When you consider the full folio of work from this issue (see the “related broadsides” links on the left), what questions, observations, or connections arise for you?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: A lot of the artworks are in black and white, or muted tones, except for “Naadą́ą́’ Ch’iiyáán Nitsísiiłkeis” / “Corn Foods Make Me Think.” Many of the pieces address family relationships (grandma, sister, daughter) and deal with the effects of social distancing caused by awkwardness, the pandemic, cultural estrangement, or simply the passage of time.
Poet Rose Strode: I love that the broadsides can stand alone, or together, and there is no right or wrong order to read them. Like the lines of a ghazal! And I notice that most of the poems are told in first person, so the folio is like a crowd of people—strangers at a bus stop, maybe—brought together, each with distinctive perspectives. There’s togetherness, but also a sense of privacy. And in that privacy, a quiet declaration: This is me speaking. But that me is malleable.
In “The Mud Says to the Potter,” the me in the poem is conscious of being shaped and reshaped; the me in the art shows forms swathed in clay-like quilting—forms in the process of being revealed. In “Naadą́ą́’ Ch’iiyáán Nitsísiiłkeis”/“Corn Foods Make Me Think,” the very title, written in the Diné and English languages, reveals and conceals at the same time. Corn is sacred but also commonplace and can take on infinite forms, as the poem show in the list of foods corn becomes. (Thank you, Corn, for feeding us!) Corn is central and necessary but is hidden from us, as the artwork shows, with overlapping wrappings.
Darren Demaree, speaking of his own poem, “I Put My Finger In,” notes that “playing with one of your children always carries on even after they’re done with the toy, it stays with you, you project and imagine the same way they do …” I think these collaborations will stay with me, shape me, and feed me for a long time.
What inspired you to bring your poem to Broadsided?
Poet Rose Strode: Usually I send my poems to traditional journals, which, if my poem is accepted, will be read by the kind of people who read those journals. I love that people seek out these journals and peruse them! But the broadside is unexpected and accessible to everyone. The broadside is like seeing a bird in a place you don’t expect to see one. Even if you’re not a birder and have no idea what kind of bird it was, or even how to describe it, it can fill you with wonder. You remember it for a long time after because of its unexpectedness. Broadsides are public and generous and hopeful. They are for everyone.
What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: I love the way the poem goes straight to the heart of something most of us have felt—an inability to connect. We are such social beings, but trying to connect can be excruciating for some. The poem is cinematic in the way it describes the mental chasms that can inhabit tiny physical spaces, and the interior gulfs we can create through our fear of rejection. The first line of the poem says so much about how contagious our emotions are, how sensitive we are, even to strangers. I was drawn to the phrase “spaces that are dark to us” because we can be someplace full of light and still feel lonely.
How did this poem come to be?
Poet Rose Strode: Oh, gosh. Poems are never caused by just one thing, and I started this poem so long ago. How did it come to be? I’m a nervous, introverted person, and I spend a lot of time thinking about nature things: that’s the starting point for much of my work. But I think it came out of two separate moments:
One day I heard about a person panicking about a bat caught indoors, and my reaction was, why was the human so scared? That poor bat! What must the inside of a house “look” like to someone who uses echolocation to navigate? And another time: I was at a family reunion and saw my 11-ish niece pausing in the doorway with a peculiar look on her face, which I interpreted as disdain. Then I looked at her whole body and saw the situation in a new light: she seemed awkward and anxious about joining the huge, noisy group of our family. Which I understood! So I held out my arms and she sort of flitted to me and wrapped her arms around me with such relief… and I thought of myself, at the same age, with the same uncertainty, and with who-knows-what on my own face, or how others perceived it. I was in awe of the way our mutual misunderstandings shape each other.
