What inspired you to share your work with Broadsided? What is rewarding, exciting, and/or challenging for you in Broadsided’s unique format?
Poet Cecelia Hagen: When I first encountered Broadsided, I was intrigued by its mission of “putting words and art on the street,” as the submission guidelines state. I am a fan of public art and of poetry in public places; I am lucky enough to have been invited to write 26 short poems that are inscribed on steel plates at bus stops in my hometown, Eugene, Oregon. Thinking about such a broad audience changed my approach to writing those poems. Printed broadsides are an old tradition, one that Broadsided is bringing forward into a more public sphere. The idea of collaborating–but behind a curtain–with someone I wouldn’t “meet” until the collaboration was completed also appealed to me because of its quotient of randomness. It’s a mashup in the best way.
Artist Janice Redman: I love the challenge of a response Broadsided offers me as an artist. Working in such a weird, nonverbal, underground way is so satisfying–and it’s such a relief to have the structure of words to work with and against. The poem becomes a matrix to constantly return to, always different each time I engage it, never offering the same experience.
What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Janice Redman: When I read “Among Elders” the first time, I felt soaked in something I recognized, particularly as I got closer and closer to the last verse. It’s the feeling I have when I walk to a pond in the woods and then into the water—leaving the car, leaving the phone, not knowing if I will be alone—and always the trepidation I feel as I enter and immerse into the unknown of the water. The poem understands this in a visceral way.
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 Cecelia Hagen: I was surprised that the artist took an abstract approach to the poem, which has several visual elements–trees, a possible fox, or maybe robbers. But I can also see how the art illustrates the poem, the speaker’s sense of awkwardness, the unraveling self, the oafish loafishness of the rock/potato/bar of soap becoming unencumbered in spite of its immobility. This showed me a new aspect of the poem and felt strangely hopeful, as if a new door had been opened. I also appreciate that Janice picked up on the inner nervousness and humor in the poem with this image, which doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously without losing an edge of terror.
Artist Janice Redman: I didn’t want to illustrate the poem. There are a lot of visuals that call to me, but I didn’t want to approach the poem that way. It’d be too obvious, too surface, and would limit my ability to return again and again to the poem. Instead, I picked up on that feeling of dropping away—not having the phone, the Google bars, all the things we’re used to having around us, creating a bubble of safety. Without them, there’s a feeling of vulnerability, a feeling of smallness, of lack of preparedness, and the effort our imaginations will go to to “reconcile” this new sense. It reminded me of the time some New Yorkers came to visit us here in Truro. They were walking on the outer beach and were sure they saw hundreds of black trash bags floating offshore. Actually, it was hundreds of gray seals resting on a nearly-submerged sand bar. But this reminds me of how we’re caught in our built world, our myopic world of human-centeredness. How to untangle ourselves from our small selves is a scary proposition, and I wanted to explore those undercurrents and connections in an image.
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Cecelia Hagen: Since I get to have wild dreams here, I’d like to put this broadside in a time capsule and have it get posted somewhere in building Z-143, which doesn’t exist any more but was, for a while, touted as the largest building south of the Pentagon. I punched a clock there for a couple of summers, as one of the thousands of lowly GS (government service) workers on the Norfolk Naval Air Station, which is the world’s largest naval station. For me, the building and its location were soul-crushingly dreary; the only way I got through it was by escaping on weekends to the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and staring at the waves.
Artist Janice Redman: I don’t have very wild dreams. I love where I posted it near a pond in the Cape Cod National Seashore, a fragile and precious environment. I didn’t leave the one in the tree, because of the pins, but the ones on the signs I did leave—and I love that I saw an echo of the curve in the print in the curve of the park’s frog illustration.
Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Janice Redman: Yes. When I responded to this poem, I chose to do monotypes, not my main medium of sculpture. My Dad died last October, and I haven’t been able to work in the studio at all. I even had to cover my sculptures with sheets so I didn’t have to look at them. The montypes in response to this poem were for me my first attempt to get my feet wet and return to my artistic practice. I wanted to work in monotypes because they are fast and there’s more movement in making them than in making sculpture; monotypes are more direct. It felt like there was more possibility for unearthing, for reconnecting with myself as an artist.
