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“A Derby in Sapphics”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen: The emotional center of the poem is related through imagery. I thought a visual artist might help that emotionality live in a different medium—to enliven and continue what I started on the page.

What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Zehra Khan: It’s devastating. The poem sets you up in a frenzy of colors and sounds, and then drops you into reality of a pandemic flat line.

Describe your ideal “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Zehra Khan: In subway stations, or on trains. That temporary moment when you are on your way somewhere. Your brain has time to go there too… It’s a nice time for reflection.
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen:
The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C.! I used to live in that area and frequented that space when I was a graduate student in poetry. It would be such a delight to see it there.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen: In this poem, there are racing horses and two lovers racing toward what will ultimately be a break. I admire how Khan captured the motion in the poem—the bright, optimistic trajectory of not knowing how it will end. This work refocuses the poem away from the end: allows us to dwell in the fever of the race.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Zehra Khan: I received the poem on the day I returned from a month-long artist residency in Nepal. I completely connected to the feeling of being so electrically charged, and then dropping off into nothingness. It always takes a moment to recalibrate after a trip. I felt the power of that poem for sure.

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?
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen: I love ekphrastic poems generally: writing them and reading them. My most recent ekphrastic poem was after Vermeer’s “A Woman Asleep,” published at The Southern Review. My mother was a student of art and a beautiful artist in her own right. I grew up with artist monographs around the house and some of my happiest memories as a child were of sitting in her lap, flipping through the pages, and listening to her talk quietly about the works of Chagall, van Gogh, and Picasso. I didn’t inherit her visual gifts, but I still feel a childlike wonder and love for visual art.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a specific historic moment, what would it be?
Artist Zehra Khan: It is a historic moment… we have all been affected and changed from the experience of the Coronavirus.
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen:
The poem refers partly to events that took place at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 3, 2008. The filly Eight Belles finished second behind Big Brown, then collapsed with two broken front ankles and was euthanized. I’m actually not a huge Derby fan, so am not sure why this story always stuck with me, but in thinking through the year of 2019, when none of us could have predicted the pandemic, this story kept repeating in my mind: what we thought we were racing toward, and what actually transpired.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt to inspire bold, amazing work?
Artist Zehra Khan: Currently it is the TV show “Alone.” I am so inspired by pioneer living and the kind of problem-thinking and engineering mentality people need to survive in the wild. They are weaving baskets, scavenging for washed-ashore resources, and making aesthetic choices alongside convenience. 
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen:
Yes! Sometimes the mind gets too caught up in the conceptual (the “big idea”) and keeps a writer from simply working with the medium of language. I like to cut out distinctive words from articles I read in the NY Times—usually concrete or sensory words, something that touches on what we think of as the physical world. I give myself eight words and one longer phrase from the article that I’ve changed in some way, and force myself to write a ten-line poem in ten minutes. I revised it later, of course, but the materiality of language and pressure of form and time always produces something interesting I can work with later.

Read any good books lately?
Artist Zehra Khan: Any Human Heart, by William Boyd.
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen:
Lauren Groff’s Matrix and Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s Lima :: Limón.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Zehra Khan: The music video “Easy Target” by Bitch, directed by Joey Soloway. It has a beautiful painted costume and props by artist Iva Gueorguieva.
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen:
Besides this broadside? My younger sister, Jasmine, is a painter (who still lives in the Northwest), so I get to see good art all the time! (Her Instagram is @jasminestar_fineart). Also, I was in New York recently, and a friend introduced me to the work of Bernardo Siciliano whose cityscapes and domestic scenes I think are quite stunning.

Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).
Poet Danielle Cadena Deulen:
I like the way this project has guided me into thinking about my relationship to visual art. Since I didn’t inherit my mother’s visual gifts, I’ve never considered how that medium may have influenced my own work. It’s clear to me now that it was central to my formation as a writer: something I strangely never realized before!

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