Lissa Kiernan and Maureen Alsop, Collaboration

Sara K. Byrne

Aphrodite’s Thirst

You spread salt over the map so the body might
continue as a trajectory—lantern and water
succumb to snow.

I stood in the civility of language. Fog
scaffolding the latticework, pigeon’s linden-lined paths.

Over the past five centuries no one remembered
the threat the hand made of progress. The wooden steps
leading upward to mist.

I stood at your door. The way fog
scaffolds the latticework, the staunch stump
stands in solid light. My shadow, a splintered wind-
mill, a chapel in the round.

Civility, the language
we speak when we speak
with the maturity of the dead, at ease
in cloud where the overlooked beauty
of pigeons ripple
the linden-lined dirt paths.

The wooden steps
my shadow splinters spreading salt
over the last five threats.

—Maureen Alsop & Lissa Kiernan



Devotional Within a Sequined Universe

You swim through satellites where her swan’s throat levels your gaze. Ibis, underworld lover, not second best, but first brightness.

Beneath her soiled jonquil dress you fold.  A valley mirrored her lavender’d hips/simulacrum of sunstoned doves.  

She rises in grassy wave-lengths, mythologic foam, oceanic cult.  Her prospect: a physicality/ endangered brocade/ death’s stitchery/.

Her variables:  indecent vulnerabilities. Sparrows swing & slip through cypress girdles. Incurred portent of her eyes renamed as beauty.

—Maureen Alsop & Lissa Kiernan


January Itinerary, Parenthesis 

Perhaps it was a clearing, ironwood doubled beyond switchback. One drawer after another opened: adolescent compositions, train ticket stubs; west’s silvering notation scrimmed a buck’s skull blanched and sculpted by the grove’s indistinct spires. What question was I, not who, not kindness. But a physical concentration, late season’s lake-effect, snow—. 

—Maureen Alsop


Perhaps it was a Clearing, 

ironwood doubled beyond switchback. West’s silvering 
notation scrimmed a buck’s skull blanched and sculpted

clean by the late season’s lake-effect snow.
Had the buck ranged on a tuft of turf-tall fescue, 

sipped from the rivulet’s intoxicating trough?
Perhaps it was the buck’s own rippling reflection,

window within window, that caused it to look twice
at its own mirage—two tapering velvet sabers

straining to reach new heights? Did they distract the buck
from seeing his own conclusion approach sideways

or from behind? Was there no hint, no whiff of pine
or shift of wind to trouble the buck’s languid white

under-tipped tail? Had he not overheard the sedge grass
whispering, or did the creek’s incessant utterance mask

the stealth of predator closing in? Or was there no wolf,
no coyote, no cougar, nor hunter to harvest the trunk

and consider trophying the head, before declaring
the antlers atrophied, even as they grew heavy

on the buck’s young head? Perhaps this heaviness
was his demise, or was it not something borne down, 

but rather something inborn? Or was it invisible,
lacing the water, glazing the grass? Was it fast 

and clement, or did it—the dying—go on for some time?
And had a raptor carried a limb to another 

clearing, black alder stooped over dwarf pine?
And did the soul come with its heart— 

half or stay behind? And how long before the skull’s
stunted antlers, became bleached so driftwood-light? 

—Lissa Kiernan 


Process Notes

Lissa Kiernan: As I recall it, the first poem (“Aphrodite’s Thirst”) started out as a “unit” Maureen had been turned on to by Nikia Chaney that she learned from Makalani Bandele at Cave Canem. Maureen gave me five random lines, and I gave her five random lines. Lines were combined as the poem expanded. There was a formula, and it was rather complex! 

The second poem (“Devotional”) was actually written by exchanging self-portraits. She sent me a number of hers, and I sent her a number of mine, and we both wrote lines that described each other’s photos. 

Maureen started us off with a prompt for the third poem with the line: “Perhaps it was a clearing, ironwood doubled beyond switchback,” and we both took that line in our own directions. 

Maureen Alsop: Regarding process… some did start off as a line by line or sentence by sentence exchange. There were a few others, however, where we began with that process and then took hold of the reins going in different directions, more as a prompt. Those which were more of a prompt/ parallel solo acts are listed as a single author. 

lkiernanLissa Kiernan’s first full-length volume of poetry, Two Faint Lines in the Violet was a 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award finalist as well as a finalist for the 2014 Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book by an Independent Press. She founded and directs the Poetry Barn, a literary center in New York’s Hudson Valley. A book-length braided essay, Glass Needles & Goose Quills: Elementary Lessons in Atomic Properties, Nuclear Families & Racial Poetics, is forthcoming later this year. 




Maureen Alsop is the author of four full collections of poetry including Mantic, Apparition WrenMirror Inside Coffin and Later, Knives & Trees. A previous contributor to Escape into Life, her poems have appeared in a wide variety journals including Kenyon Review, Tampa Review, New Delta Review, Typo, and Barrow Street. Her awards include: Tony Quagliano International Poetry Prize, Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry and The Bitter Oleander’s Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. 

Links to the Poets:

Lissa Kiernan at Negative Capability Press

Lissa Kiernan at the Poetry Barn

Maureen Alsop at EIL

Maureen Alsop at Poets & Writers 

Link to the Artist:

Sara K. Byrne at EIL

More on Collaboration at the links below: 

Jessy Randall & Daniel M. Shapiro

Interview at EIL 

Collaboruptions at EIL 

Gert & Uwe Tobias


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