Collaboration with Flo Reynolds

Cat is in Lancaster and Flo is in Norwich, over this distance we write poems together. One of us will start the poem, then we take it in turns (or out of turn) to add the next line/word/section. The poems we write are singularly voiced but produced through dialogue. The poem changes and develops and grows between us until the poem is finished. This happens over email. At the same time we keep up a running commentary on the project, reflecting on and critiquing our poems, but also describing the process of producing them and how it effects us in a feedback loop. The result is not the usual performative posture between writer and reader, it also incorporates the interpersonal relationship between two specific women in the real world, two friends. Cat supposes that what she’s really interested in is the material human element, how this project is a product of and an influence upon our relationship as two friends, how this project interacts with the physical distance between us. The way in which it creates something like a space for us to temporarily inhabit together.

The voice of the poems is both singular and dialogical. There's room for both of us in the singular voicing but in the sense that we push against each other, speak to each other but don't necessarily blend, we are both parts and a whole, grafts and originals. Any blending is consensual and orchestrated by the form, to which we both agree and both make as we go along together. The join lines are left for the reader to hear if she wants to. It is a political demonstration played out at the level of a single, real-world bond. A material micro-politics and very meaningfully feminist. The two voicings are parallel and in productive tension with one another, meanings can overlap and inhabit the same space, but so do addresses and voice events – all Flo, all Cat, some, neither, both. The poem comes to have room for so many Other things without breaking. It feels like an infinitely accommodating space. The reader is privy to another vocal layer than normal, but not a dramatic one, it is still purely poetic in the sense of the mystery being not in what we say but the fact of our saying it separately but as one, to the reader but to each other. This breaks some loop of voicing and audition as it's usually received, and in a positive way that might even be described as loving. But then to read the poems as singularly voiced also communicates so much of the anxious dialogical state of human consciousness, a self-consuming, self-propelling vocal interiority which feels very familiar. But it's like being turned inside out, we recognise our vocal interiority in this external play of unpredictable voicing. It's comforting to then feel that the outside complements my inside, that my inside belongs to the outside, that I don't have to clutch onto it for dear life. Equally I am sufficient for this role to another. It's a lovely unlonely poetry, an art so long associated with the lone voice crying from the desert.

The dynamic experience of the writing process is a performance of the poem in itself, and that aspect of the poem can be for only Flo and Cat and can only happen once. It's a real thing in real time and space. It is physicalising. It’s like the secret of Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus in the Sistine chapel, or the making of a mandala from coloured sand. We seem to materialise each other or dematerialise, appearing from or receding from the language of the other, which is itself a public language. For the duration Flo can use her voice to conjure Cat specifically and Cat Flo by the virtue of their particular dialogue. Perhaps we sequester the public language there for a moment, make it work on extra, improvisational terms for a time, then step quietly out of its and each other’s light. Then it belongs to the reader for a time, but always to us and always to the language. This poetry is pointing to all sorts of things (especially to Cat and Flo) but never possessed.

A special commission from this project titled 'Wetware' was published in No, Robot, No! part of the excellent Headbooks series from Sidekick Books. Read 'Wetware' here.

Another poem from this project 'dear other, with pink dish', was published in The White Review online alongside individually authored piece by Flo and Cat.


How can the I of a poem - also a chain of metonymic displacements - maintain the same multiplicity as you, resist adopting a fiction of a singular voice, have the intimate quality of a notebook without the intimate content, become the position or mouthpiece through which the world, rather than an individual, speaks?...

...Slavoj Žižek describes the revulsion most of us feel in perceiving our interiors erupt into the external world through the example of saliva, which we constantly produce and swallow inside our bodies. Imagine, he proposes, a scenario in which someone tells you to spit into a glass, then drink it. The thought is repulsive: your insides are to remain hidden, even from yourself. The lyric is that saliva in a glass, but what does it incarnate?

Nuar Alsadir