping myself such that when anyone addressed me, they pulled what I wanted to keep for myself out of me. The second option was out of which our moment emerges all animal musk and orchid. --- lift, unpick, locate 20 minutes Due: Wednesday Turquoise, set in silver, for example, or a rod down the front of the corset: to itself, the body is always an index of forces that act upon and through it. The second option: the body is always a puppet, always dead or alive to itself. I wanted to move not you but the surface, the interval, the posture recombining: folding, knotting. What you wanted to keep for yourself: animal musk and orchid. --- re-flow, sharpen, escalate 20 Minutes Due: Thursday Egyptian turquoise found in sandstone that is, or was, overlayered by basalt—is or was, isn’t that our question and now set in silver a broach when the fashion for broaches had long ended but you wear it replacing the corset as if stone were superior to cotton and whale which had pulled you, admittedly thinned you, across inland field and sea. The second option, you interject, as if there were options, the body is always a puppet always dead or alive to sucking on the hem of the nightdress letting out the dogs to hunt for ambergris. I wanted to move not you but the surface, the interval, the posture recombining: folding knotting what you wanted for yourself: musk and silver. --- salvage, color, replenish up to 45 minutes due: Wednesday Silver broach and bezel, Egyptian turquoise: blue standing for a mineral past, an overlayering, sand- stone or basalt, a knotting. Such intervals thin you, pull you across inland field and rockface, finally across the sea. I dream of ancient fluid surfaces, sulfuric smoke and molten roiling. In my fist, in my pocket, flat as a watch and telling its own time. There are other options.
Lift, Lace, Sharpen, Unpick, Ground, Play: An Interstitial Collaboration
We are two poets who live in different cities that seemed relatively close to one another until pandemic lockdowns changed the shape of our world. Missing frequent, multifaceted in-person conversations, we devised a poem exchange to fill the gap. Over time, what was a straightforward sharing developed into a collaborative writing project.
Beginning from assembled quotations from favorite writers (shared without attribution), one poet creates “an environment.” She guides next steps by defining standard limits, including: 1-3 verbs of engagement (e.g. “sculpt,” “flood,” “blossom”); a temporal engagement limit (“work for no more than 20 minutes”); a deadline (“return to me in 48 hours”). We exchange the work, revising both the text and the limits until one poet initiates the last pass with an invitation to “replenish” the field by collaging fragments of the last, new quotations, and other raw materials. The exchange begins again.
If our textual environments have been fueled by a shared love of collage and assemblage, our time limits were devised to set our own creative rhythms outside of the work-consumer rhythm that commodifies everything—especially in a time when our homes became our workplaces and our beloved cultural spaces (the libraries and museums where we often met) were indefinitely closed, impossibly distant.
Co-authored work exhibited includes “Environment A,” a raw fragment from our exchange including engagement limits, as well as a finished work, “Corsetry,” a poem that includes reference to interstitial spaces – not unlike the interval that is a break or seam in a rock face. Our collaborative practice allows for the creation of an interdependent, creative, “crevice community” in the “thin soil” of a fraught era. Time and language are our crevices: our limitations and our ground. Our collaborative environments offer opportunities to unspool ourselves from singularity, to unmake ownership and differentiations between self, other, text.
Karla Kelsey is the author of one book of essays and four poetry collections, including Blood Feather (Tupelo 2020). She uses the lyric form to investigate the philosophical and historical. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Susquehanna University, Pennsylvania; Karla co-edits SplitLevel Texts.
Nancy Kuhl’s poetry books include Granite (A Published Event 2021), Pine to Sound (Shearsman 2015), and The Birds of the Year (Grenfell Press 2017). She is Curator of Poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Provenance: Peer reviewed submission