In working on this response, I would read the poem, forget it, go to work on monotypes. I got lost this way in the poem’s murkiness—I felt like I was in the woods. By the end, I had a whole wall of prints with no way to know which one was right for the poem. I had to ask my studio mate to choose for me. For me, the recognition that there’s not only a collaboration with the poet/poem but also with myself and with my studio-mate is something I really value—the final choosing becomes another type of collaboration. So there’s the working out, the unearthing, the getting lost in the woods of making, and then needing another voice to help me find a way out, a way to finish. That’s a really important part of my process now, I realize.
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 Cecelia Hagen: I’m married to a visual artist, and many of my friends are visual artists. I’m surrounded by and inspired by art, but I don’t often write in directly in response to it. My few ekphrastic poems are more in response to photographs, maybe because the world they capture seems less private and more open to my entering into them with my words. I’m in a generative writing group with a few poet friends, and some of them are also photographers. They’ll bring a stack of photos and we each take three or four, then write something based on the images. That, I find, is a good way to encourage me to jump from one subject to another, and ultimately unite the images, at least on the page.
If this Broadsided collaboration were a specific historic moment, what would it be?
Poet Cecelia Hagen: On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright first took flight in the Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks. (There’s a national memorial there now; read more at https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/
Artist Janice Redman: 1961, when President John F Kennedy signed a bill establishing the Cape Cod National Seashore, thus saving a place of incredible beauty as a public land rather than allowing it to become a horrible golf course or a private place for the rich only. The Seashore is a treasure, and it allows experiences like the one in the poem, which are so necessary.
Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Cecelia Hagen: The process I described above of picking three of four images–you could use postcards, or things clipped from magazines–without looking at them, and then writing your way into and back out of them, is an easy and easily available one. I think having more than one portal helps get the imagination unstuck. I also like the idea of writing from just the titles of visual works.
Artist Janice Redman: Get a big pile of printer paper, put it on a clipboard, get a box of charcoal, and set aside time to draw and write every morning, before you do anything else. No preciousness. Don’t think about them, and put them away in a box or a drawer for a while, then take them out and see what you’ve got. This practice always reveals something.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Cecelia Hagen: I’ve just finished Claire-Louise Bennett’s second novel, Checkout 19. Now I’m reading Luster by Raven Leilani, another astounding book. Diane Seuss’s sonnet collection, Frank, won the Pulitzer Prize this year and sets off detonations in my soul every time I crack it open. Her readers have posted pictures of Frank in various settings–on the beach, at an amusement park, in a graveyard, much like Broadsided’s vectorizations, sending poetry out into the world.
Artist Janice Redman: My favorite recent book is The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, which I listened to this summer. It’s set in Yorkshire, where I was born, and it was read in a Yorkshire accent and was full of swear words, which made me feel better, because I swear all the time. It must be a Yorkshire trait. I loved the reader of the book, the story. It was scary, shocking, and very endearing at the same time.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Cecelia Hagen: Alice Neel’s portraits of people fascinate me, and Cy Twombly’s gestural scrawls.
Artist Janice Redman: I just came back from seeing the Philip Guston show at the Boston MFA. I think one of the first contemporary art shows I’ve seen on the US east coast since Covid. I soaked it up. What a painter! He is truly an artist’s artist.
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 Cecelia Hagen: Collaborations can emphasize the mystery in a work of art. This process has been enlightening and shown me new ways to look at my poem, to see the hapless speaker from a different angle. I’m grateful to Broadsided Press and to Janice Redman and would love to do this again!
Artist Janice Redman: It’s the weirdest thing, the whole time I was working on my response, I thought the poem was written by a young man. It was only now, coming back to answer these questions, that I realize it’s by a woman. I really wonder how that might have changed my response had I heard a woman’s voice in the poem. I know it would have been different, but I’m not sure how