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“2013 Haiku Year-in-Review”

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Collaborators’ Q&A, Season by Season

How do you think the four art/haiku combinations create a conversation about 2013?
Artist Caleb Brown: To me, there were three conversations about 2013: the first was an internal dialogue to frame the breadth of the year. We wanted to present poets with a variety of evocative happenings that comprised more than one emotional color and came from different locations on the map. That process itself was enjoyable—I never knew there were so many websites whose sole purpose is to obsessively blow out human melodrama! One of my favorites of these became HistoryOrb (“1,391 years of events”). Many belly fat ads here, watch out!

The second conversation was the one we wove the HYIR out of, the blind creative collaboration that invoked words and images and was open to web visitors. Beth mentioned this in her section, and I want to underscore it—the HYIR collaboration is much bigger than the single work we as writers and artist produced. Any person who had an opinion about which poem should pair with the illustration should be thought of as a proper collaborator with us. And now the set of people who helped shape this project are a virtual community…I wonder if there’s some way to harness that energy?

The third conversation is happening now, as we, the global WE, reflect on what last year was subjectively like. Did Broadsided pick representative events? If we did, does the way we artists write/draw about them ring true? What new thoughts and feelings about 2013 are we having looking at the HYIR? Are we facing 2014 differently after encountering the 2013 HYIR?

Winter: A meteor explodes over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk

You chose the topics for each season—why this for winter?
Artist Caleb Brown: In addition to the meteor explosion, we considered 6 other events—including happenings in the worlds of competitive chess and particle physics. I almost recommended the cessation of first-class postal delivery because I am a mild USPS nerd. But in the end I chose Chelyabinsk because it felt truly otherworldly…Strange and magical and dangerous and happening a world away. When I did research online, there were so many haunting photos, especially one of an apartment with a paper snowflake taped to the inside of a broken window. That was the kernel of my illustration.

What did this collaboration feel like for you?
Poet Beth Feldman Brandt: I love, love collaboration and have collaborated with a visual artist twice before. Once, I wrote all the poems and then the artist created her work for our book entitled, Sage. The second time, we worked in parallel, coming up with common themes and trading our work as we went. In this case, since we didn’t see each other’s work until we were done, it strikes me that the real collaboration happened between us and the people who voted. In the end, they were the final curators of which poem went with the image.

Do you haiku often?
Poet Beth Feldman Brandt: Well, I am known for pretty concise poems and haiku is about as concise as you can get. Even when I try to write longer poems, I usually wind up editing and editing until they wind up being short poems again. I aspire to be Mark Doty who can write sweeping poems that have the narrative of novels but I don’t seem to be poetically programmed that way. I respond to the challenge of finding the heart of what you are trying to communicate and then finding the perfect word to evoke that experience. Or in this case, the perfect 17 words.

Once you saw the haiku for this season, did it cause you to see your art in a different light?
Artist Caleb Brown: I like the use and position of the word “sky”—it really emphasizes that part of the tableau in a way my picture doesn’t. There’s actually very little sky in the drawing. The way Beth references “two” suns and two reactions (awestruck and stricken) works great with the illustration, since the gap in the window and the paper decoration are the two main characters in the wedge.

Why did this event inspire you?
Poet Beth Feldman Brandt: I am drawn to poetry that involves science and nature, often “old science”, so I start with research for a lot of my work. Maybe dinosaurs were blasted into extinction by a huge meteor falling to earth and maybe not, but once I hit on that idea for the haiku, I could imagine their astonishment. Thankfully, this comet left us more awestruck than mortally stricken.

Spring: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina elected the 266th pope

You chose the topics for each season—why this for spring?
Artist Caleb Brown: There are more than a billion Catholics in the world (and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life via Huffington Post says about a billion “unaffiliated” people), so the selection of a new pope makes huge waves. In addition to the event’s newsworthiness, I thought the election of Pope Francis was a good companion to the transitions and rituals of springtime.

Once you saw the art for your season, did it cause you to see your haiku in a different light?
Poet Michael Rutledge Riley: The way Caleb’s art transitions clearly into the seasonal round works for me on a couple of different levels. I teach Eighth graders and they love those pop-up fortune-teller paper wheels: the ones where you pick a number, then a color, and then, finally, you have an answer to your question. When I saw this wheel of seasons, it made me feel right at home and in my element. I write most of my haikus when teaching the form to my kids at school, so the physical setting of his ideas and mine seemed to come from a similar place of showing, telling, and teaching. The classic style of the haiku—together with the paper-craft, origami feel of the visual side—seem to blend in the broadside: structure for structure, in a kind of panel and line agreement.

