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Writing Collaboratively: Emily Kendal Frey and Zachary Schomburg

2011 May 17

Remember this collaborative poetry collection, hand-bound and letterpress printed by Small Fires Press? I don’t know about you, but I was thoroughly fascinated by the book. Aside from the letterpress beauty of it, my fascination was with the collaborative effort of the two poets, Emily Kendal Frey and Zachary Schomburg. The voice seemed so natural and fused. I wanted to know how their process worked, so I asked them a few questions by email.


How did you get in touch with Small Fires Press for this book? What drew you to letterpress, or vice versa?

We’ve both been a fan of Friedrich’s for a while. He is the best at what he does, and we’re smart enough to recognize this. We published a few collaborative poems in his poetry journal, Matchbook, a teeny literary magazine made of vintage matchbooks, and we knew of his interest in publishing collaborative work. We thought we had a chance, so we asked him.

How do you two know each other? How did your collaboration come about?

Predictably (or not), we met at a poetry conference. We struck up conversation and the connection was immediate. We haven’t stopped talking, in some capacity, since. Poetry is just one manifestation of our bigger conversation.

To answer your question more directly, though, we began collaborating over e-mail during the fall of 2007. Our first method was to have very long [Gmail] chats and then transcribe those into a word document, to be parsed way way down into a poem. So when I say everything is a conversation, I meant that quite literally. The first poems were conversation reductions.

You have done three different collaborations together – why? What works so well about the partnership that keeps you both coming back?

Hmmmm. We like the results? I suppose we wouldn’t seek to publish anything we weren’t proud of, and these poems feel worth it. What we’re able to create as a team excites and teaches us both, so we keep at it.

What is your process of writing collaboratively? Does one person start the poem, and the other finish, is it a collaborative effort throughout, etc?

The process differs each time. Sometimes it is through a paring down of Gmail conversations, but primarily it goes something like: one of us starts a line or couplet, and the other follows that up with another line or couplet, often taking some liberties to tweak what was previously written. It keeps going like this, looking like a game of Battleship, sometimes on a train or in a restaurant, until one of us calls it, until one of us has written what feels like the last line. It feels a little like going through the forest, on our way to Grandmother’s house for the first time and without any directions, while together wearing a single potato sack.

One last question: the voice throughout Feelings Using Wolves seems very natural and sounds like a singular voice throughout – are there moments where you can tell that there are two people writing it, that an outsider wouldn’t see, where one of you had to give or take a little more?

I think we’ve lost the ability to discern who wrote what exactly. I mean, it is one voice. It is neither of our own voices. Our own voices/poems don’t act exactly like this. It is the poem’s singular voice, you know?


What We’re Reading: We Are So Happy for Poetry Month

2011 April 28
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I happened upon this wonderful little letterpress poetry journal (yes, I know, it’s beginning to be a trend, but hey, it’s still National Poetry Month!) called We Are So Happy to Know Something. Hand-bound from repurposed paper and showcasing wonderful little poems, this is a delightful read. WASHTKS is published by Doublecross Press and Projective Industries.

Funnily enough, however, my favorite poem isn’t my favorite necessarily because of content, but rather because it’s the perfect poem from which to take a line and start a story. Here’s the poem:

“Summary” by Amanda Nadelberg

I am also broken and so I take him in. It’s a small island.

A horse woman painting a white horse to show all the colors.

Let me tell you, her skin is beautiful. There are other

kinds of money and we could be better for the masses.

Empty the house and just keep going. If I hold the pillow and

you listen, you are the ocean. Oh, Sweet Flag. Lying

in the field like anything living lying down, come here!

You can pick berries on your way. Nothing clarifies

like more kisses, and the stone hurt the river by being

in the river’s way. I am the river in my own way.

Pull up the woods and see. Imagine the weather

pre-industrial and mostly religious. Somebody’s uncle

alone in a jar catching light. Romance on account of

intruder as animal. Intruding animal. I am not going

to consciously promote myself. I will not show

cleavage very often. Women should really

talk to one another. When I was an

almond, some people don’t need people.

Take a line or two, or an image, and write a story or poem from it. Maybe it even triggers a real experience for a personal essay. I wrote a poem using the image of an almond, and a variation of the line “some people don’t need people.” Don’t feel like you have to stick to it – remember, as one of my professors recently told me, once the scaffolding is up and the poem or story built around it, you might not even need the scaffolding anymore.

Further in this world of letterpress poetry, I also have Matchbook, Volume Three, from Small Fires Press (I wrote a blog recently about one of his other letterpress treats). Literally encased in a vintage, used matchbook, this tiny volume of poetry features many poets for such small pages, including local poet and bookmaker MC Hyland, who is behind Doublecross Press. With offset-printed text, and a “centerfold” of letterpress illustrations by Cherie Weaver, this charming little book is definitely a treasure worth keeping.

What We’re Reading: Letterpress Mail Goodies

2011 April 14


April has been a fabulous month. Nothing says springtime like receiving poetry in the mail during National Poetry Month. From my lovely friend Meryl DePasquale at Four-Letter Press sending me wonderful letterpress mail art, to a poetry collection from Holy Cow! Press (suspense: look for it in an upcoming WWR post!), to this week’s subject of WWR, Feelings Using Wolves. Feelings Using Wolves is a poetry collaboration between Emily Kendal Frey and Zachary Schomburg, published by Small Fires Press out of Memphis, Tennessee. The book itself (from an edition of 74 soft covers) was enough to make me hyperventilate: carefully designed, letterpress printed on marvelous handmade paper, and beautifully hand-bound by Friedrich Kerksieck. The craftsmanship, time, patience, and artistic eye that went into this labor of love is obvious.

And then there’s the poetry – quirky, deliberate, bodily, and even a little sexy, this trio of poets and bookmaker have got their collaborative art to a saucy, textured science. The poems drift between the poetic and the goofy – such as poo-burritos. Yes, I said it. Buy it for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a finicky balancing act attempted by many, but not always met with success. Frey and Schomburg succeed. It makes me wonder how their process works, and how they balance each other out as writers when collaborating. They’ve done two other collaborative works before: Team Sad (Cinematheque, 2010) and OK, Goodnight (Future Tense Books, 2010), that I want to check out now, too. The poems are short and simple, none amounting to more than 14 lines long, with short individual line lengths, too. Not a word is wasted, misplaced, or not brought to its full potential. The poems make you ponder, then interrupt your oh-so-thoughtful reverie with a fresh pinch o’ humor.

Favorite poems: “Feelings Using Wolves,” “The Space Between Burned Out Suns,” and “Little Handle.”

A favorite snippet:

when a tree breathes

you can feel


the forest bend forward

on its elbows

(From “Tree Lung.”) I hope you get some equally intriguing surprises this spring! Tell me, what have you been reading to honor this month of poetry?