What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet John Paul Davis: I actually used to make old-school broadsides of my poems on a letterpress a friend owns.
What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Caleb Brown: This poem hit me hard because I have been the narrator. As my sons grew up, I’ve mulled over responding to the simple tragedy of trying to excel in parenting and work simultaneously (which often makes you absent everywhere)…I even entertained an idea for a little book called “When I am at Work,” made of illustrated letters addressed to a child from the workplace—but now I don’t have to because John beautifully sums up everything I could have said.
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet John Paul Davis: In somebody’s office! It likely won’t happen—HR departments would probably object. This poem began a series in which I examined the effects of capitalism and its expectations on our lives—we don’t really allow ourselves to grieve the losses capitalism requires in order for us to survive, because if we did we might start questioning the wisdom of it as a system. But it’s nice to imagine seeing this on a breakroom corkboard.
Artist Caleb Brown: I like John’s idea, and if we could put poetry about work in more workplaces, I think that would indeed prompt people to start “questioning the wisdom” of capitalism. Aren’t there other ways to survive? Isn’t survival (or personal growth, or insight, or tenderness) more important than market success? Of course, everything is turned on its ear now, in terms of what the workplace is, and where you “go” to do your work. I hope COVID-19 is helping us break up that bleak monopoly, and reclaim some of the sacrifices the father in the poem is making. Let’s hope we come out of this time – safely – having escaped the literal cubicle and the figurative box we feel we have to put ourselves inside.
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 John Paul Davis: I like the idea that the lightning of my laughter comes from the rainstorm of fingers typing. And I like the cubicle maze. And that the child has not been brought to work; I think when I wrote the poem I imagined this is what the parent says giving the office tour, but now I see it can also be read as an argument against bringing the child at all.
Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page?
Artist Caleb Brown: Originally I partitioned each section with wide, hard, inky borders, but it was only when I took them away that I realized the absence of lines suggested connection, and I wanted to talk about that.
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 John Paul Davis: Many times; I was actually a painting major for two years in college before my advisor noticed my sketchbook was mostly poems and only sometimes drawings. So I’ve always had a love for visual art. Chagall, Rothko, Magritte, and some more conceptual artists like Tara Donovan and Yoko Ono all have moved me to write poems.
If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet John Paul Davis: Clearly, rain.
Artist Caleb Brown: The poem seems to conjure static, stale, over-processed indoor air…the weather that doesn’t change. The weather that *can’t* change, won’t change. In contrast I hear the broadside arguing in favor of the dynamic, open, novel, and humane. So I think the ideal weather of the poem is any kind that varies over the course of the day: perhaps a little sunny, a little cloudy, a little windy. The day could also be rainy, but I would want the rain to clear up just in time for the father and daughter to do something really fun outside together.
Read any good books lately?
Poet John Paul Davis: Right now I’m reading Being Ecological by Timothy Morton, a philosophical book about how humans aren’t a special category distinct from the rest of the world, and critiquing guilt as a response to problems like climate change. I’m also reading Wicked Enchantment, a selection of Wanda Coleman’s poems, and Quichotte, by Salman Rushdie.
Artist Caleb Brown: I’m preparing for the resumption of baseball by reading random poems in the collection Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves, edited by Don Johnson. I also reengaged with The Gift by Lewis Hyde, which has been incredibly helpful.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet John Paul Davis: I miss going to see art! The last art I saw was some new paintings by Matthew Benedict at Alexander and Bonin in Manhattan. Interesting examinations of masculinity as expressed through outdated fashion, tools, and vanished occupations. Before that I saw some really powerful work by Prabhakar Pachpute at Experimenter in Kolkata, India. Pachpute’s haunting surrealist dystopian landscapes really capture the sorrow of capitalism’s exploitation of both the human body and the earth itself.
Artist Caleb Brown: In June the galleries in Boston began to tentatively open, and on an unseasonably hot Sunday my wife and I put a day together. We visited the (sadly deserted) farmers’ market in the “SoWa” (South of Washington) arts district and drifted into a few exhibition spaces. Karine Léger’s serene abstractions stoo