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“Cytokine”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to bring your work to Broadsided?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: The hall outside my office is plastered with work from Broadsided, and I’ve made many myself at the Wells Book Arts Center; I love broadsides. I was excited to have this poem in particular in Broadsided because I think it opens itself up to non-illustrative visual response. It’s always a joy to see what the Broadsided artists will do, and Millian’s work blew me away!

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang:
As I read this poem I saw the poem. Its rich imagery made it effortless as I was transported into the poem and as I worked on the art. This was how I knew that the poem resonated and needed to respond to it. I’m so happy to have gotten the opportunity.

How did this poem come to be?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: It began in rhythm. I’m a sucker for repetition, for language that revs its engine and builds and breaks and then builds some more, resisting the arc that comes to an end. What I’ve described doesn’t involve much moving forward, much resolution, which is also what led to the subject matter of the poem.

How did this image come to be?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I love the pattern that the poem weaves by inverting imageries of growth, loss, and healing as the sister endures daily uncertainty. I wanted to reference growth through repetition of shape and form—inversion of expectation is referenced through approximate symmetry and the play of negative and positive space, and the loneliness felt in the poem is referenced in the blue of cyanotype. It’s a bit hard to see, but growth is further referenced with each large circles made of iridescent fabric and a single golden glass bead sewn inside.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Does the artist’s response make you see the poem differently?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: What more exciting response to your poem could there be than for another artist to be moved to create something new after reading it? I didn’t have any idea what Millian would respond to in the poem, and that not-knowing is a pleasure. What struck me right away about what she did was the blend of organic and more regular or artificial forms—and the askew mirroring of the image. These visual elements elevate, for me, the poem’s central tensions between exhausted repetition and real bodily needs, between empathetic attention and simply going through the motions. I think the image and the poem each expand the other in wonderful ways.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: What I thought was a poem based on bodily pain and mental exhaustion became even more painful as the art reveals how incredibly lonely the sister feels. Even though she works with a skeleton crew, each person is grappling with the intensity of loneliness in others and themselves, and the mental exhaustion spirals even further with the worries and pain of others. The sister worries at something even deeper too.

What question would you like to ask your collaborator?
Poet to Artist: I wanted to ask what media you used, but you answered that below! So: What drew you to using these particular media in your response?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I was experimenting with cyanotype when I read this poem, so naturally I was thinking in the medium when the poem resonated with me. I like the versatility of a cyanotype, which can have very crisp mechanical edges or marks from a human hand. I combined both types of mark-making with embroidery and applique to give it a bit more texture.

Artist to Poet: What is the sister battling on her own?
Poet Dan Rosenberg:
The sister is a nurse, working night shifts on the oncology floor with (and here’s that cancer dark humor) a skeleton crew. So there’s the struggle of the job, of course. As for what she’s struggling with on her own, I’m so happy with your reading of the poem that I hate to suggest there’s a “correct” extra-textual answer—so I’ll just note that elevated cytokine levels have been linked to complications with pregnancy.

When you consider the full folio of work from this issue (see the “related broadsides” links on the left), what questions, observations, or connections arise for you?  
Poet Dan Rosenberg: I see so much grasping-after here (Nabokov called Tolstoy a “groping purist” and I can’t stop thinking about it). It’s in the poems, with their repetitions and revisions, their tumbling language, but it’s also in the images, in how often they offer an imperfect mirroring, as if each image contains its multiple attempts, the impossibility of absolute representation.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: There’s a theme of loss, memory, and trying to hold on to and letting go of a moment.

Describe your ideal “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I would love for this broadside to be posted in the offices of lawmakers, lobbyists, and administrators who were and are still responsible for the state of healthcare today.
Poet Dan Rosenberg:
I have to agree with Millian here: I’d love to see this all over Capitol Hill. I’d hope that hospitals, too, might be places where people would not just see but be seen by this broadside.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: One of those crepuscular winter days when the sky seems to be holding its breath.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang:
A frozen landscape after days of sleet.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: I like this one a lot: Take a poem that you love but don’t understand. Break it into sentences, and write down the list of questions to which those sentences might be responses. Now look at your questions and write a poem by answering them.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang:
Think of a problem. What does that problem look like in visual art form? What is the solution to that problem? What does that solution look like visual art form?

Read any good books lately?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: I just read Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith, with illustrations by Boulet, to my kid’s 4th grade class. It’s a graphic novel adaptation of the beginning of Beowulf, with a treehouse full of rowdy kids as Heorot and the middle-aged man next door as Grendel. It’s full of wild alliteration, goofy kennings, and bad jokes, and it’s a joy to read aloud.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang:
I’m currently on book two of The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. It’s a great series with a different look on power structures and the journey to reclaim one’s power.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: I recently saw Xu Bing’s Background Story at the Johnson Museum at Cornell. It recreates an ancient landscape painting by arranging detritus (sticks, bubble wrap, newspaper, etc.) to cast shadows on a translucent surface. So there’s the centuries-old landscape painting, and here’s another, larger, illuminated version of it, but the second version is created from light and air. And garbage. It’s amazing.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang:
I saw some great works at the Vladem Contemporary and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe. Too many to recount, but I highly recommend both places.

Anything else?
Poet Dan Rosenberg: There are books and books about ekphrasis (many often imagining, foolishly to my mind, a kind of power struggle between the visual and the verbal). But to my knowledge there hasn’t been similar attention paid to when artists respond to poems. I love the inversion of ekphrasis that is Broadsided, and the partnership that arises from it, the sense that the visual and the verbal are not jostling for attention but in conversation with one another, helping each other to be more. I’m grateful to Millian for being such a wonderful artistic interlocutor.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang
: This mixed media cyanotype entitled FEVER DREAM has sewn glass beads, applique with iridescent organza, and exposed using hand drawn and printed half-tone matrices. The vertical format is actually a composite from two sides of a double-sided letter size cyanotype print on cotton fabric.

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