In July of 2007, Salka, a Finnish publication, interviewed Liz Bradfield about Broadsided. A link to the original article is here. Below, for non-Finnish speakers, is a translation.
Bradfield: I came at this through a few different angles, to be honest, so this will be a long answer.
The driving force for me was a desire to bring poetry and prose out into the streets. I wanted to participate in the long tradition of public art. The discussions that keep popping up about the relevance of poetry in today's world get to me in a visceral way. I disagree with them so strongly. Of course poetry matters! I thought that if poetry were more public, if I could do something to make it part of the daily landscape for people, then its presence and importance might be more visible, as well.
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a month at the Vermont Studio Center. There, artists and writers come to give themselves over wholly to their work for either a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Each artist and writer gets studio space, living space, and the opportunity to meet with established writers or artists. Meals are taken communally in a large hall. There's a buzz of creative energy there that is electric. I was so inspired by the work of the visual artists I met perhaps even more than the other writers. Since my time there, I'd wanted to explore literary/visual collaboration in some way.
Even before my time at the Vermont Studio Center, I worked for an online parenting forum, Moms Online. It was the early days of the internet, and what surprised me most was the fierce ownership and community that visitors to the site developed. They owned the site. It was theirs. I learned there the potential power of online community, of grassroots networking, and I hoped that I could tap into that power as well to not just plunk something down and passively hope that someone might see it. But I didn't want to just create a virtual online publication. I wanted something more tangible.
On the wall above my desk is a letter-press broadside that a dear friend of mine made of Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." When I was thinking about how to make poetry more public, I stared at it. At some point, the idea finally clicked and all the elements came together: online, on-the-streets, grassroots-distributed broadsides.
Salka: What's so special about this project?
Bradfield: What excites me most about this project is that it's both fine art and mass art. I like that the collaborations between artist and writer are original, that the pdfs are rich with color and detail, and that the finished product can be easily printed on any home computer. To me, it's a great use of technology: it's simple, and yet it's powerful. Of course, what really makes the project are the Vectors—the people who have stepped forward and agreed to post Broadsided publications in their own neighborhoods.
Salka: What new can an artist bring out in a poem/prose?
Bradfield: There are as many answers to that question as there are writers and artists! We are such a visual culture. Everything has a brand, a logo, a visual presence of some sort. But while a piece of writing might be flaming hot, it doesn't announce itself as such immediately. Text just isn't sexy.
But by allowing an artist time to sit with words and to craft a visual response to them, hopefully the fire of the text can be communicated and something hotter than either text or art alone can be created.
Hopefully someone walking by a Broadsided publication on the street will find his or her eye caught and held. Hopefully there will be a moment when that passer-by stops, reads, thinks about the combination of words and art, and feels the day has been expanded.
Salka: What's a switcheroo?
Bradfield: For Broadsided, it's a chance for writers to respond to a piece of visual art. Usually, at Broadsided, artists are asked to respond to writing that Mark, my co-editor, and I have selected. We thought that it would be fun to see what happened if we tried it the other way around, if we switched it. We also thought that artists might like to see what writers did with their work. In a small way, we hope that we can give something to the artists who are giving so much to Broadsided by having periodic "Switcheroos."
Salka: Please, tell us something about the history of broadsides.
Bradfield: Broadsides were a way to get information out to the public before there was cheap, mass-produced print. Instead of delivering information to each household, one sheet of paper would be tacked up in a public place. That sheet might have legal announcements, song lyrics, or any other kind of information. Early on, visual elements were important to broadsides. There are some gorgeous examples online at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library.
In the United States, broadsides have become an art form. Limited-edition letterpress broadsides are sold by many small presses (the Poetry Center of Chicago has a great collection). They can cost hundreds of dollars. I like that Broadsided is returning to the original spirit of the broadside: more for the telephone pole than for the frame.
Salka: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working on the internet?
Bradfield: The reach of the internet is, of course, fantastic. With Broadsided's website, people in Alaska and Finland can get the same information at the same time. They can be part of a project together. That is incredibly powerful. It's also cheaper than paper distribution. Because I already knew how to make a website and work online, the operating costs have been fairly minimal for Broadsided. I couldn't afford to do print.
The disadvantage is that the web is ephemeral. If the website went down, what would be left of Broadsided? Not much. Also, because there are so many blogs and sites out there, it's a challenge to speak loudly enough to be heard in the online world.
Salka: What's been the most surprising thing in this project?
Bradfield: The biggest thrill for me, and the biggest surprise, has been the way that the writing and the art have come together. Honestly, I feel so lucky that such talented artists have been interested in working on this. I look over the Broadsided archives, and there's such a range of work, so many interesting visions. It's not necessarily a surprise, but it's more like a profound sense of gratitude and wonder.
Salka: You work with broadsides on a voluntary basis, don't you? What kind of attitude have people in the States toward voluntary work in the cultural field? (In Finland, people don't quite like if someone is working without getting paid for it.)
Bradfield: This is an interesting question. Yes, all my time is volunteered. I pay for the website out of my own pocket. In the future, I'd like to see if there are grants I can get to help out, but, more than anything, I want Broadsided to be up and running. If I were to take the time to research grants, I'd be putting more energy into funding the project than doing the project.
I think that my attitude is fairly common here in the states, especially in the literary field. The arts here rely heavily on volunteers in every way: from editors to ushers at concerts. In other fields, such as journalism, volunteers do take paid work away from professionals. I wish I had the resources to pay the writers and artists who are working on this project—hopefully one day I will.
Salka: Please, name five good books you have read lately. Why are they important to you?
Bradfield: Let's see... this past winter, I read Tony Hoagland's book of essays on poetry called Real Sofistikashun and I loved it. He's so smart and yet so generous, so wise and so accessible. His poems are among my favorites, too, and I think he's an important voice. I devoured Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a novel about a post-nuclear world and the difficult progress of a father and son through it. It got to me through both its narrative and its style. Before going to work in Baja California, Mexico, I read John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts's Sea of Cortez. It's so wonderful on both a natural history level and a human level. There's great humor in it, great humanity.
Poetry? Riding Westward by Carl Phillips is beautiful. I am always excited to read a new book of his. And Linda Bierds's The Hands, which explores the lives of inventors and scientists through poems—in a sense, exploring the history of science—is stunning.
I tend to divide my reading time between poetry, novels, and natural history. Can't wait to see the latest Harry Potter (this is perhaps embarrassing to admit, but I can't get enough of that series).
Salka: If someone in Finland is willing to join your project, what should he do?
Bradfield: First, visit our website: www.broadsidedpress.org. We want Vectors (people who will print out and post 2 copies of the broadsides as they come out). We also are constantly looking for strong literary and visual voices. Contact us by email; all the details are on the website under the "guides" tab. And if you have any suggestions, we'd love to hear them. We love feedback. It can be quite strange to work on this project at a computer and have no idea really what's going on for the people who read/see/find it.