Crevice Communities Exhibition 2021

Karla Kelsey and Nancy Kuhl
Lift, Lace, Sharpen, Unpick, Ground, Play: An Interstitial Collaboration 2021
Poetry

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.
nancy.kuhl@yale.edu

Provenance: Peer reviewed submission

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