Whiteboardings: Commentary

Johanna Shapiro, Ph.D.

In this remarkable anthology co-authors Howard Stein and Seth Alcorn use the image of the whiteboard to explain and illustrate their unusual creative collaboration. We typically use whiteboards in group settings to brainstorm and note ideas.  This is essentially what the authors do in their joint writing, only their whiteboard is the safe “third space” of their collective unconscious and their process involves working with proto-poems until they emerge as an expression of the connection between two beings, an intertwining so profound it cannot be disentangled. 

The poems that emerge from this process are by turns hopeful, bitter, contemplative, and droll. The authors cast their net wide, embracing topics from tubing to medical calamities, the joyless workplace and George Floyd’s murder.  They ask timeless and unanswerable questions: What is the meaning of life?  Have the better angels of our nature deserted us? What vanishes and what endures? Can we escape from the zero-sum games that sometimes seem to constitute our lives? When is it time to let go and of what?

Many of the poems have images of a world gone awry, such as a river flowing upstream. Others are imbued with an elegiac tone, a sense of looking back on life, sometimes in wonder, sometimes with regret, wondering whether life amounts to anything more than “hulls by the side of the road.” Yet the authors also consistently search for hope, the gentle humanizing touch in an otherwise cold hospital, the upward spiral rather than the Ouboros snake perpetually eating its own tail, the possibility of meaningful legacy, remnants of felled oak trees whittled into enduring objects.  “Nature will have its way” the authors realize and they both mourn and accept this truth. The power of this collection lies in the fascinating way in which two brilliant minds work in tandem to examine this truth together.