Monday, 27 June 2011

We Are The Beatles: Lennon and Lennon

On Collaborating with Helen Thomas

I count myself as very lucky to have a writing pal I trust enough to collaborate with. Now, it’s not unusual for musicians to collaborate – think McCartney and Lennon – but I don’t know any poets who collaborate with other poets (unless they’re married).

Raymond Carver had his editor Gordon Lish, and I’ve got Helen Thomas.

It started when we spent time together on a poets trip to the New York book launch of Short Fuse: A global anthology of new fusion poets, editors Todd Swift and Philip Norton. We hit it off straight away, and had much fun there, where - during a radio interview - Todd said we were like the new Beatles. This was when our collaboration began. We both wanted to be John Lennon – I wrote a poem called Lennon and Lennon, and Helen wrote We Are The Beatles. I guess – okay Helen – that Helen (who’s a no-nonsense Northerner from Lymm in Cheshire) is indeed more Lennon, whereas because I’m from hippy-trippy South West Bristol, I’m more McCartney (gawd, I can’t bear Paul McCartney).

We decided to write a stage play based on our adventures (which was never finished), where I’d write one scene, send it to Helen, who’d polish it, then she’d send the next scene to me where I’d add my alterations/ suggestions, and so it carried on. We discovered that we were on the same wave length, and I trusted her opinion completely.

I’ve admired Helen and her word craft from the off, and have to say that her suggestions have been spot on.

Next I asked Helen’s advice and editorial skills on a few poems. They were mainly ones which I had a deadline for. We both found that something new was happening. It wasn’t a mere case of editing. I found that my work was transformed by Helen’s intervention, and she said that she’d never have written anything like the finished poems if I hadn’t begun them. The finished poems which we wrote together, then, were an amalgam of both our talents – and I think greater than the whole. A bit like Lennon’s rough added to McCartney’s smooth. Not that Helen’s poems are rough at all! I had (have) a tendancy to waffle and write more dancing poetry whereas Helen’s were (are) tight with no lean meat. If you’ve not read Helen’s poems then do.

I guess we both have the same sort of humour and find the same things funny, which is essential. I can’t imagine this sort of creative partnership with anyone else. Helen now collaborates with her partner Owen and they are Tingle In The Netherlands – again, visit them on facebook/ youtube, myspace, etc.

I hate anyone else’s input on my work – which is a terrible thing to admit – but I know that Helen can tweak something even better from my poetry.

I don’t call on Helen for all my poems – after all, she has her own work. But also because many of my poems are distinctively mine and have my voice. I enjoy the ones on which Helen and I have collaborated or which she’s edited for me. They have that extra Helen oomph!

The process usually starts with me contacting Helen in a panic – I have a poem I need for a festival/ performance, etc., and it’s just not coming together and I’m running out of time. I’ll then send it to Helen, and she’ll send back suggestions (usually in red). They could be suggested alterations, suggested rhymes for me to think about, or just a “I don’t think this scans”. It always gives me an injection of creativity and helps either jumpstart the poem, or triggers an avenue I’d not thought of, or highlights something I knew deep down wasn’t working.

So, here’s one of the first poems we collaborated on. It ended up a joint poem as Helen picked out many of my lines, added some new ones, and made tight suggestions. We wrote it for one of my performances at Ashton Court Festival (it’s credited to us both).

We Are The World by Helên Thomas and Rosemary Dun

By aspirant bouncing butterflies, I crouched coy as a grub

Back stage at the One World Festival, I wasn’t in their club

Of housewives with a hobby, belly dancing, flounced in silk

Some looked like Mr. Blobby with skin as white as milk.

Pot bellies swathed in chiffon, they danced the seven veils.

Not one of them was muslim, but some had come from Wales.

“We love the Arab traditions,” trills Mrs. Pontin-Fraynes

Elsewhere in far off deserts, vultures peck at shallow graves.

The Cotswold Samba Band’s as hot as Salsa and tequila

Amplified like gun shots on the streets of the Favela

As the future of a hunted child forever lies unfurled

His culture’s cherry picked by those who sing, “We are the world!”

And so I seek asylum in the toilets down the hall

From the Anglo Saxon Mummers, and their global festival.

Their faces stodgy cake mix paste, no dusky maidens here,

Just flaccid white bread, lemonade, drop scones and ginger beer.

So, thanks Helen, and until the next time xxx


  1. Lymm is in Cheshire you daft bint. Always had been. Obviously I'm the one with the geography degree. More to follow.. HT

  2. Oooo, I feel proper bigged up now. Thanks Rosemary. HTxx

  3. Oh, could I just point out that I was dressed as a comedy character in that pic above and that I have a website at:

    Thank you and goodnight.

  4. Cheshire - oh, yeah, so it is. I did know that but forgot. I failed my Geography O level, you know - I put the Lake District in Scotland!

  5. All now hopefully present and correct! xx

  6. Much better. I like the ones where I look like someone else.