There is no history of collaboration between writers or artists. The histories of art and literature are histories of solitary individuals, typically tormented, who labour over their form of choice in the confinement of their own rooms. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, gives this advice to his young addressee:


Gehen Sie in sich. Erforschen Sie den Grund, der Sie schreiben heißt; prüfen Sie, ob er in der tiefsten Stelle Ihres Herzens seine Wurzeln ausstreckt, gestehen Sie sich ein, ob Sie sterben müßten, wenn es Ihnen versagt würde zu schreiben.


Go into yourself. Investigate the reason that calls you to write; examine whether it spreads out its roots into the deepest part of your heart; admit to yourself whether you must die if you should fail to write.

(Letter 1)


Writing is an act of going into oneself. The roots of the vocation are buried in the heart, and this plant does not grow upwards or outwards but spreads inwards. Writing is intrinsically selfish. The call to creation exists inside the body and not outside it.


Is collaboration therefore incompatible with the call to create? The verb ‘collaborate’ is derived from a late Latin formation combining the prefix con- (‘with’) with the verb laborare (‘I work’). Labor is a motif central to Virgil’s Georgics, a poem in four books about the art ­and science of farming. At the beginning of the poem, as most classical writers of epics tend to do, Virgil invokes deities to assist him in his task:


                                 ... Vos, o clarissima mundi
lumina, labentem caelo quae ducitis annum,
Liber et alma Ceres, vestro si munere tellus
Chaoniam pingui glandem mutavit arista,
poculaque inventis Acheloia miscuit uvis ...


                                            ... You, oh brightest luminaries
of the world who lead the gliding year through the sky,
Liber and nourishing Ceres, if, by your gift, the earth
has changed the Chaonian acorn for fat grain
and mixed the Achelian cups with discovered grapes ...

(Georgics 1.5-9)


What is unconventional about this invocation is the number of divinities Virgil ends up calling upon. The invocation continues for another seventeen or so lines, ending in an exhortation to Augustus Caesar. At this point we become aware of the presence not only of Virgil but of an entire host of deities associated in various ways with nature and cultivation. Like the farmer’s labor which cannot produce results without the assent and cooperation of the elements of nature, Virgil’s poem cannot be completed without the creative input of these divinities who must fill in the gaps for him where his own efforts fail to suffice. Classical epic literature offers us a picture of composition that is vastly different from Rilke’s: the poet never really works alone because the source of his art and craft is not situated inside him. Poetry is expressed through him rather than from him. We might see this to be so because as humans, we cannot create anything ex nihilo. We are not God. The literature we write and the art we make must come from somewhere. But from where? If we leave it to Harold Bloom, all of our inspiration comes ultimately from the dead. He tells us,


The strong poet peers in the mirror of his fallen precursor and beholds neither the precursor nor himself but a Gnostic double, the dark otherness or antithesis that both he and precursor longed to be, yet feared to become. ... It is as though the final phase of great modern poets existed ... as the ultimate placing and reduction of ancestors.

(p. 149, The Anxiety of Influence)


This is the core of Bloom’s seminal work, and a sobering reminder that there is nothing ever truly new under the sun. Every writer does not write in a vacuum, but is fuelled by an anxiety to be different from those who have come before. The result is a dilemma: whether to build on what has come before, or reject it entirely. The ‘Gnostic double’ is therefore a phantom of the unconscious mind, the hazy shade of a long-dead poet who constantly whispers into the ears of a living writer, forcing him or her always to be making a choice between continuity and discontinuity. And in the depths of those whispers are the echoes of other writers, subjects of anxiety who haunted the shade’s owner when he or she was still alive. Indeed, influence and inspiration are, in fact, infinite regressions of creative acceptances and rejections that decide the direction a piece of work eventually takes. No writer or artist truly works alone. But this conclusion is a result of analysing the unconscious or subconscious processes in creativity. What happens if the writer or artist consciously creates from the work of another? What if we perform this process of influence actively?


Or, we might phrase the project this way: what happens when we intentionally make a poem or a work of art aware of the existence of others? What breaks down, and what is created? The pieces in issue 2.1 of OF ZOOS display various possibilities in this respect. Justin Jannise, for instance, suggests that poems perhaps can and do suffer from Freudian complexes, too:


Every little
poem loves its
mother, ...