How did this image come to be?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: I wanted to create an image that would convey feeling cramped and compressed in an enormous psychic space—self-conscious and ill-at-ease but eager, too. The title of the poem, “Bats,” made me think immediately of darkness, nighttime, rafters. The figure I chose feels vulnerable and tender, a counterpoint to the precise, elegant moon. The hand sewn glass beads could almost be letters, and in that way they mirror the strokes that make up the words themselves. The cloth backdrop is a rich, sensual, almost cosmic expanse, like the one described in Rose’s poem.
What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Does the artist’s response make you see the poem differently?
Poet Rose Strode: The stark quality of the black and white, the expression and posture of the figure really touched the heart of my poem. It is wordless, yet eloquent. I feel so lucky that you, JoAnne, were the one to respond to my poem. Thank you. The poem discusses motion, but at its heart it is really about being stuck—in an emotion, or because of an emotion—which the figure in the corner emphasizes. I didn’t quite see that myself, and I have you and your art to thank for that insight.
Poet to Artist: I was delighted at the physical texture of your art. I wanted to touch it. Do you often work with fabric and beads or other tactile media? I’m reading/watching your poem “American Graphic,” JoAnne, which is literally and figuratively poetry in motion—and, literally and figuratively, moving. I notice that the timing of the appearance or disappearance of words on the page amplify things like line breaks or page turns. So I guess I’m interested in what insights you might have about how the process of creating “American Graphic” changed or enhanced your understanding of poetry, and your approach to creating a sense of momentum, or of stillness, in your own poems and art. I’m interested in the contrast between American Graphic and your art that pairs with my poem.
Artist JoAnne McFarland: Wow Rose, I just love your question! It gives me so much to think about, especially how the beaded artwork aligns with a poem like “American Graphic.” In both cases, my goal is to slow things down, for myself, and others. I understand in a deep way so much of what you say about being introverted. I’ve had to work to come out of myself, and I’ve done so more and more as time has gone by. My artistic practice is about becoming calm enough to allow connection, even if only with my own imagination! Making art and writing poetry have allowed me to create soothing aesthetic environments that I can share with others. What I love so much about making poems like “American Graphic” is that the reader must actively participate in its unfolding. It’s so, so quiet, synchronous, and intimate in a way that I hope is nourishing and unexpected. I think our ideas about intimacy are all wrong, and keep us from experiencing deep connection in nontraditional ways. We rush through our emotions all the time, especially scary ones, rather than savor them, which would expand our possibilities. For the beaded artworks specifically, I wanted to do something that would, by its very nature, demand that I go slowly—one or two beads at a time, creating a kind of extended, luxurious engagement with the process. The animated poems work the same way, creating a meditative space that is life affirming.
Artist to Poet: I find delicate wisps of humor in your poem. Do you think humor can be effective in relieving social anxiety?
Poet Rose Strode: Oh, that’s a lovely question, thank you, JoAnne! Yes, laughing loosens up my body! I think the human body wants to laugh when it’s nervous. Often, the body goes ahead and laughs when laughter might not be the most socially appropriate response. Yikes! And I think if it’s true that “nervous people make other people feel nervous,” then maybe the opposite is also true, that people who try to set themselves at ease by laughing can set others at ease as well. But I also think it’s okay to just be nervous. It’s fine to say, “I’m nervous,” and also fine to say nothing and let other people respond however they will.
The intention of my humor is to make a “heavy” situation feel “lighter,” yet there’s a risk I might “make light” of it and diminish the truth of how hard socializing can be—one of many examples of how good intentions are not enough. I’ve had to think of socializing as an art to practice. Like poetry. And now that I think about it, I guess a poem can be a kind of conversation, that a poem is like echolocating.
Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: Every time I read the poem I find myself intrigued by Rose’s choice of the word “harvesting” at the very end. Bats use their extraordinary skill of echolocation to survive. I do think that some of our social unease can be relieved by honing our skills—listening more closely, tuning in to body language, pausing before we speak, so that we can harvest our darknesses, rather than be overwhelmed by them. When I first began reading my poetry out loud before an audience, I would get cripplingly nervous. Before readings, I would write on the palm of my hand “this is not about you,” to remind myself to focus outward, not inward. It took years, but over time, I became less and less nervous.
Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art?
Poet Rose Strode: Helen Frankenthaler’s poured work inspires me. But I often find, in the act of trying to explore my understanding of her work in poetry, that I’d rather just be in the wordless space she creates with luminous color. I work with words all day! Sometimes it’s nice to just be in a painting or sculpture or garden or quilt or what have you, and not try to think in words. Just float. Ahhh!
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: In elementary schools where kids are learning how to socialize with each other.
Poet Rose Strode: The first thing that popped into my head when I read that was, “I want this poem to go to Mars.” And then I wondered what it meant that I thought that, because that’s not happening any time soon. I don’t mean I want to be part of colonizing another planet! Because our use of our current one has not gone so well. But what I saw in my head was a person, in a place on the cusp of change, some world far away. Yet it was familiar because she was drinking coffee in an insulated room with artificial lighting, and not really wanting to put on her protective suit and go out to work … We don’t have to go to Mars to be in that place!
In my mind, she’s looking at the staff bulletin board, and there’s the broadside, and she’s thinking, “Oh, what’s this?” And maybe seeing JoAnne’s beadwork, she’d think: “When I get back to my quarters in the Hab tonight, I’m going to finally work on those beaded earrings I brought with me from Earth.” Or reading about the bat, and seeing the tense expression on the figure in Joanne’s art, our explorer might admit to herself how terrified she really is every single time she goes outside the Habitat, because a small incident could be deadly, and maybe she’s been hesitant to discuss this. Or maybe she just misses seeing a sky with living, flying animals in it. Or all of those things. Because since when do we have just one response to any situation? I suppose broadsides fall into the category of ephemera. But I don’t think my brain believes that.
If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Rose Strode: Foggy and overcast, but with sun coming through, like an autumn morning.
Artist JoAnne McFarland: Low-lying fog.
Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Rose Strode: I like writing poems where every line is a first line. Start over on every line! How often can you do that many do-overs anywhere else in life?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: I commit to doing one creative thing every day. It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be something that I know moves my work forward. This practice has, mostly, kept me energized and upbeat, even when the news is bad.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Rose Strode: Oh, don’t get me started! I just finished Ten Birds That Changed the World, by Richard Moss. Wow, that was thought provoking! And I also reread Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends series. Frog and Toad give me such joy. I think Sunni Brown Wilkinson nailed it when she called Lobel’s stories the gateway to the world of poetry. And I read Bambi, A Life in the Forest this summer. The original was written by the Austrian journalist and novelist Felix Salten; my copy was translated by Damon Searls. It’s one of the first environmental novels, a powerful work that was banned by the Nazis for reasons that become obvious as you read. Don’t read it before bed: it’s unsparing when it comes to describing the losses inherent in coming of age in a violent time.
Artist JoAnne McFarland: JOIE: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life, by Ajiri Aki.
Seen any good art lately?
Artist JoAnne McFarland: Scherezade Garcia, Under the Lace, at Praxis Gallery in New York City.
Poet Rose Strode: I love the Fair Isle mittens my best friend from high school knitted for me–they have birds on them (boy does she know me well!)–and they are as lovely a work of art as anything I know. And a customer who loves to sing came into the store where I work, so I asked her to sing a song for me, and she did. The song she sang was beautiful, but so was her face as she sang. She shone with joy. Is that art? I don’t know what else to call it. A more conventional answer: the National Museum of Women in the Arts reopens this weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing Remedios Varos’ painting, La llamada.
Poet Rose Strode: Broadsiders, what books or art did you encounter as kids that made you want to make art and poems of your own? What books or artworks made you start to think of yourself as a writer and artist? And what books from your childhood bring you comfort still? I am so thankful to be part of this experience with you all!