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“Como Una Vela”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What surprises you about Michelle’s writing in conversation with your art? Did “Como Una Vela” refract any element of the art that made you see the piece differently?
Artist Meghan Keane: I was not anticipating a poem in Spanish! And I am so pleasantly surprised, for it truly captures the complexity of the painting: what is suggested but not fully pinned down, the potential the painting holds of expressing or implying the sitter’s identity but maintaining privacy and mystery as well. I love how “Como Una Vela” invites in the ancestors, the family, all the tías… and the way the poet has explicitly named hair as a site of ritual.

This painting has long been a favorite, but teasing out (hair pun, sorry) the ways that this colorful piece isn’t just a compelling abstract composition of shapes and colors, but has the capacity to function as a portal to communal memory and ties between humans, is an element of the work I now see. I appreciate how the poet—wave-like, flame flicker-like—undulatingly connects the words to the image (yellow-blue, blue nights, rolling hair over barrel) which grounds us in the picture while taking us on a dreamy journey between where the painting was made (Brooklyn) and the Caribbean, the diaspora.

The Spanish is a surprise on a few levels: I have a personal connection to speaking and thinking in Spanish because of living with a host family in Ecuador as a student. Ecuador is where I decided to end my studies in architecture and pursue painting. My Ecua-familia (our name for our relationship) and I have maintained very close ties over numerous return trips—father’s days, a wedding, exhibition openings in Quito, visits to each others’ homes—over almost twenty years. They will share in my appreciation of this broadside very much, I think, for all the layers of meaning embedded in this poem.

This poem was chosen in response to Meghan Keane’s painting, “Rollers”—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image? What leapt out first from the art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Michelle Moncayo: “Rollers” was striking in that it instantly took me through a tour of several very specific, very vivid places in my life—from the island of Dominican Republic, to Brooklyn, to Newark. The bold purples, pinks, and blues of the hair rollers combined with the curving movement of the shapes created a powerful, layered narrative. Through her use of bold colors, shapes, and movement, Meghan was able to bring up narrative, memory, and movement (especially as it comes to diaspora) in me as I was creating my poem.

The image of the rollers in hair—not taken out, but in the process—reminded me of my great aunts, aunts, and other women in my community who would take part in the ritual of doing their hair. There were usually hours set aside and dedicated to hair, but there was also the bonding, gossiping, and advice-giving in kitchens, living rooms, and salons. There were usually kids running around, the loud punctuation of laughter, and a mix of Spanish and English. It was a mix of working immigrant mothers and single moms.

The wave-like movement of the rollers reminded me of the wave-like rolling of women’s wrists to roll up the rollers then roll them out. This is layered with the movement of ocean waves, particularly as the Dominican Republic is an island. For me, this singular moment in “Rollers” represented many moments in diaspora—a conversation that spans time, space, and language. In a way, the hair and rollers are a vessel for that.

I also really loved how bright and contrasting the yellow is, especially alongside the blue. It reminded me of candles (going back to ritual), and ocean.

We published another poem that responded to Meghan’s art, “Ditibaabide / The Rolling” by Margaret Noodin.  What strikes you about these different responses, these different broadsides and visions?
Artist Meghan Keane: While clearly each is a different planet in a way, I was struck by the commonalities. Both poets teased out waves and gave motion to a static image… especially considering how I thought of the curlers as a landscape and a topography, but never as a wave image, crossed my mind! I am thrilled to observe that both poets had this word and imagery in common (though ultimately creating very different worlds). I am also struck by both poems being, or having elements of being, bilingual. The undulating, wave-like movement between language/s, not entirely dissimilar to the space that exists between the art and the poem… I’m mesmerized by the ways both poets brought in an outside world—distinct worlds each—and transport us with spatial and sensorial language beyond the tight, narrow, close-up space of the framing of this painting and give us larger contexts to imaginatively contemplate.
Poet Michelle Moncayo: Reading “Ditibaabide / The Rolling” by Margaret Noodin, I felt a sense of vastness and transformation–-minerals melting, streams becoming river, lives becoming entwined. This feeling is also attributed to the title and the movement and the shapes in Meghan’s art (which is what stood out to me most in her painting, too!). There is a sense of traversing time and landscape. I also found it compelling that both my work and Margaret Noodin’s work are in two languages, which brings to mind a linguistic diaspora and movement as well. Through Meghan’s art, we were both able to access a sense of movement, identity, and location. I love seeing these three works and responses as all connected!

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Meghan Keane: In New York and other parts of the world where a fluidly bilingual audience will know this broadside is for them.
Poet Michelle Moncayo: I would love to see this in bodegas, laundromats, beauty salons–-the places I know where the women in rollers in my life gather–-so they can see themselves elevated into the art they are.

