This poem was chosen in response to Cheryl Gross’s art—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image? What leapt out first from Cheryl’s art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz: In fact I wrote the poem in response to Gross’ drawing. I am a sucker for text in visual art, and I really liked the receipt she put on the right, and I like the illegible language on the bottom. I’m a great fan of illegible things. Of course the most eye-catching element of the drawing are the figures which are both child-like and a little distorted and frightening. I had been mourning the loss of our home movies (accidentally put in a good will bag while cleaning), and the odd figures reminded me of distorted children’s toys and thus of memories and what we lose with time. The receipt made me think about what memories are worth and how we can account for the loss of time and experience.
What surprises you about Lisa’s poem in conversation with your art?
Artist Cheryl Gross: I’m always surprised when someone picks up my work and responds to it. I particularly like the fact that she can see things in it that I don’t. Basically because I’m too close to it.
Paired with the art, do you think the poem does something different or has a different tone?
Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz: Because I wrote the poem for the drawing, I will always relate the two. But read without the drawing, the poem is a little flightier. I was careful not to do a literal interpretation of the drawing because the drawing already keeps the writing grounded. Yet, on it’s own, a reader might not understand the poem. I’m afraid it will need Gross’ drawing forever.’
What did you expect a writer to pick up on from “Best Friends”?
Artist Cheryl Gross: The relationship between the animal and the kid. It’s based on acceptance.
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 Lisa Allen Ortiz: Yes, just yesterday I started a poem about Cézanne’s card players. Evidently, Cézanne painted many card playing parties. I wondered if he painted them because they were a convenient subject (men sitting still) or if he was interested in the tension of the game. I have also written about Albrecht Dürer’s Hare drawing. I imagined his studio with that huge rabbit in it. I imagined the other subjects of his paintings lined up behind the rabbit. That was fun. I am charmed by the world the visual artists inhabit as they paint. My parents are both artists, so I grew up in a very visual environment. I’m interested in the imaginations of others. We all have different shapes and textures in our heads.
Paired with the poem, do you think the art does something different or has a different tone?
Artist Cheryl Gross: Yes. Her interpretation of the drawing is much different from what I intended it to be. I find this interesting and enlightening to get another person’s take on my work.
Have you ever had a writer respond to your work before? What was the experience like?
Artist Cheryl Gross: Yes. I work with the poet Nicelle Davis. We are Dharma bums wading through the sludge and reporting to the masses.
If your poem were an animal, what would it be?
Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz: A white-headed marsh tyrant
If your art were an animal, what would it be?
Artist Cheryl Gross: Naked mole rat.
If your broadside collaboration were an animal, what would it be?
Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz: A crowned slaty flycatcher
Artist Cheryl Gross: Naked mole rat’s mother.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz: Fiere by Jackie Kaye.
Artist Cheryl Gross: No books lately. Just my regular Wikipedia snippets here and there regarding reference needed to carry out assignments.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Lisa Allen Ortiz: In Chicago last fall we went to the Art Institute and fell in love with Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Not just because you can take the candy. We love him for his mind.
Artist Cheryl Gross: Pina by Wim Wenders, Whitney Biennial, OK Harris Gallery show: Bill Fisher, Larry Kagen.
How does inspiration work? Really, this question lies at the heart of what we do at Broadsided. Every month, we wait to see what an artist will create in response to the writing we choose. As editors, the mystery is both more clear and deeper during a Switcheroo. We ask ourselves, “what would I have done in response?” and “how did the writer see that?”
Lisa Allen Ortiz’s poignant calculations were the perfect counterpoint to the graphic and strange world of Cheryl Gross’s art. She gets at the sucker punch to the gut that loss can be (and which might be at the core of the boy in “Best Friends”). Together, the poem and art make strangeness, friendship, and tattered remnants speak of our lives. They make us familiar in a stranger’s eyes, strange again to ourselves, and they open us to new envisionings. It’s what we hope art will do.