Three Poems & An Interview with

Feature & Poetry / Christopher Citro & Dustin Nightingale

Setting the Small Fires on a Ship Stuck in Ice

One amber blink into the night sky. I am here. I am here. I am on unsteady ground. The room is beginning to sway. I may never be warm again and if not that is okay. I don’t think I’ve ever been a snowman and if I could write an anti-suicide PSA it would begin Whose woods these are. You didn’t see the movie? We were us but better than us. One experienced spontaneous amputation of the small toes. One was handed an entire yellow cake. The tarantula had been brushed off moments before bringing it into the room. There were plenty of things for it to eat before it went to sleep. For example, I had a memory that I was desperately either trying to remember or forget, I don’t know which. I had an answering machine one hundred years ago. It told me who my friends were. It hung on the kitchen wall and lived on the warmth of my hand, the attention I smeared across it standing alone at 2 a.m. waiting for the light to do something. Anything.

Snapping Inside Like Twigs Stepped On

There is our big hero watering the edge of a brick, holding himself up by a sapling some summer night in love but not knowing what with. And there is me just sitting here thinking of him not knowing my my my heart is beating in something besides iambic. We almost never hear ourselves say I have had enough my belly is full and I feel sufficiently adored. In this cloud I see above me I can read someone else’s diary. It feels wrong and I love that it feels wrong. I found the key under the tongue of a dead relative I can’t remember the name. I can’t remember the name I’m supposed to call out as I’m falling. There is a big hero watering the ruins of a 14th century church. Pray, he says, for me. Lemons in the market warming in the noon sun, too large to fit into any mouth, poured over their own rims. Piles of them for anyone to consider lifting and then we’ll do what exactly?

A Suit Made of Human Skin

I just took one of my micro-vacations in my mind. You were saying something. I’m sure it was important to you. I can imagine that it had something to do with the zoo. Everybody always says their favorite is monkey island, the freedom of it all. Mine are the cages with the animals removed for feeding or cleaning. Is that a flash of tail? I think I can make out an ear behind that concrete tree. I can smell where they have never been and so can they. Eating is boring. It smells like the earth selected into small cubes and usually warm. I’d like to leave this room and head somewhere tropical. If you ask nicely, with you under one arm.

An Interview with

Christopher Citro and Dustin Nightingale were kind enough to take some time to discuss their collaborative writing process with us. Whilst both are poets in their own right (having been published in numerous journals), we were intrigued by how they went about composing their combined poems, especially as they reside 1500 miles apart.

wildness / How did you start collaborating with each other?

We first wrote together for an assignment in a prose poetry class while graduate students at Indiana University. We made six poems one evening sitting across Dustin’s coffee table in his apartment next door to the fire department—sirens wailing intermittently—and it seemed to go well. Years later we submitted a few to literary journals and they were accepted, so we decided to continue the experiment, this time via email since we’d moved to New York and North Dakota.

wildness / Could you tell us a little bit about the actual process of authoring a piece with two writers?

Each person starts two poems at a time, and we send them back and forth in batches of four, making large or small additions to each poem as we wish. When one of us feels moved to add a title, he does. When one of us thinks the poem is done, he indicates this and the other can agree or continue to add to or revise it.

While we generally stick to adding new material to the end of each draft, we decided at the get-go that each of us can to go back and change anything at any time. We treat the drafts as if they are our own poems, with complete freedom to cut lines, words, whole sections if we think it’s best. If the other person feels the removed bit was nifty enough to keep, he can try to rework it in.

All these changes happen without debate, with only the poem and the act of writing as our guide. Sometimes things can get quite drastic. If one of us notices a poem is just coming out dead in the water, he hacks it to pieces and we start fresh from the remains.

wildness / Do you always agree on the direction of the piece?

We don’t have preconceived ideas of where our collaborative poems will go. Each one is a journey without a map, and we never discuss poems-in-progress. Often we surprise one another with the turns our new additions present, and that’s one of the joys of this collaboration. We like to trouble, delight, and inspire one another. It breaks us out of our individual writing habits and opens up fresh possibilities.

After years of writing collaboratively, we have found that one of the reasons it seems to work for us is that we share a sense of the internal shape of a poem. When to create tension, when to leap, when to release, when to run on, when to call it a day and lick our wounds. When to introduce a 14th century church or a woodchuck or a cry for help.

Dustin Nightingale lives in West Hartford, Connecticut. His poetry has been or will be published in journals such as New Ohio Review, Margie, Cimarron Review, Portland Review, and decomP.

Christopher Citro is the author of The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015), and his poems appear or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2014, Sixth Finch, and Prairie Schooner.