Poet Maureen Seaton embodies the art of collaboration

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Award-winning lesbian poet and writer Maureen Seaton is at it again. She has nine titles to her name alone – including the Lambda Literary Award-winning “Fear of Subways” and “Sex Talks To Girls.” In addition, Seaton has seven collaborations with other poets, including Denise Duhamel, Neil De La Flor and David Trinidad, to her credit as well. That’s prolific.

A longtime educator, Seaton currently teaches in the University of Miami’s creative writing program. I spoke with her in early 2012 about one of her two latest poetry collaborations, “Sinéad O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds” (Firewheel Editions, 2011).

Gregg Shapiro: Your recent collaboration with Neil De La Flor is the latest in a series of book length collaborations. What attracts you to collaborate?

Maureen Seaton: I get to read and write a poem simultaneously! The wonder factor is pretty huge with this arrangement. I’m often blown away by the stuff my collaborator produces, and I’m convinced that most (or all) of what I come up with would never exist without the prompts of my co-conspirator. There’s also a lovely immediacy, the gift of gratification: What could be better than an instant audience? It’s not as if there’s praise being thrown back and forth all the time, but someone’s reading your stuff as it rolls out, and responding to it too, often in very curious ways. And last, there’s the growing intimacy – a literary cross between friend, sibling, and muse. 

GS: Were you listening to Sinéad O’Connor’s music at any point during the writing of the titular poem or the book itself?

MS: Neil and I, who are very different people yet close kin in our poetic and artistic realities, both love Sinéad and her music. So, yes, I’m sure we listened to her in the years it took to write our book. We hadn’t ever talked about her with each other, though, so when she suddenly popped her beautiful head up in a poem we were happy. We named the whole book after her then. Who wouldn’t?  My favorite Sinéad album is “Faith and Courage,” but she’s a lot bigger than her music to me. I first wrote about her when she was banned from “Saturday Night Live.” I like heretics. I think Neil would agree with me.

GS: What is the role of music in your life and in your work?

MS: The role of music, and I hope it (music) won’t feel too much pressure if I say this, is to keep me alive so I can write as many poems as I’m supposed to before I die. I was a musician at age seven. My childhood house was a musical house. I played several instruments until I was in my 30s, and then I started to write poetry. Now my kids are music lovers. My partner is a musical genius. I myself would rather die of music than anything else, and when the time comes, I know that whatever comes next is made of music. 

GS: On the back cover, we are told to “Ask Sallie,” who appears by name in the poems “Foxy in the Tire Shop” and “Rotonda (Sic).” Who is Sallie?

MS: Could be Neil’s imaginary boyfriend. Or his evil step twin. Or his favorite swear word. She comes flying out of his mouth whenever she feels like it, that’s all I know. Sallie is a force, but more like a god than a bank. Or she’s a horse. A horse with or without a conscience.

GS: Weather, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, also appears throughout the book. What role does the weather play in your life and work?

MS: After Hurricane Frances in 2004, I started collaborating about weather with other Floridians. (Neil and I actually began to write our book during Frances.) After Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, I tried to stop writing about weather but couldn’t, it having turned from obsession to trauma. When I walk out the door of my house between July and October, my sunglasses fog up. I have an endurance for heat and a relationship with humidity that makes me laugh out loud in August in Death Valley. I wear mittens when it’s 60 degrees. And the last time I saw snow I wept. I used to think God was in the ocean, but since moving to Florida, I realize God is in the wind. In both my life and my work, when it comes to weather, I try to do what Robert Hass suggests (in his book “Praise”) in the face of a beast so large, terrifying, and unpredictable: praise it.

GS: Have you begun to think about what your next book-length collaboration might be?

MS: I’m working on new poems with Neil de la Flor as we speak (we’re so lucky we live close to each other), and also on a new book with Samuel Ace over e-mail that has multimedia components. Fun!