James Autio & Ching-In Chen/Susan Koefod

Susan Koefod & James D. Autio on "Bones and Skillets pt.1"

Poetic collaborations are often built on conversation. In this poem, we responded to what the other wrote and what we thought the conversation might be about, but always with very limited knowledge. We wrote this poem stanza by stanza over the course of several weeks.  Susan wrote the left column and James the right.  Each of us would write our bit, and then leave only a few words visible by changing the rest of the stanza to a white font, resave the document and email it to the other. Until reaching the end of the poem, neither of us saw the whole of the other's response. Often we’d even forget what we had written in our own stanzas. There were always only those few exposed words to help us recall what was previously written. Neither poet peeked, both of us trusting each other to reveal only that which we chose to along the way. When we uncovered all the words in the end, there were clear themes in each of our 'sides' of the poem, there was an interrelation between the two sides, and the end result was more cohesive than either of us might have imagined. Susan’s side stands as the bones, sensory.  James’ stanzas form the skillet, sensual. 

Ching-In Chen & James D. Autio on "Like a Book and Cookie"
Ching-In and James first started writing renga (in a loose form) when they met years ago during a writing residency at Vermont Studio Center.  Since then, it's been a way for these poets to keep in touch with each other and their work though they live far apart.  This also captures the communal spirit of the renga, poems written during Japanese drinking parties and played as games.  The magic of this conversational form comes with frequent unexpected tangents that direct the flow of the narrative. As collaborators, James and Ching-In reacted to the other’s last entry and created a stanza of a prescribed line length and syllable count. James wrote the three line stanzas in syllables of 5-7-5, and Ching-In’s couplets were 7-7. While Ching-In often experiments at using traditional forms in her writing, James more often prefers to avoid set guidelines. James feels that an intuitive and associative approach allows greater voice for the subconscious, though in practice, working with Ching-In in this conversational format opened his mind to topics and ideas that he may not have reached via individual work. Here, two poets are moving in a direction, tossing lines to each other and letting the conversation meander and take shape organically, like friendship.



Click here to view "Bones & Skillets pt. 1" as PDF



Like a Book and Cookie  
(Ching-In Chen and James D. Autio)

Baobabs are festooned
with blue razor hair wired
to the deepest night
where this beauty engorges
succulent navel deep skin
while the twirling mind travels
the length of languid form
stretched under sun
like the slow ferment of wheat
a wrapped cocoon of silken

undulants tossed casually aside
Within your cloak
I'm made as new

prophet for the ones who sleep
the feast of skin breaking ground
the banquet of old
from whence rose generations
of gut-clenching souls
we stuff down and down our deep
esophagus scraped anew
choke back sullen bitters
suppressed so long
dissolved in us, we're as strong

as crinoline lining our
prefabricated stomachs
crinkled with cold
we fear deep inside
but surprised by our resilience
like the slow stewing pot
glimpsing beauty in the shine
you're a crocheted mitt
safe from being burned
as you rest against my side
delicate finger hidden
fleeced by your fire language
as flames lick at my spent ember
your firetouches
crackle and singe
unpairings like lonely spark
nurtured by a wayward wind
flaring bright while knowing
passion that bellows a day
will undo us
the unraveling of one
whose body upturns pleasure
sliding through belt loops
like braided jute while
fibers drop upon the floor
this dusk ritual worship
of the traveling body
I'd bow to you, your own
Bartholomew Cubbins
yanking a toupee
a fantastical creature
steeped in my murky lagoons
as two, we've swamped Charon's raft,
gone down to the depths
of the underworld

one must gobble the other
survival of the meanest
swallow another whole
allow the black humours
to bubble over

the fester of salined mouth
untruths rise rise the dead raise
Lazarus into the dawning days
with bedsores healing
and kneeling
what of the scabs in body
what of my repeating death
were it not for memory
my red trails
would fade under muslin
bits of cloth I tore and fed
to those who would destroy me
the eager lipsmack
suppling at the bottleneck
where my foes gather
pucker the diagnosis
no lips can salvage the wreck
or drain lakes
with a single straw
then dead man bloat under sundown strand
left-behind hold no water
wipe the stained memory fat
wipe from my memory that
which incites conflict
calls neighbors to arms

a musket ball and powder
uprise to fear open path
blunderbuss propped
against the chifforobe
while I braid twine into rope
for the dawn and the hanging
no rebel lives with ease here
always on the flee
from pens and feathers
dropped from malevolent clouds
a maelstrom a rotation
check check to the deadly streets
I have chased after
cardboard and whiskey
within torrents of brainfuck
the smooth self-destructing one
we cherish the lovely guilt
still we're hot stones
creasing pieces of quilt
dryleaf patchwork of the fall
browning edges of the thread
spiders sizzling in the wok
dancing spitsplatter
between florets, soy drizzle,

I'd have waltzed with you
wishes lag behind the feet
would have is another dream
that I dare to keep
as chain link wall around
the consecrated ground
my face against the red fence
rice grain left in the bucket

from which meals have been steamed,
rice balls wrapped
in the dim cracks of lanterns
like the hollow wood alight
no fathers can resurrect
while you, wrapped in shawl,
wail song down the hull
of his black ocean pulse
the plunging fester of veins
your silver honey of waste
feather fuzz of a hundred bees
pad my thinskinned
blue nettle thicket
the moss is disturbed by hand
could you help alight the wings?
cherub babies might light
dawn upon this night
of us like firebright
no innocent white children
grace my hearth sweeping away
the greased ash that sticks
to sundress hemline,
under fingernail scritch
gasoline beauty and rage
the scrim under the belly
the caul that wraps a head
in such comfort and sloughs
from the bitter womb
that expels all ungrateful
sediments to fend and fight
and hold fertility
couched as an
unattainable talisman
couched as the removed velvet
jewel glisten in orbit
while slouched, we vouchsafe
mental detritus
for the angry old hobos
slung knapsack knotted shoulder
the junk of the living skin
foul mouth scruffed chin
rides the rails of you
makes your fridge box his squat
your haunches caress the wind
glue and wood and night entwined

dissolve into parts
strung with jute fiber, stitches
and bookbinder paste
this is handed down treasure
destroyed for fear of losing.


Susan Koefod’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in anthologies and literary magazines such as Midway Journal, Minnetonka Review, Snakeskin, The Talking Stick, Avocet, and Tattoo Highway.

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart's Traffic. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she is a Kundiman, Macondo and Lambda Fellow. Her work has been recently published in BorderSenses, Rio Grande Review, Chroma, Sous Rature, Cha, Verdad and others.

James D. Autio is the recipient of the Morris Award for Best Playwright, the Bridgman Poetry Prize, and a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. James’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Drunken Boat, Naugatuck River Review, Yellow Medicine Review, Venereal Kittens and other fine journals