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The Last Collaboration

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I am posting this on behalf of Martha Deed, mother of the artist and poet Millie Niss, whom people who've been around for a while will remember with fondness and who died tragically young in late 2009. I can wholeheartedly recommend both the new book and 'City Bird', too.

I am Millie Niss's mother. Millie and I both contracted Swine Flu in October 2009 at what turned out to be Millie's last public appearance: the AndNow conference in Buffalo, NY where we gave a joint presentation. I recovered easily. Millie ended up in the ER and then the ICU of a community hospital in the Buffalo area and died in the ICU a month later from a profusion of hospital-acquired infections and an undiagnosed spinal infection that left her paralyzed from the chest down. She was 36 years old.

Since then, I have attempted to follow what I knew to be Millie's wishes. First, I edited Millie's poetry and a few of her texts for BlazeVox (see link below) in response to Geoffrey Gatza's repeated requests for a manuscript from Millie. I am grateful for his continued interest in Millie's work and his publication of City Bird: Selected Poems (1991-2009).

Next, I began the task of reconstructing Millie's final illness in the context of her own patient advocacy efforts, her chronic illness, medical records, her emails and hospital notebooks, my poems, two department of health investigations and outcomes, and images. The result is an experimental book, The Last Collaboration, which was published online (and free) in January 2012 by Furtherfield (see link below), which is a digital arts center that takes social justice as one of its missions. Edward Picot wrote an essay review of The Last Collaboration:

This book is an account of Millie's experiences at the front line during her final illness. She was hospitalised in New York State, but I can recognise many of the problems described herein from my own experience of the NHS in England, where I have worked in a doctor's surgery for more than twenty years. The story has been assembled by Martha Deed, Millie's longtime collaborator and Mom, using not only Millie's e-mails and jottings, but her own own notes made at the time, her reflections since (which often take the form of poems), and the results of her subsequent investigations and complaints. In artistic terms the different elements are blended and balanced with great skill, and we find ourselves shuttling between documentary evidence, poems about bereavement, first-person narratives and nature-notes about birds, without any sense of incongruity or disjunction. The story unfolds both in the present tense and in flashback, both from Martha's point of view and from Millie's. It is a shocking depiction of how badly things can sometimes go wrong in a hospital.

Once the book was online, an experiment in itself, I set about preparing the manuscript for release as a book with permission from Furtherfield and Picot. The Last Collaboration was released in late June 2012. Both City Bird and The Last Collaboration are available through Amazon in the US The Last Collaboration is also being distributed by Amazon in the UK and Europe.

Thanks to all of you who knew Millie for your past support of her and our work.

Martha Deed