I also liked the mandala feel to the artwork. I always think of the haiku in cultural terms: the culture of origin with Japan, of course, but also the culture of observation, the culture of slowing down and taking pains to see what’s in front of you, puzzling through the words, the culture of humans and nature and human nature playing off one another.

I think we were on the same page creatively in our view of the new Pope, as well. We both emphasized the scarlet curtain and shoes, a metaphor of how the over-powering weight of tradition in the Papacy can color our views of the office. And then, in words and pictures, we both show Francis choosing to stand humbly—see how small his figure is in relation to the architecture and tapestries—while still standing up proudly and tall against the pride and pomp and grandiosity that is the Vatican. The Pontiff seems to be all about denying the bling (slippers, headdress, Pope-mobile, and the like) and embracing what’s real: empathizing and helping those who suffer.

Once you saw the haiku for this season, did it cause you to see your art in a different light?
Artist Caleb Brown: The language Michael uses, his paired “wings” and “wind” match the billowy shapes in the drawing nicely. I am even seeing a bird’s tail in the sweep of the curtains that I hadn’t noticed before. And the feeling of protection that comes with being taken under someone’s wing calls out the Pope’s paternal obligations as well as his isolation. And the nature-loving lineage of St. Francis of Assisi he belongs to. I appreciate the gentle humor and the reference to the color red, which corresponds to the illustration only by happy accident.

How do you think the four art/haiku combinations create a conversation about 2013? Why did this event inspire you?
Poet Michael Rutledge Riley: The Civics teacher in me loves the current-events element of the Year-In-Review. While any choices of four major events from an entire year are bound to be ethnocentric and biased in one way or another, just the choices themselves lead us to a conversation about what we notice and value and spend our time fussing about. You could almost use the seasonal wheel to spin off a whole new set of spokes in each setting the broadsides are posted: what are your events in 2013, and what do you say about them? That approach, offering an interactive sounding board element, might lead to a whole lot more haikus and artwork and public discourse, even at the price of tagging some broadsides with poetic graffiti.

Did you go through various drafts or iterations of this project?
Artist Caleb Brown: Lately I’m trying to do more narrative picture-stories that have a comics or cartoon feel. So the structure of the HYIR, how the poetry and art mix together, or are set apart, possibly in contrast to each other, was an important consideration for me. Stretching the way we read pictures with words on them and words that have accompanying images is part of my mashup. Because I believe all the elements must talk to each other (and maybe this is the 4th conversation). Reading—what is it anyway? I can’t really answer the question definitively, but I know I like reading, and I like making things that people CAN read.

I thought a lot about how to structure the artwork, but had a strong instinct that the “year” should be one holistic thing. I wondered if I should break it into traditional rectilinear chunks, or challenge people to spin the wheel to see the content right-side up. I’m indebted to the format of Renaissance calendars like the Trés riches heures by John Berry…Aren’t these fantastic? The golden sun in the central blue hemisphere even resembles a shooting star (like our HYIR Winter selection). In third grade, my teacher encouraged us to make wire sculptures of how we imagined time to flow…Was the week linear? Was the year a loop? Where were the months positioned? I’ve never forgotten this bold and weird assignment.
Here’s an early attempt to compare layouts. You can see I hadn’t yet figured out how best to accommodate the poems:

Summer: Birth of Prince George of Cambridge

You chose the topics for each season—why this for summer?
Artist Caleb Brown: I never get tired of trees, and I saw a fit between the royal family tree and a favored subject. Also summer is the season when the natural world seems just about to burst with life and vitality. Then when I noticed that there are acorns on the family heraldry of British monarchs, I knew I wanted to interpret the order of succession as a series of numbered nuts, surrounded by green leaves. I’m not sure how the bird was allowed to perch on the royal branch…That’s why I shooed him off.

Once you saw the art for your season, did it cause you to see your haiku in a different light?
Poet Catherine R. Cryan: It did! The art is so focused, a close-up of one branch of this giant, ancient, royal tree. To see the whole of such a huge tree, I thought I’d have to view it from a great distance. The artwork zooms right in on the current order of heirs to the English throne, which has shifted with this particular birth—just as so much of the world was consumed with the specifics of the new prince’s arrival. When shaping the haiku, I couldn’t leave out the potential burden of all that history and politics (family, national, world) on one tiny infant, but the artwork pulled me back to the acorns: kings-in-waiting.

Once you saw the haiku for this season, did it cause you to see your art in a different light?
Artist Caleb Brown: Catherine’s focus on, well, the focus of the art itself, its depth of field, really resonated with me. One of the last things I drew was the trunk of the tree swooping up to infinity, topped with a miniature crown (pun intended)…I really enjoy the way her poem and her comments highlight the movement from bigness to smallness, newness to age.

