“Collective Origins” / “Ulysses/Uxoria”
This image was created outside of the usual Broadsided “respond to writing” system—can you talk about its origins?
Artist Kevin Morrow: This drawing, like so much of my work, focuses on the simple complexity of nature. If feel that it is obvious enough to say I am interested in the simple yet complex aesthetic of tree rings and patterns such as that throughout nature.
This poem was written in response to Kevin Morrow’s art—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: I had begun and discarded a much longer piece related to modern literature and its classical roots; a poem about Joyce’s Ulysses was part of this. When I saw Kevin’s gorgeous work, it reminded me of the history that a tree tells through its rings. This led me to the original Odyssey and its living-tree bed. I immediately focused on another version—one that was both Odysseus and Penelope’s story and also my retelling of Kevin’s image. (I still have Molly Bloom in there, though! She’s not able to be silenced).
What leapt out first from Kevin’s art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: It was the spirals suggesting the cross-sections of a tree.
What surprises you about Pamela’s poem in conversation with your art?
Artist Kevin Morrow: I was really excited to see that she created a story rather than just focus writing about the tree, she created this interesting narrative around the ‘idea’ of the drawing.
Paired with the art, do you think the poem does something different or has a different tone?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: I think its tone now has more gravitas, plus there’s that lovely symmetry between his lines and my interwoven ones.
What did you expect a writer to pick up on from “Collective Origins”?
Artist Kevin Morrow: I must admit that I fully expected the tree to be apparent in the poem somewhere, but I was very happy to see the way that Ms. Johnson Parker departed with the idea to create such a wonderful poem.
Have you ever written poems in response to art before? What was the experience like for you?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: I’ve written a few ekphrastic poems, but this was my first experience with giving art a voice that wasn’t the artist’s own.
Paired with the poem, do you think the art does something different or has a different tone?
Artist Kevin Morrow: I feel that paired with the poem now, gives the drawing a more specific life to the viewer. That could be our tree in the yard, or the one that one day is in the forest and is keeping us warm in the fire the next…it gives a personal relation, rather than just being a relatively open drawing.
If your poem were an animal, what would it be?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: I have no idea, because I no longer see my poem as discrete from the image.
If your art were an animal, what would it be?
Artist Kevin Morrow: Some sort of Migratory Bird
If the broadside collaboration were an animal, what would it be?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: A pair of doves.
Artist Kevin Morrow: A Bird Watcher
Read any good books lately?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: Jericho Brown’s Please is the best book I’ve read this year. Go buy it!
Artist Kevin Morrow: Open Horizons by Sigurd F. Olson, Lust for Life by Irving Stone, Abraham Lincoln, Selected Speeches and Writings edited by Gore Vidal. Many others that have been partially read, put down, picked back up again, put down…we all do it…they’ll be finished someday…
Seen any good art exhibits lately?
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: Yes—I’ve been to the Chicago Art Institute lately. I loved their sculpture garden, and was there when a class on drawing was being held. (I was a shameless eavesdropper and hope to turn that into a poem).
Artist Kevin Morrow: “Jan Lievens, Out of the Shadow of Rembrandt” at the Milwaukee Art Museum. “Something Wicked this way Comes” at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Poet Pamela Johnson Parker: Thank you so much for allowing me to participate. I’m really honored you chose my poem.
Perhaps we should have expected it, given the striking examination of a cut tree that Kevin Morrow’s art provided, but “Collective Origins” inspired many writers to engage in unique ways with environmental issues and questions of mortality: the sum of a life counted up, lives cut short, lives grown together.
In the end, we were drawn by Pamela Johnson Parker’s ability to engage with Kevin Morrow’s image and also with the literary history of the Odyssey. Yes, a voice in the poem interrupts. The tree? The poet? Us? Molly Bloom from Joyce’s Ulysses? Yes.
Parker’s title (“Ulysses/Uxoria“) seemed to us to be key to the poem, so we ended up, in the final Broadsided publication, keeping it. There the two stand: art and poem, side by side, like trees in a forest. Together making a rich conversation.