Collaborative poems (done right) capture this, not indecision, but UNdecision. That moment just before our minds are made and we turn left; that moment when possibility and chance are the only thing is the only thing on our minds. That, ultimately, is why I love collaborative work...so much of it is out of your hands, and yet, just as much is in them.
Yes, decisions must finally be made, but the art of the collaborative poem is in how you manage to stretch it out without being indecisive, or without being invasive in that process. It's the artful mapping of the decision itself. That conversation we all have with ourselves every second of every day, but with just enough embellishment to make it interesting again.
An off-the-cuff list of my favorite collaborations:
*T.S. Eliot's, "The Wasteland" (never would have been what it was without Pound's extensive involvement)
*Friedrich Kerksieck and Aaron James McNally's "Postcard Poems"
*Jen Tynes and Erika Howsare's, "The Ohio System"
*NEG and JMW's "Figures for a Darkroom Voice"
*and this poem by Eric Baus, Noah Eli Gordon, Nick Moudry, and Sara Veglahn
Come back from easy Chicago. Chicago is new. It is not old. I like your
pants. I like all pants. I also hate everything. Come back from easy Chicago
I mean. The road signs will always be just that, just nostalgic to hear a
song say that radios are everywhere in reticent Chicago, opening just
enough, just a few more notes: I like your paths. It�s funny, though,
because I also hate everything. I try not to effect my objects. The way to
describe it is �I am writing to grow old.� Just because what I�m writing has
a face, it�s not required to have expressions, and I don�t care how long of
a sentence I�m expected to fulfill. I�ve gone days without saying anything
and gotten all the way here only to start from the beginning. All these
eyes going after each other isn�t interesting. Nothing is interesting. I
hate it. Just face it, your tooth is coming out. Symbolic form. Whatever.
In the Chicago I left, pale light, the fountain in the courtyard running,
everything you put in the vault comes out covered in dust. I knew what you
meant, even if you were mocking me. My tooth, too, is falling out. Why did
your pants displace my beautiful beautiful braincase? My tooth, too, is
falling out (a different one). No one�s mocking anyone. I can�t help that.
Every song is about itself, gasping for air or waiting on a ferry. It�s been
snowing all day in Massachusetts & we don�t even talk about war here, too
busy listening to the radio I suppose. There�s nothing on the radio. I hate
mirrors. Hunting bees. These are hunting bees. Where will they go in the
snow? Where does anything go? There are road signs along the road, days
multiplying the boredom. Sometimes there are reasons to sleep. Where does
sleep go when there is no reason to sleep? I have found a reason to sleep,
writing in a way that tells me I just turned my am around, writing to �from
inside what time it is.� I hate snow but it�s addictive. I love adding to
everything, going bad or around or inside or mirroring some kind of honesty,
if that�s the right word. Thinking in absolutes or left underneath a
ladder, I�d wonder which was a way to say it without any background noise.
Nothing in the city changes but the street signs. I am eating snow. You
are eating snow. I took a bus around the river. I couldn�t even see it, the
windows were too dirty. While you went there, I went away too. Smoke means
something is burning, you said to the only lie inside the poem. The poem is
about love during wartime, about tackling itself. I caught a fish once in
the Chicago River. You told me not to eat it, so I ate snow; you told me not
to eat that too. I couldn�t tell where the voice was leaking into the
cistern. I never hear anything right. See? I�ve gone all wrong again.
There are bits of paper sticking out of my pocket, but I�m ambivalent about
it. Building mountains from yarn or trying to see how long it takes to dry the
clay into another worn down penny left on the tracks where the train hasn�t
run in years. I�m ambivalent about the way I look. And sound. What welds
each note to the air. What cleanly embraces a long sliding gaze. In your
mouth, Charles Shively, I see there is a corncob pipe! I sweat a lot and
have never liked fishing. I quote myself, removing the quotation marks. Or
so they say. Stamped in.