“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” (W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


    I have the great pleasure of knowing many poets who work and live in my city(Milwaukee.) I have the even greater pleasure of working closely with four of the best poets to hail from or transport to the area. Elliot O. Lipchik, Stephen Anderson, Steve Pump and Paul Enea have helped me to grow as a poet and as a person with their careful guidance and honest critique. My brother Chad has also been a great influence and collaborater. One of the things we do as a group to keep our workshopping fresh and fun is collaborative poetry. We have tried to do some pieces as a large group but I have found that the writing is smoother and seems more cohesive when it is only two people working together. It feels easier to find a groove as a duo, it becomes a real partnership with give and take and a natural feeding off of each other.

    So unbeknownst to my fellow poets, I sent two starting lines to Paul, Steve P. and my brother, Chad Austin, asking each of them to do a collaborative piece with me using the same starting lines and set the parameters at one or two lines at a time and twenty lines total. It was very interesting to see where the pieces varied and also where they seemed to follow a similiar path. I will be posting my collaborations with each of these poets as well as any revised pieces I may receive. The first one completed was the poem done with Steve Pump, it follows here...

I can't wait to remember
all the things I've forgotten.
early in the morning, half-asleep,
one palm open to receive
my daily dose of heartbreak,
the other closed around what's left
of the night, dream-glass, dust
and tattered pieces of the shadows
that keep me company in the loaming.
yet I must wait in stations
underground for trains to arrive from
distant nightmares, carrying
anonymous, faceless passengers.
I must wait. and when the skeletons detrain,
how will I recognize them, ghosts without eyes?
these drifting vagabonds huddle together
as if bracing for some cold that I cannot feel.
in bed for an hour, suspended between forgetting
and not forgetting, waiting, and unable to wait
the weight is unbearable


  1. This piece is brilliant. Good work Chris and Steve. I have read this multiple times the images are haunting and beautiful.

  2. Thank you, Chad. I was very happy with the way this piece turned out.

  3. Although this unnerving fusion piece is the work of two distinct thinkers, the emotive register yields a singular identity, albeit fractured. The narrative emerges from the rushed osmosis imposed by collaboration, which, in this case, unleashes a monologue marked by binary opposition (“forgetting/and not forgetting, waiting and unable to wait…”). This structure would collapse were it not for a pervading verisimilitude that mitigates the speaker’s subjective iconography. (Herein lies a thought: when collaborating, adopt truthsaying as a default mode of writing, especially when the imagery veers toward abstract facets of being.) Moreover, the simple mise en scène of the poem helps ground the action; the speaker is in bed, thinking darkly. In this context, the frenzied interior of someone yoked in undying trauma is revealed. Indeed, the opening salvo comes from a restless amnesiac: “I can’t wait to remember/all the things I’ve forgotten.” This statement appears optimistic, but casual probing leads to questions. Perhaps there’s been an aphasic incident and the speaker needs to reestablish a line of memory between continuity and association, a condition not unlike the challenges faced by two poets in one poem. Perhaps the aim is to reminisce indiscriminately, a brave if not unhinged goal, since few of us want to relive the undisclosed crimes of our youth or former selves. Who lives sans remorse? In any case, existential disquiet, an inability to make sense of basic experience, carries this poem beyond pointlessness into testimony.

  4. Paul, thank you for your very careful, deliberate and insightful reading and critique. You often seem to be able to see my pieces as if viewing them through my own eyes and point out observations to me that I myself would miss without your help.