How do you think the four art/haiku combinations create a conversation about 2013?
Poet Catherine R. Cryan: All of the haiku/art pairings seem to come together for me through the lens of history, showing themselves as combinations of the new and old, traditional and ground-breaking, expected and unforeseen. A meteor explodes over a city with a force we’ve not seen in our lifetime. A pope sheds the pomp and rigidity we are so used to in his religion. An heir of ancient lineage is born just as any other child, but so very different. The cogwheels of American government actually stop for a time. These shifts and waves lead to new ways of looking at things, and sides are taken on the subject of change—often between those who want to and those who don’t. The ways we’re used to doing things don’t always turn out to be the best ways, but certain specters of the past often linger.

Why did this event inspire you?
Poet Catherine R. Cryan: I saw this child born in the shadow of a gargantuan family tree. We are all born with the influence of our own family histories, but some are weightier than others whether we are princes or not. I had a sorrowful time imagining the expectation and consequence placed on such a brand new human. Ghosts can be very heavy and hard to contain.

Fall: Standoff over Obamacare results in government shutdown

You chose the topics for each season—why this for fall?
Artist Caleb Brown: We passed over the USA in other seasons, so I felt as though it was time to give a nod to America and one of our most divisive exports: uncivil and bizarre governance.

In terms of the image, I’m not too embarrassed to say it’s a sly homage to David Macauley. Even though I only suggested the underside of the dome, in real life there’s a symbolic painting on it called the “Apotheosis of Washington” by Constantino Brumidi. It was painted in 1866 and features the founding fathers, dancing nymphs of liberty, pineapples, rainbows, the god Neptune and maybe also railroad and commerce gods? George Washington sits dourly in the center of the party without a smile, ascending into the sky.

Once you saw the art for your season, did it cause you to see your haiku in a different light?
Poet Ron Levitsky: I’m drawn to the space glowing between the top and bottom of the Capital dome. Could the space represent the hot air from the fruitless squabbling in Congress that blew the dome off?

When I first saw the illustration, I thought of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” in which a saucer-like spaceship lands near the Capital. The ship’s inhabitants warn the Earth’s population to stop its bickering and nuclear posturing, or these aliens will destroy our planet.

In either case, sadly the art reinforces my haiku’s somber tone. Originally I’d hoped that the last line might be Delphic, ambiguous as to whether the government might fall into ruin or, instead, the Tea Party movement. After viewing the art, I’m less sanguine about our nation’s future.

Once you saw the haiku for this season, did it cause you to see your art in a different light?
Artist Caleb Brown: Yes! After reading Ron’s poem, I suddenly realized that the top of the Capitol is really a teacup. That honestly hadn’t occurred to me, but now it’s easy for me to imagine there were prophetic leaves left in the dregs, and the white space left between the two parts could be interpreted as the teacup’s tempest.

How do you think the four art/haiku combinations create a conversation about 2013?
Poet Ron Levitsky: The four stories represent a mix of hope and despair of the human condition that we’d probably see in any year-end review. The Pope’s humility and charity have renewed the faith of countless people. The meteor explosion reminds us that, despite our pretense of technological superiority, nature is still supreme – as it so often demonstrates through tornedoes (central Illinois suffered a horrible one recently), hurricanes and floods. Of course, the government shutdown also mocked man’s gift of reason.

What’s more interesting is that all four stories illustrate the power of symbols. This is ironic, since haikus aren’t supposed to deal with metaphors. Yet a second sun in the sky, a compact car, ghosts, a teacup all resonate with larger more complex imagery. Think about Trayvon Martin’s hoodie or wedding bands worn by same-sex couples. People often view symbols differently; some endure while others fade. It would be interesting to discuss which of the 2013 symbols have endured from previous years, which are new, and which will continue to resonant into the future.

Why did this event inspire you?
Poet Ron Levitsky: “Inspire” isn’t the right word – perhaps “compel.” As a retired social studies teacher, I taught the importance of civic discourse, appreciating the effect of history on the present, and the need for cooperation to achieve mutually beneficial goals. Watching our dysfunctional Congress is like traveling with Superman to the Bizarro World, where everything is the opposite. PBS should make an instructional tape, using Congress, on how not to govern.

Now that it’s all said and done… anything else? What other topics would you have chosen, had time and space allowed?
Artist Caleb Brown: For some reason, there were a number of astronomical events on my shortlist, like the Curiosity rover’s one-year anniversary on Mars, and a particularly showy Venus in December. Planets and stars have always been a big part of human timekeeping, maybe we could do a calendar that called out notable events here on Earth, in the sky, AND in poetry? For 2015 perhaps?

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