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“Topology,” 2024 Switcheroo

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Collaborators’ Q&A

For the Switcheroo, Broadsided artists were invited to submit work that writers might respond to. We then asked Douglas Culhane, the 2023 Switcheroo artist, to review the submissions and choose one he thought would be generative for writers and would work in Broadsided’s unique format. Of his choice, he had this to say:

I was attracted to the vibrant color and dynamic composition of Sara Tabbert’s image “New Growth.” Its shifts in scale and combination of geometric and organic shapes present a compelling opportunity for a poet’s response. The image is subtly  representational, inviting a text that explores a range of perspectives. “New Growth” has a bold graphic quality that will command attention even in the vernacular, sometimes noisy, environments in which Broadsides often appear. I am looking forward to seeing the new life that “New Growth” will take on in combination with text. —Douglas Culhane, 2023 Switcheroo Artist

What surprises you about the poet’s writing in conversation with your art? Did “Topology” refract any element of the art that made you see the piece differently?
Artist Sara Tabbert: I was surprised by Raquel’s perspective and sense of scale in the poem. I did not realize these ideas came through in the piece, but it was something I was trying very hard to grab ahold of while I was working on it. The idea of my own lost work being part of the huge history of art that has been made and lost. My own small scale relative to the rest of the world. How much (or really, how little) anything I have ever done or made matters and finding consolation in that. The beauty and mystery of how fugitive things are, even though we can’t bear to understand that too well. And the words: fray, melt, succession, dense, pressure, stacked, carved—so many either refer to the way the piece was made or the thought process that went along with it.

Raquel, can you talk about the experience of writing your in conversation with Sara’s carved veneer panel? What leapt out first from the art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Raquel Gordon: The bold colors and shapes are what I first noticed in Sara’s artwork and what I keep noticing in new ways each time I look back at the piece. Especially those golds and reds! The title also reeled me in. “New Growth” made me think of a forest growing back after a fire. The abstracted tree images on either side of the central mosaic provided such a smart and effective frame to this central image which held so much in terms of meaning. Its level of abstraction allowed me to map my own interpretations onto the piece and gave me the space to go where I wanted to go, which I had so much fun doing when writing my response poem.

Sara, what inspired “New Growth”? Did you have any specific memories, phrases, or anything else in mind as you created the piece?
Artist Sara Tabbert: This piece was created for an exhibition that coincided with the one-year mark of the 2021 fire that burned my studio to the ground. I don’t make overtly autobiographical work, but the experience sneaks in around the side here and there. As you might imagine, it was a truly gruesome year. I resist the social mandate to quickly frame bad events as “growth opportunities” (sometimes bad things just suck, end of story) but when I was working on this piece I felt the first little bit of peace in quite a while. That little green shoot working its way up the side. Patterns that are fraying or breaking down and giving way to something new.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page?
Poet Raquel Gordon: I love how the lines of the poem feel like they are hinging off of “New Growth,” like they could wave with the wind. I also notice the different ways each piece asks you to move your eyes.
Artist Sara Tabbert: I find the whole thing very comforting. The layout is beautiful, and just right, and perfectly balanced.

Have you ever created a piece of work that was inspired by another medium of art before? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
Poet Raquel Gordon: Yes! In one of my poetry classes at the University of Idaho, I was assigned to write an ekphrastic villanelle in response to the composition project of a dance student. As a dancer myself, I found this experience incredibly rich. From these two ekphrasis experiences I’ve learned that the art doesn’t just help me write a poem, but writing the poem helps me see the art.

Have you ever had a writer respond to your work before? What was the experience like?
Artist Sara Tabbert: Only once. I asked a friend, a former professor, to write for an exhibition catalog many years ago. As a private person, it’s interesting and a little scary to imagine someone spending a lot of time thinking about this thing, or things that you’ve made, or maybe who you are. Yikes! But two for two now, good experiences.

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Raquel Gordon: A warm misty breeze.

Do you have a prompt you’d like to share for readers that they might use to engage in their own artistic practices?
Poet Raquel Gordon: I love prompts that begin with movement, so here’s one stolen from the dance studio: walk around the space you are in, first in silence, then after a minute, name everything you see. After another minute or so, let go of that and speak each random thought that comes into your brain. Try to turn off any filter. This could be observational of your space, or not. It doesn’t have to make sense. Let this go on as long as you want, then write about the experience. Expand on the weird, surprising things that came out of your mouth, and if you can, connect them to your space.

