The Third Voice: Notes on the Art of Poetic Collaboration
By Eric Greinke
Presa Press, Rockford Michigan
Poetry can be, in many ways, the most private of Arts. We imagine the lonely woman or man, sitting in a quiet cottage or seedy motel pouring out the most intimate of revelations in melodic, rhythmic language. And of course, there are poets who never consult with others, who shun academia or congregations of other writers, who eschew editors and who are completely unaware of the larger poetic world. But I don’t know any of those folks. And Eric Greinke surely won’t send anyone down that lonesome road.
Mr. Greinke is a respected and experienced poet from northern Michigan. He has published nine books of poetry, a translation, three collections of essays, a book of creative non-fiction, one of fiction and one of social commentary. But most interestingly, he has also worked with seven other poets to produce and publish eight small collaborative books. This is the focus of The Third Voice. In this small book, only eighty-four pages, the author reviews his notes on the collaborative process with each of those writing partners. And it is all about the process.
In seven brief chapters Greinke explores the methods, problems and pleasures of collaboration. The first chapter describes his youthful collaboration with his friend Ronnie Lane and the surrealist and humorous poems that resulted in a collection called “Great Smoky Mountains”. Greinke’s early realization that collaboration, and poetry in general, “…does not have to be product oriented. It can be process oriented” was a concept he kept in mind though all future efforts. In this first collection with his friend he discovered that their collaborative Third Voice was humorous and playful.
The second chapter of Third Voice describes the collaboration of Greinke with Harry Smith, an established poet from Maine, and their process of writing poems in response to each other’s work. This project resulted in a thirty-poem collection and the process had created a dialogical Third Voice that emphasized the difference between the two poets.
The third through the sixth chapter of this book highlight each of Greinke’s other collaborations and in the seventh chapter he summarizes and explains some of the differences that each pairing produced. There is considerable psychological insight in his analysis of the process. He looks at age differences, gender differences, regional variations and differences that arise from language use. “Aesthetic tension is an element essential to the full realization of any work of art, including poetry” he notes early in the first chapter of Third Voice. And throughout this book he shows how collaboration can heighten aesthetic tension and yet bring the cooperating poets closer together.
This is a fine treatise on the process of collaboration with a good sampling of poetry from each project. It is also an engaging and entertaining book, written in clear language free of academic jargon. And this little volume has encouraged me to search for a collaborator, or two, to further explore the process. I recommend this book to any poet interested in collaboration and the possibility of finding a third voice.