Odes of Opposition: A Collaborative Poetry Project

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Musings on Writing and Life.

It is received wisdom that writing is a solitary act requiring hours of alone time with paper and pen, or keyboard and screen. But many writers, particularly poets, often work together on projects.

A while back, a poetry pal and I worked a collaborative project we christened Odes of Opposition. We wanted to copy the hand of the masters, those poetic stars fixed into the contemporary, literary discourse. We wanted to thumb our noses at them, oppose them word-for-word charting our own course. We wanted to read critically. And write creatively. All at once. Again, then again.

When we started this project, Lisa McCool-Grime and I had been working in a “poetry partnership” for several years. So collaborating on this Odes of Opposition project came quite naturally for us. After “meeting” in an on-line class via Writers on the Net, we established a comfortable and compatible process for sharing our work-in-progress for critique. This back-and-forth included everything from the big-picture rough-draft feedback to the nitpicking of words, syllables, and sounds as a poem inched closer toward done to glowing, page-long annotations on our current poetry loves. Odes of Opposition extended many of these skills and conversations we’d privately built between us into the public forum. 

Over time, we worked on our individual oppositions to a single poem we’d selected from the work of a lengthy list of legendary poets including John Berryman; Elizabeth Bishop; Gwendolyn Brooks; Allen Ginsberg; Frank O’Hara; Kenneth Rexroth; Anne Sexton; Wallace Stevens; Jean Toomer; and James Wright. Then we would write an additional opposition to the work each of us had done, yielding up more scraps of syntactical surprise and linguistic wordplay. Even now, over a decade later, I still find myself mining the language generated by this project for my ongoing creative work!

And three sets of our oppositions got published! Our oppositions to Sylvia Plath and William Carlos Williams were published in the Imitation Issue of qarrtsiluni in February 2012. Our oppositions to Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein appeared in PANK’s Queer Two issue, November 2011. And our oppositions to Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were published in the Collaborative Issue of Poemeleon, Winter/Spring 2010.

My opposition of Sylvia Plath, “He’s,” evolved into the poem, “Apron Strings” which was published in my 2015 poetry collection, Every Door Recklessly Ajar.


He grew restless as a wasp,
her sticklike Adonis,
her homeboy spawn.
One more reedy lope
headed for sea
like a gull on a brining tug.
His magic-touch palm
became beggar’s bowl,
sunbeamed and filled
with a wish.
How she wanted
to follow his light
as fireflies will
but forced herself to still,
a water jar of lotus,
no backwash, no swell.
Closer once
than the heartbeat’s pulse.
Precise as a scar
now overlooked like rain.
All used chalk
and his owed mask off.

Nancy Flynn
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