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Raquel Gordon: At the peak of a difficult and steep hike, or framed inside of a huge hollow tree.
Artist Sara Tabbert:
Oh, in the most beautiful glass house greenhouse, in some ridiculous formal garden in Europe.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Raquel Gordon: You may have been recommended this novel already, but Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I can’t recommend it enough. So engrossing—the characters, the honesty, the depth, and the VOICE. It’s the kind of book that made me forget who I was for a few minutes each time I put it down.
Artist Sara Tabbert: Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey, by Bianca Bosker confirmed some of my worst fears about the contemporary art world. Very different, and requiring lots of breaks, Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. I generally don’t do great with that level of violence, but the story required it.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Raquel Gordon: Lots of great art at the Moscow, Idaho Art Walk in May! I was inspired to see the diversity of artforms, including marionette making and paintings lit on fire to change their color.
Artist Sara Tabbert: Not too much, sad to say, but am I ever going to be a museum sponge in Philadelphia this summer! I am so tired of art via Instagram. It’s better than nothing, but I can’t wait to be foot-sore and exhausted by looking at the real things.

Anything else you’d like to ask each other or say about this experience or your work?
Poet Raquel Gordon: I never would have written this poem on my own. I often write from a meditative space, but it was so refreshing to spend time with Sara’s beautiful and rich veneer panel rather than alone with my usual memories and thoughts. Thank you, Sara!
Artist Sara Tabbert: I had to look up the word topology. And what an idea, twisting, stretching, crumpling, bending, “a geometric object preserved under continuous deformations” without tearing or opening holes. Isn’t that something, all things considered. Thank you, Raquel, so much for this beautiful and thoughtful poem
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Editors’ Note:

This year, we encouraged writers to return to ekphrasis in a period of newness, welcoming a flourishing season of growth during and after the second biannual folio of eight broadsides, Issue 20.1, and another year of the Switcheroo.

While the Switcheroo is still a fascinating subversion of our process, allowing writers to respond to art for the 21st consecutive year in honor of National Poetry Month, it is a return to our roots for Broadsided as a publisher. We continue to be excited and hopeful for what this new cadence of the biannual folio brings to our artists, writers, readers, and community, and the new sense of emphasis it places on our yearly practice of ekphrasis.

As we think of returning to our roots in a period of novelty, there could not be a more perfect piece of art than Sara Tabbert’s wood veneer panel, “New Growth.” As Douglas Culhane so beautifully wrote, we were “looking forward to seeing the new life that ‘New Growth’ took on in combination with text.”

In response to this art, we received a wide swath of responses that drew inspiration from the vibrant expanse of shapes, colors (particularly the green), and natural forms the art reminds us of: roots, sand, and smoke. Many poets touched upon the way the woodcut connects to farmland, territory, entwinements, horizons, angularity, and the emotions and memories the colors evoke in tandem with the title.

Though we were delighted to consider each submission, “Topology” captivated us immediately with its enticing title of many definitions, like the study of a particular place or, in mathematics, the study of those properties of geometric forms that remain invariant under certain transformations, as bending or stretching. 

As Raquel moves through image after image that call to the art—a box of love letters, a quilt, the small yellow curl of a match, piano keys, and more—we were struck by the way her lines turned, traveled, melted into one another, and connected thoughts in beautiful, unexpected, yet meaningful couplets that mirrored the business of the art. Raquel’s final image of the trees, full of memories and mementos, absorbing our color into their golden veins, is a powerful moment that perfectly encapsulates the left side of the art, speaking to the transience of our human lives compared to the an ancient and gilded natural world. 

Thank you to everyone who imagined themselves, as we did, in this bustling land of shape, color, and warmth. We appreciate the effort and bravery that goes into every submission, and we hope you enjoy this collaboration, keeping it in your mind like a tree, as Raquel so wonderfully wrote, long after this season of newness is gone. 

This year, we also wanted to mention two finalists whose work held us in conversation for a long while. We hope to see more of their work in the months and years to come.

Finalists:

  • David Capps, “WALLS.” Poet David Capps is a philosophy professor, writer who lives in New Haven, CT, and the author of four chapbooks: Poems from the First Voyage (The Nasiona Press, 2019), A Non-Grecian Non-Urn (Yavanika Press, 2019), Colossi (Kelsay Books, 2020), and Wheatfield with a Reaper (Akinoga Press, forthcoming).
  • Lisa Allen Ortiz, “May.” Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz‘s collection of poetry, Stem, won the Idaho Prize, judged by Ilya Kaminsky, and was published by Lost Horse Press in 2022. She also is the author of Guide to the Exhibit, recipient of the 2016 Perugia Press Prize as well as two chapbooks: Turns Out and Self Portrait as a Clock.

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