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Douglas Barbour

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Douglas Barbour Feature

Sheila E. Murphy

Collaborating with Doug Barbour

This is written from the unique perspective of my role as a daily collaborator with Doug Barbour in the ongoing long poem entitled, Continuations. 2009 is the tenth year of this endeavor that began via e-mail shortly after Doug and Stephen Scobie performed in Arizona at a Tucson POG event at the Poetry Artwalk Series held in the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. These performances of sound poetry made me aware of Doug’s rendering of consonants, his keen delivery of vowel tones, and his presence within the rests. I was re-introduced to a quality of language that recalled its primal origin combined with a reinvention of sound in context.

When Doug first invited me to take part in a collaborative project we decided to each prepare six lines as matins on a daily basis. The first volume of Continuations appeared from The University of Alberta Press in 2006 and was featured the following year at the Edmonton Poetry Festival with performances and discussions by the writers. Now our work is in its 86th section, each roughly 20 stanzas long. Through this collaborative experience I have been gifted with the thoughtful, scholarly attention of a great friend whose generosity toward family, students, community profession, and the life of art in letters and visual exploration continue to amaze me. Doug Barbour perceives, engages, and creates artistically with an intellectual rigor and curiosity that is at once gentle and fierce.

As with all collaborators, Doug brings all his life experiences to bear in his writing. His mind is fastened on projects he cares about deeply. A trustworthy, discerning, and engaged professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, Doug is infinitely interested in shaping good minds as he contributes and celebrates with others. He has shown a steadfast involvement to NeWest Press with careful, rigorous editing of a wide range of books, each with attentiveness to the structure and objectives of that organization. Doug is an active participant in the online list, poetryetc, where he listens, answers, and offers commentary that evidences his humor, support, friendship, and fair-mindedness in face of occasional controversy. Doug brings this online community to its best iteration. I am joined by many who benefit from this gift, and remain grateful.

Working with Doug, I have discovered in sonority the range of pitches that blend the philosophical, the political, the breadth of the humanities, and the interweaving of silence with the sounds that come. The fact that this poetry occurs in a set length and format allows endless variation that we can jointly appreciate. During this same time span of nearly ten years, our correspondence is similarly often brief, occasionally longer, inclusive, and replete with personality, laughter, disappointment, even grief, and recognition of what daylight and darkness each have to offer.

Collaborative writing offers an extraordinary element in creative partnership that concurrently teaches and crafts a manuscript of dual making. This craft demands the writers to be both attentive and inventive. Doug signals much, misses little, and situates the work in its own emphasis, with context as an adjunct support. Doug’s ability and high regard for the supremacy of the text precludes many possible interruptions in the collaborative process. Doug’s ear is supreme; sensing the lines prior to his own, he invents, initiates, and responds. As if no difference between the two passages exists, he measures the timing of conclusion for each passage, then acknowledges the measure and fosters syllabic integrity within the artistic gesture.

The Continuations collaboration has been done by e-mail. My friendship with Doug, the privilege I have of working with him, the shrinking of physical distance between Edmonton and Phoenix, and the infinite learning and savoring I gather from his writing presence provide a constant source of inspiration. I feel very fortunate to experience this shared art in letters and celebrate Doug’s role as shaper of mutuality and artistry in sound.

Sheila E. Murphy

Autumn, 2009

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