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“Cisoria: The Scissors”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What made you want to submit this poem to our “Sense of Home” feature?
Poet Jennifer Martelli: Once I began responding to the prompt, I really liked the mechanics of the poem—how it forced me to bring together these random yet specific images and ideas. The poem began moving like scissors. 

What drew you, artistically, to respond to this poem?
Artist David Bernardy: Initially I was drawn to the title. Like, I think, Jennifer, I love scissors. I love they way they look, I love the way the steel rings feel in my hand, I love the sound they make as they snip, and the tremor they make as they bite through paper or fabric. SO I was SO looking forward to drawing some scissors…. but then the prompt dictated that I could NOT draw scissors.  Which is probably a good thing. Because it made me go deeper into the poem and deeper into the other aspects of the art-prompt.

Do you often work within the constraints of prompts or exercises?  Why or why not?
Artist David Bernardy: I love prompts and exercises like this. I love the way the structures and the rules push and pull me in different directions, usually frustrating and interesting directions.  The rules of the prompt sort of turn art-making into a kind of game, and I am always up for new games.
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: No, in fact, I usually stare blankly at a prompt. I find I respond best to prompts that force a form as opposed to an idea—like this prompt. I had to adhere to certain rules of the line and of imagery. I like crossword puzzles, so there’s a satisfaction to “filling in the grid.”

How has your sense of home shifted in the COVID-19 pandemic?
Artist David Bernardy: We’ve been lucky not to have lost anyone we know, so we are in the process of adapting, not the process of grieving. That said, we have always been the kind of people who liked to create a home place: planting in the yard, finding furniture we loved, cooking for and with a mix of friends, surrounding ourselves with things and people who make us happy. It has been tough not being able to have folks over in the same way, but we’ve been taking time to go out on hikes, spend time in the garden, and roll around with the dog. Pretty good consolations.
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: In some ways, its broadened: both my kids are back home, so our spaces within the home were sharply delineated. There’s a sense of collective caring as well as I venture out, all masked, waving to the masked!

Has your relationship to your creative work shifted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Artist David Bernardy: I go through ups and downs as per usual: is this work good, is this work worth doing, etc. And with COVID-19 and the racial unrest, I have had to ask myself, “Is this work (whatever it may be at the time) helping?” I am not sure that I always know, but I know that it helps me, and I suspect that some of my questions stem from a hesitance to start and a fear of failure. So, I have had to tell myself that “helping me” is good enough for now. Hopefully, ultimately, it helps others, too.
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: This has been a period of revision for me—in the real sense. I’m finishing a collection centered around Geraldine Ferraro and I’m struck by the repetition of themes and characters, all the silence and cruelty. So, my focus has been to hone that concept in my book.

How did you choose the “Vectorization” site for your collaboration (pictured left) and, if anything were possible, where in the world would you most love to discover your broadside posted?
Artist David Bernardy: I am always browsing these little free libraries in my neighborhood.  Certainly I can’t be the only one… I’d love to have our collaboration projected on a wall, or a bank of clouds.
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: The forsythia hasn’t been yellow in a while! But right next to it, is a line of tiger lilies—time marches on! I guess I’d love to find my broadside posted on that fence surrounding the White House!

Read any good books lately?
Artist David Bernardy: The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager.
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: Yes! I just devoured Kiki Petrosino’s White Blood

Seen any good art lately?
Artist David Bernardy: A wonderful picture book: Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe.
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: I’ve been kind of obsessed with Joseph Cornell’s boxes, especially Maria Taglioni’s Jewel Casket. I look at it every day!

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).
Artist David Bernardy: Only this: I’d love the folks who read these to go ahead and try their own versions of these prompts. Write a poem using the poem prompt. Then give it to a friend and ask her to make some art using the art prompts.  Tell her you’ll do the same thing for her poem. You’ll find it is SO much fun… They are GREAT prompts!  Thanks, Broadsided folks!
Poet Jennifer Martelli
: I don’t usually write in form, but when I do, or when I respond to a prompt like this one, there’s a physical satisfaction of things clicking into place: all the tension of these crazy ideas and images is held in place. I love it! What is that physical reaction? 

The Prompts: “Attention equals life or is its only evidence”

Inspired by this Frank O’Hara quote, and recognizing that most of us are finding ourselves paying attention to our own home environments, news, and the world outside our windows quite differently now than we probably ever have in our lives, write a poem that does the following:

  1. Begins by vividly describing something in your immediate physical environment that you might not have paid much attention to much (you don’t need to discuss your past lack of attention–just bring our attention fully now to whatever it is).
  2. Includes a quoted phrase or sentence from a page opened to at random in some book you love and which is in your home.
  3. Includes a reference to the etymology of one or more subjects or things you’ve been obsessing over or paying a lot of attention to. This etymology or earlier meaning should be used instead of actually referring to the word itself. (It may be useful to make a list of the main things you’ve been paying attention to and look up the etymologies for each. E.g. if I look up the etymologies for news and virus, I find that news has the “absurd folk etymology” of being an abbreviation for “north east west south,” and I might therefore include some reference to directions in my poem, or that virus comes from a root meaning “to melt away, to flow” . . .).
  4. Mentions something that is too fantastical, historical, mythical, or otherwise impossible to have in your home, yet you wish were there with you.
  5. Includes, in your 8th line, a metaphor about something you can see out your window.

Have fun! If you want further inspiration, O’Hara’s own poems, which he called “I do this I do that” poems, for their often rapid movement between subjects, might serve as one fantastic end of the spectrum of paying attention. And Pablo Neruda’s slower-paced Elemental Odes, in which he celebrates—and makes us differently see and appreciate—everyday objects such as socks and lemons might serve as another!

Artist Prompt:  Inspired by this Frank O’Hara quote and by “Cisoria: The Scissors,” and recognizing that most of us are finding ourselves paying attention to our own home environments, news, and the world outside our windows quite differently now than we probably ever have in our lives:

  • Use scissors as a central part of making your art (but don’t include an image of scissors)
  • Include an image that suggests something in your immediate home or studio environment
  • Include an image / color / etc. that suggests something fantastical, historical, mythical, or otherwise impossible to have in your home but you wish were there with you
  • Include an image that refers to some sentence or image from a page opened to at random in some book you love and which is in your home or in your studio


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