But Justin also tells us:


Just not every
poem loves so


And this is evident in the other works. N.W. Hall’s series of three poems is a spin-off from the viral song ‘Gangnam Style’ which is constantly in dialogue with the original, but rather than converging, the poems merely become more fragmented as they interact with the original song. The ‘love’ between the poems and their creative mother seems to fray at the edges the more it attempts to embrace her and ultimately reaches a point of complete disjuncture when N.W. Hall’s unique, individual voice literally explodes through the lyrics of the original into an ardent love song all of its own.


Creative multiplicity and influence, of course, do not always have to remain within a single form. It can travel across mediums: poetry, for example, can inform art, and vice versa. Neila Mezynski examines this interaction and what happens in the space between. Her study of two installations of heaped chairs in both visual and verbal form is like an expansion of Magritte’s infamous The Treachery of Images without the explicit n’est pas denial:


... Watch out that leg don’t stick into, careful it don’t turn gray, that black. White. Confusion reign if there is blur. Maybe thing or chair become one that white on black.


Mezynski’s three prose poems appear to describe the photographs of the installations, but they also continually resist identification. Are the chairs one installation, or many? Is the white wall against which the chairs are set part of the installation, or are they separate? As we examine the pictures of the installations, should we consider the effect of the wall and its colour on the installation, or do we keep them apart? Is it even possible for us to do so? The more the prose poems try to describe the installations, the more they question their coherence. Effectively, the meeting point between image and text is also their point of divergence.


But we do not always want to be talking about divergence. I began this preface by observing that there is no history of collaboration between creators, but demonstrated afterwards that the perception of writing and art as a history of solitary, tortured individuals is problematic. In active defiance of the hermit archetype, more and more artists and writers are coming together to produce collaborative work. Jean Hui Ng, Tse Hao Guang, and Loh Guan Liang’s art and poetry collaboration is an interesting alternative to Mezynski’s piece, considering it is a project that also deals with chairs: but rather than convergence that fragments at the point of meeting, we are presented with paintings of chairs that are constructed from abstract strokes and lines that hint at the object rather than represent it. Loh and Tse’s poems function as counterpoints to each other; both poems examine the symbolisms of a chair as object, but while Loh’s dwells upon how its physical existence reinforces its meanings, Tse’s insists on denying the chair’s embodiment in the face of its significations — ‘There are no chairs here’, the poem tells us. The paintings are suspended in that space between symbol and reality, and the reader, caught between both poems, is invited to contemplate and choose between the possibilities presented by both image and text.


Collaboration, certainly, does not always have to be conscious or mediated. The cadavre exquis, or Exquisite Corpse, is a classic Surrealist writing game that puts writers together as collaborators but without the need for a structured, unified collaboration.  In the game, one person writes the first line, folds the paper over to hide what has been written, and then passes it on to the next person. The next person writes whatever comes to mind, folds it down again, passes it on, and so on and so forth. The fathers of Surrealism came up with this on their first attempt at this exercise:


Le cadavre
le vin


It translates:


The cadaver
the wine


The words paint a curiously macabre image. We know this is Surrealist ‘poetry’, if it can be called that; we are meant to make no sense of it. But like the man who is asked not to think of a bearded Mona Lisa, our imagination refuses to accede to the better judgment of our rational faculties: the reader involuntarily steps into the role of accomplice, collaborating with the authors to create sense where there was none before. The gap that is opened up by the lack of a unified goal or theme is filled in by a reader’s own senses and imagination.


Perhaps, however, that might be exactly why there is no history of collaboration. Literature and art may have for the most part been created by individuals, but this might reflect merely the material aspect of the truth: the final result, as we have seen, must somehow root itself in a multiplicity of some sort, whether this involves the piece inviting the viewer or reader to assist in the creation of meaning or turning itself into a multi-faceted mirror that transcends time and space to reflect the phantoms of its diachronic predecessors or its synchronic counterparts. This issue is itself a cadavre exquis, given that despite the brief, the editors of this magazine would have had no idea what sort of submissions would come in and the end result would, therefore, still have been produced by certain random factors beyond anyone’s control. To that effect, therefore, perhaps it is up to the reader, like the exquisite corpse who drinks new wine, to formulate his or her own understanding of how these works fit in with and shine light on each other to illustrate the numerous possibilities that arise from collaboration and multiplicity and, in the process, recognise and see the many worlds that come together in the microcosm of a single piece of writing or work of art.

Ian Tyler-Lee is a 23-year-old student in London currently reading Classical Studies with English. His favourite new thing recently has been discovering new music (especially since he got a Spotify account for himself) and writing really banal songs. In his spare time he overwatches Doctor Who, learns a bit of Modern Greek, discovers more new music, and drinks tea. For more Ian, visit