On Collaboration: An Interview with Sandy Marchetti

JT: Can you start by just telling me a little about your background with collaboration?

SM: Absolutely. Although I’ve done a few interviews for this chapbook, no one has asked me this yet! It seems like an obvious one, given the fact that two names are listed on the front page of the book. I hadn’t really collaborated before Erika Adams (the illustrator) and I got together on this project. I really liked the idea of a visual collaborator because I felt we could work independently, but that her representations and mine would provide two perspectives (perhaps dovetailing, perhaps alternating) on the ideas we were hoping to communicate. I think in the past I have been nervous to collaborate with another writer, thinking our turns of phrase might clash in some ways, but this felt right. Erika even made very smart edits to the prose pieces that appear alongside the poems in the book. I’m not surprised because her visual art includes language often.

JT: What was your first collaborative project that you remember?

SM: The first people I really collaborated with were my parents. I remember my father taking me to the library and helping me to find a picture of a bird from an Audobon edition to sketch for one of my classes at school. I remember my mother helping me to bind my books and little stories with this strange orange polyester yarn from the ’70’s (I wasn’t born until 1984; needless to say, my mother saves things). They encouraged my stories and poems and gave me ideas for what to write about. I remember my mother egging me on with the next plot point, or my father sketching out a man next to a tree in his blocky style and then I wrote about that scene.

JT: How/why did you become interested in collaborative writing?

SM: I was interested once I found a kindred spirit, really. Erika was someone I was in awe of once we met at Vermont Studio Center on a residency. She is a printmaker and installation artist and I enjoyed the repetitiveness and the detail-oriented nature of her work. She told me once she read aloud the entirety of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and I knew we needed to do a project together. A Detail in the Landscape, in some ways, is about obsession–looking at a scene and trying to figure out mathematically and relationally how one fits or doesn’t fit into it. I knew Erika understood beauty, and how beauty isn’t as one dimensional as society thinks it is, how we can question it, or question how it is defined, but ultimately still claim that it exists.

JT: For this particular project, how did you decide to begin a collab together, and what sorts of guidelines, constraints, rules, procedures, premises, etc did you start out with?

SM: I began by sending Erika three short manuscripts centered on a simple theme. I had one entirely based on birds, one on colors. These were poetry-only manuscripts. But since this was a letterpress project, a short volume to include illustrations, I sent a third that was slightly different. The third manuscript consisted of five poems and five prose fragments. In the last two years I have been writing more prose–from book reviews to craft essays, to articles on poetics. I thought this little book might be a good way to test the waters and present micro-essays next to the poems. She picked the third manuscript, needless to say, and took her cue from my words. She created illustrations independently, though I gave her a few suggestions on color and ideas for types of images I liked. She didn’t take all of them, though. I told her “I trust you” and she ran with that trust. Then, once her illustrations were complete, I edited the prose a bit to condense it even further, and to leave more room for her gorgeous illustrations. I think we were intentionally very open with each other and respected each other’s talents. I hoped her art would respond to my art, and vice versa. I’m very happy with our results!

JT: Often writers send completed/near-completed texts to illustrators and designers to engage with without either person thinking of that as a collaboration, because the visual artist has limited input on the work of the writer and where the piece overall is going. It sounds like you’re saying your work with Erika was more of a reciprocal engagement?

SM: Yes, this was definitely a reciprocal engagement. Even though the book notes that A Detail in the Landscape is “by Sandy Marchetti with images by Erika Adams,” I didn’t think of Erika as an illustrator so much as a co-author. She had say over the final manuscript she chose to publish (out of the three I sent) and then she helped me to whittle down the chunkier micro-essays, or prose pieces, down to about one sentence each. Erika is a writer as well, actually a poet, and her book Pickles I Have Known is what made me want to work with her to begin with. She has an eye for text and incorporates it into her visual art as well.

JT: Did you write a lot of new or different material for this manuscript once your collaboration began?

SM: I didn’t write a lot of new material for Detail. Instead, I gathered a bunch of material into groupings and Erika curated it, much like one might a visual art exhibition. It was really fun giving her poems to look at that I was proud of, and letting her decide which ones to include. In that way, we worked independently of each other. I sent her poems, and she sent me drawings–we didn’t overrule or attempt to control each other–we honored the gifts that each of us could bring to the project.

JT: How do you think the poems in this manuscript changed overall once you started working with her?

SM: I think the prose, or micro-essays, in the project changed more than the poems. The poems in Detail  are part of a larger project–my full-length collection that’s just now out from Sundress Publications–and they remained quite constant. However, We were working with a small square book, 7″ by 7″, so the prose pieces needed to be quite succinct. Erika had a hand in paring those down, making them visually attractive, and placing them on the page in a way to stretch the audience’s eye, visually, across the spine of the book.

JT: In what ways do you think your poems responded to her art?

SM: The poems in Detail are all, to an extent, metrical and they cater to this idea of symmetry. The prose and poetry name drops geometrical terms and Erika’s drawings are made exclusively of triangles, of varying shapes and sizes. I liked the idea of linked drawings throughout a book, similar to what Erika had done with Pickles I Have Known, which includes multiple drawings of pickles in different shades of green, and hoped we could do something similar in my book. I was happy to write poems along a tight arc so that her art could be linked throughout my book in a similar way as her previous project.

You can see some excerpts from Marchetti’s side of the collaboration here.

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications, and a co-author of Heart Radicals, a forthcoming chapbook of love poems. Eating Dog Press published an illustrated letterpress edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy’s work appears in The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Ecotone, Green Mountains Review, Blackbird, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Aurora University, outside of her hometown of Chicago.