Paired with the art, do you think the poem does something different or has a different tone?
Poet Michelle Moncayo: Yes! Seeing the poem paired right next to the art was so exciting for me. The poem comes alive next to the art–it becomes embodied in a way beyond words. You can see the texture in the hair, feel the physicality of the rollers, of the body. It adds in movement without needing to describe the movement. It gives the viewer a place where they can step into and feel the poem in a different way (maybe in a way that they recognize). The poem doesn’t become this intangible, amorphous thing–it transforms into something grounded that we can feel, see, and be a part of.

When you consider these two different responses from writers to your work, what springs to mind?
Artist Meghan Keane: I keep coming back to how each poem response is a seamless world unto itself, perfect exactly as it is, in its unique, relational dynamic to the work, humming and vibing with the painted image in its own way. I understand why it was not possible to choose one!

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art before? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
Poet Michelle Moncayo: Yes, I have. Visual art plays a large role in my artmaking process. As someone who incorporates visual art into my work through photography, I often look to different visual artworks (in any form-–performance art, painting, photography, sculpture) to inspire my creative process. It helps me to create a more visceral and intuitive response in my writing because visual art feels more tangible and physical than words. I find that I start making decisions more intuitively, exploring subconscious ideas that I would not have otherwise, and allowing myself more freedom to play and explore ideas. I respond to shapes, color, movement, feeling. My writing process changes completely in the best way possible

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Michelle Moncayo: It would be a Spring afternoon after rainfall has cleared.
Artist Meghan Keane:
  A warm, cloudless sunset.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Michelle Moncayo: Songs of Brujeria by Amanda Galvan Huynh. It’s such a beautifully made poetry book… and the kind I wish I had growing up.
Artist Meghan Keane: I read Russian literature in the winter and recently enjoyed Petropolis by Anya Ulinich. It’s rare to laugh out loud, so I applaud her masterful handling of misery and humor. 

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Michelle Moncayo: Vietnamese American artist Kenny Nguyen recently showed some of his new silk installations through a virtual art fair. His silk work is so beautiful and intricate, but also poetic in that his process creates conversations about diaspora, colonization, and the physical environment. I always love seeing how his process changes and evolves according to where he is at the moment or what topics he is engaging with.
Artist Meghan Keane:
The Japanese Carpentry exhibition at the Japan Society in Manhattan was stunning and inspiring, especially learning about the spiritual belief system that informs and suffuses the flawless craftsmanship. Recommend it if you nerd out on architectural drawings, hand tools, or precision generally. 

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 Michelle Moncayo: Thank you so much to Broadsided Press editors for your hard work and patience and also for creating such an exciting space for artists to be in dialogue and create alongside each other. This is such a beautiful space, and I am lucky to be here! Meghan, thank you for sharing your beautiful work with the world, for your insights, and for the conversations you are creating in the world through your art. Your work inspired me and I know it will continue to do so to so many others.
Artist Meghan Keane: Thank you very much to Broadsided Press editors and artist Janice Redman for selecting my painting as this year’s Switcheroo. It is an honor. Thank you to poet Michelle Moncayo for spending such thoughtful, attentive time with this work, and for producing so beautiful and perceptive a poem in response. To the audience, I wonder, what hair experience would you want to immortalize in paint? For contemplation…

Editors’ Note:

Meghan Keane’s painting—which captures someone’s back-of-the-head, plastic-roller-studded moment—inspired so many intimate, heartfelt memories.  Something about the face turned away, the artist’s gaze from above, the bright colors. There is so much invitation and mystery in this painting, and the writing submitted in response reflects that.  Memories of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, the warmth of domestic spaces, and also sometimes fraught wrangling with ideas of beauty (and how we fall short).

In a year of social isolation due to Covid-19 and a year that shows the fault lines and dangers of touch, Meghan Keane’s painting of someone’s hair salon (whether DIY or professional) feels intensely and intimately poignant. Hair and grooming/shaping is, ultimately, such a personal and communal thing: whether it’s drag queens or aunties, quinceañeras or homecoming dances, actors or lawyers, slicked back or teased up. Or both. Or all.

Every year, we eagerly await The Switcheroo, curious to see what an image will prompt in writers. In the end, we couldn’t narrow our decision down to one poem, and we’re glad to offer you both Margaret Noodin and Michelle Moncayo’s creative, multilingual, surprising ekphrastic responses to Meghan Keane’s painting. We hope that, in considering both, you imagine your own.

We’re eager to see what happens in next year’s Switcheroo, and we’re grateful to all who engaged, sent in work, and took time to imagine themselves into a world created by an artist.

In gratitude,
Elizabeth Bradfield, Miller Oberman, Jennifer Perrine, Alexandra Teague

Note:  This broadside and interview are included in the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020 (Provincetown Arts Press, 2022).

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