Posted By jatyler / 8th August 2012
You Are Jaguar is the first release from Artistically Declined Press’s new Twin Antlers imprint, is co-authored by Ryan W. Bradley and David Tomaloff, and is a book that is at once two poetry collections and yet also a third, divided and receded and left up to the reader to read in the way the reader wants. So perhaps, to clarify this all, it is best that these co-authors tell us what You Are Jaguar means, does, wants:
MB: You Are Jaguar’s preface “A Guide to Reading” explains:
Two writers enter. It is a sort of birth. Begun with a phrase, simple enough, an affirmation uttered by a three year old. Now a bible of collaboration. Lines are swapped in twos, and on, until poems are born. More poems. / Then, when the poems have been birthed there is retreat. Two writers divide, recede. / They call this editing. Each edits the poems on their own. Each puts names to the work of two. Two writers reconvene. Compare. Contrast.
Can you tell us how this process started, how it worked when all was said and done, and what this did for your individual writing, to work in such a distinctly collaborative way?
RWB: I originally stole the process from the collaborative collection that Jack Driscoll & Bill Meissner wrote, Twin Sons of Different Mirrors (Milkweed Editions, 1993). They exchanged two lines at a time through the mail. I’d been looking for a while for someone to try this approach with. I like to challenge myself, take my writing in directions I wouldn’t normally. When David was game, we started exchanging two lines at a time through email. The poems came really quickly. And I think we found a groove with each other almost right off the bat. I think our individual edits is where we really explored our personal aesthetics. I don’t know that it changed my individual writing but it made me even hungrier for collaboration.
DT: For me, the project feels almost mythical at this point, as if it has always been—something unearthed and unfolded that two people have written their names on and sent into the world. I mean this in the best possible way regarding its transparency.
Ryan’s concept arrived unexpectedly to me in a late night email. The basis was simple and never deviated from during the process: poems exchanged two lines at a time under the title You Are Jaguar. It was decided at some point that we would both edit individually and that the final manuscript would be built of the best parts of those edits.
There was little to no discussion regarding character, narrative, content, or form. Each set of lines grew from the lines (and eventually on the themes) that came before. Interestingly, the manuscript was written to blend absolutely as a single voice, which made me more aware of some of the habits I might normally lean on as part of my style, both in terms of word choice and visual format.
I wouldn’t say this has directly changed my writing, but what I’d probably mean is just that I’m not sure exactly how it has manifested itself. One thing the project has reaffirmed for me without a doubt is that some of the most fruitful collaborations often come from artists whose individual works share almost nothing in common beyond the desire to create something larger than themselves.
MB: In particular, the “you” / “I” could function in You Are Jaguar as a call and response between two authors, between the text and its subject, between fathers and sons – but we want to know what it means to each of you – will you indulge us?
RWB: I have often been told not to write “you” in my poems, but it feels natural. Poetry is deeply personal for me. It is between me and the reader, and I don’t hesitate to acknowledge that. I want readers to feel like I am talking to them. In this case, it wasn’t always intentional, but I felt in doing so it was also an acknowledgement that David and I were having a conversation. I did sense that paternal thread as well, but I don’t feel like a father or son to David and imagine he doesn’t feel so about me. But the poems certainly have that feel, as though there is an unwitting wisdom being passed. The collection gets its name from something my 3 year old son told me, and it felt like an affirmation, I think that’s the thread we tried to honor throughout.
DT: As Ryan has implied, I think there was an unsaid intention to honor a sort of family element as the “us” and “we” and the “you” and “I” throughout, based on the source of the title. Ryan is indeed a father, no doubt struggling with what that means in terms of bridging a past (being a son) with a future (raising a son, in this case). This is an interesting example of how our work and perspectives differ: I am not a father, nor do I have intentions of becoming one in this life, so it follows that such a deeply paternal perspective doesn’t often surface in my own work. Responding to that in Ryan’s presented, at first, a challenge in finding common ground for the sake of sincerity and integrity—I didn’t want simply to play along. I drew instead from the idea that, while I may not be a father, I am a son, and I find there is still a need to bridge the past with the future. In this way, I would say that Ryan and I were indeed having a conversation.
