Artist Gabriel Travis
What surprises you about Laura's poem in conversation with your art?
This piece was one in a series I did trying to evoke a sense of mythical or allegorical memory. I used the "trickster" raven as the central figure, since when he is present things aren't always as they appear. And I tried, through layering the images, to create a sense of compressed narrative, as we have in memories, where some details are visible, nameable, while others are vague. That said, I didn't have a specific narrative in mind, more of an after-image. So, I was surprised and delighted by the specificity of this poem. The poem takes the darkness and the menace, and makes it personal. It is your wife, your mistake, your wound. Which makes the piece very intense.
What did you expect a writer to pick up on from "Raven 2"?
I guessed the birds on the branch, maybe the ice cube.
Paired with the poem, do you think the art does something different or has a different tone?
Yes. I think it feels much darker. I like it.
Have you ever had a writer respond to your work before? What was the experience like?
No, I have been on the flip-side, as the artist responding to poems but this feels very different!
If your art were an animal, what would it be?
Raven—the shape-shifter, trickster, story keeper.
If the broadside collaboration were an animal, what would it be?
A tiger wearing a raven disguise.
Read any good books lately?
I am in the middle of Eva Saulitis' new book, Into Great Silence, and loving it.
Seen any good art lately?
Yes! I just saw a haunting contemporary quilt underway in an artist friend's studio that has really stuck with me.
Artist Gabe Travis is an artist who makes a living designing and building hiking trails throughout Alaska. He has been making art on commission for about eight years and producing fine art notecards featuring these works (available at www.gabetravis.com).
Poet Laura Lee Wahsburn
This poem was chosen in response to Gabriel Travis's art—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image? What leapt out first from Gabe's art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Ravens have a lot of mystique as trickster and as magic. I like to imagine them with nests full of wedding rings and silver fishing lure spinners. Ravens can talk human talk. Right away I was drawn to the bird and then to the business of the canvas, the lines, and the movement. I liked the things in the picture that didn't make sense to me. I felt like I wanted to see a bigger and bigger version to figure out what I was seeing. Is that an ice cube? A trash-compacted white tiger, wolf, machine, element, dream? Should I take my glasses off or put them back on? Every time I look in that right lower corner I see something different. Also, I saw a subtle pain or suffering in "Raven 2."
Paired with the art, do you think the poem does something different or has a different tone?
I think my poem is much meaner and sadder than "Raven 2" is by itself. And my poem is probably less complex than the art.
Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
I've been writing poems inspired by visual art for over twenty years. A friend once gave me Diane Arbus's Aperture Monograph and said, "These photos remind me of your work." I was writing narrative at the time, lots of characters always, and usually a bit of the Southern grotesque, but I was still a little stunned by the comparison. Suddenly I found myself writing poems with Arbus's titles "The Albino Sword Swallower at a Carnival in Maryland" and "A Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents." I turn to art often to spur ideas. I always want my poems to be able to stand alone, but they're enhanced when paired with the art that triggers them. I can't say that the poems reciprocate for the art.
If your poem were an animal, what would it be?
A vole, something you see peeping and sneaking in the brown back yard, something that makes you question: "Did I just see what I think I saw?"
If your broadside collaboration were an animal, what would it be?
Something mythological, something winged, a sphinx, a winged centaur.
Read any good books lately?
Lucille Clifton's Blessing the Boats, Mary Poppins, something by Anne Tyler, David Lee's The Porcine Canticles.
Seen any good art lately?
Quite a lot. I was really taken with Rem Koolhaas's student center on the IIT campus in Chicago, Yuya Ushida's collapsible chair made from 8,000 chopsticks is kind of a hoot, and I was impressed with Marianne Evans-Lombe's For South Dakota series which seemed to me to show the violence inherent in restrictive abortion laws.
That little bit of red on the raven's wing, those words I can't read, diagrams, the lines of communication inherent in the telephone pole, the color blue, resting after flight, the Snow Queen, mercury on a shiny oak table.
Poet Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, an editorial board member of the Woodley Memorial Press, and the author of This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize). Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Carolina Quarterly, November 3rd Club, The Sun, The Journal, and Valparaiso Review. Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and in Missouri. She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.