Beyond the familiar aspect of the project, and bridging into my own work, the “I” “you” “us” and “we” are so often ubiquitous for me. There is always an I and a you, always an us and a we, and there is such an ever-increasing threat of damage—whether the relationship is between a person and a person, a person to many, or man to environment, sprit, or sense of self.
MB: In Bradley’s poem “The Union, Forever”, there is this phrase:
where then is the skin / we peeled from one another
How close is this to your experience(s) in the collaboration of You Are Jaguar?
RWB: This poem is one of my favorites from the book. When we were editing and titling the poems on our own for some reason it reminded me of Citizen Kane and subsequently The White Stripes. Both of these felt apt. Citizen Kane is a film about a man who spends his life trying to fill a void in his life. The White Stripes are a duo who spent their time together exploring the boundaries of what a duo can do with a simplistic structure of rock and roll. We worked from an abstract affirmation and all affirmations are meant to fill voids. Being told we are smart or beautiful. These things fill an emptiness. Being told you are a jaguar fills a void, too. And I think David and I truly embraced the dual aspect of collaboration, exploring where we could push one another.
DT: In terms of the peeling of skin as a group of words that imply in themselves a baring of many subsequent lesser-guarded layers, I would say that phrase delivers as an apt descriptor. Where it probably falls short, however, is that the question of “where” is answered in the form of a physical thing: You Are Jaguar.
It’s worth noting that, while the two-manuscripts-in-one are headed by individual names, each carries equally the words of both—translated, tweaked, and edited from a voice that now feels to me as if it exists beyond them. I thought at the beginning that the surreal nature of my own words would be apparent next to the often more immediately tangible words that Ryan tends to produce. I would be hard pressed now to identify the author of many of those lines.
MB: Also, can you talk to us a little about how this new imprint came about, and how You Are Jaguar came to be its first title?
RWB: It’s an idea I’ve had for a while. I like collaborative works, they can be transcending in a way other writing isn’t. Again the idea was inspired by Twin Sons of Different Mirrors. When David and I were about ten poems in I knew the project had legs. I didn’t know anyone else personally who had a collaborative manuscript, so I thought it would be a great way to start the imprint. And I think, inherently, the imprint will be very sporadic and selective, but hopefully it will also provide a home for collections where two writers have challenged one another in new and unique ways.
DT: It was said, and so then it was done. All I can add is that I’m proud to have been a part of the launch.
MB: Lastly, what is next for the both of you? New projects, new books, new published work?
RWB: I’ve just started an interesting new collaboration (through old school mail!) with one of my favorite poets, and David and I are slowly starting a follow up to You Are Jaguar. In December, Maverick Duck Press will publish my chapbook, Crushing on a Ghost and February will bring The Waiting Tide from Curbside Splendor’s new imprint, Concepcion Books. I wrote the collection as an homage to Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses. I also have stories in a few forthcoming anthologies. Other than that it’s all manuscripts in the ether trying to find homes.
DT: Certainly there is a follow-up planned to You Are Jaguar, which I hope will expand on the established themes in deeper and even more interesting ways. Beyond that, I have manuscripts in need of finishing as well a couple floating around. I’m less a man of plans, and more a man of short-term jollies, I guess, so there are a number of pieces and parts coming out in some excellent journals, including a few things related more to my interests in photography and visual art.
Artistically Declined Press has already put out some great literature, and this Twin antlers imprint is another venture that seems geniusly founded and ready to light fires. Kudos to Ryan W. Bradley and David Tomaloff for writing such a thing as this jaguar, and for allowing us to get into our own jaguar skins. Pick up a copy of You Are Jaguar here, read more from Ryan W. Bradley here, & read more from David Tomaloff here.