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“Dear Johnny”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: Maps and all of their possibilities.

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Meghan Keane: The spaces. The references to colors (blood, etc). The mapping references. I was inspired by the way these elements create breathing room for developing a personal relationship with the poem. The painting came out of those spaces.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: I think that the artistic response showed me how much of the poem has imagery of parting, of coming together, of lifelines and the uncertainty of reaching out. The image brings to mind roads and pathways, of course, but also tributaries, roots, veins, the heart, and all of these images are in the poem, but not explicitly: the map, the water imagery, the tomato plant, the blood, and of course, this being a love letter, that confusing emotion of love. I really like that—that way it strips down, goes even deeper to expose what is underneath it all.

What surprised you about this piece, once you saw the artwork and poem together?
Artist Meghan Keane: The poetry that occurs in the space between the poem and the visual interlocutor. Like the poem, it gives a space for contemplation, imagining, free of pre-illustrated scenarios. You want to spend time with it.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: I adore collaborations across all genres and arts, but I’ve never worked collaboratively in an anonymous sense—I’ve always known my collaborator, and they have always known me. So I was excited to see what someone who doesn’t know me responds to my work.

The way that Meghan manages to convey that sense of intimacy, of vulnerability, I think, is really quite something. When I look at it, I feel how visceral it is, how it seems to be almost too exposed, which is exactly how I hope someone feels with the poem—a complicated entanglement. I am noticing how she reflected back her own form of erasure with color, which is brilliant.

Jericho Brown, when he was tweeting for Poetry Foundation, wrote something like “every poem is still a love poem and every poem is still a political poem.” I believe that fervently, and I think of that when I think of these Dear Johnny poems.

I could have never thought of this image, but now it seems more accurate to the poem than the poem itself.

When you began what aspect did you follow?
Artist Meghan Keane: I liked the blood image and the map image. That never changed. I like the idea of a map-like painting that created its paths through the “spaces” (the spaces are the lines, painted via negative space). The hints of red that show through, for me, are tiny gestures towards the language in the poem. So, in that sense, it was a combination of color and shape that I followed when creating this piece.

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 Angela Veronica Wong: I have written, or tried to write, many things inspired by visual art. It is always inspiring to view, read, listen to, someone else’s creativity, and paintings, sculptures—they invite you to create a narrative upon viewing. Whenever I am feeling particularly stuffed-up in terms of writing, or whenever I just feel a bit down, I always take to museums.

If you had to represent the broadsided of “Dear Johnny” with one word, what would it be?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: Love
Artist Meghan Keane: Spaces

Read any good books lately?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: I have been thinking about taking on translation, and so have been very slowly making my way through a few Taiwanese authors, both contemporary and of the past few generations, in their original Chinese. I have fallen in love with one author in particular, Huang Chun-Ming, who has been translated into English, though reading him in Chinese makes me wonder what has been lost in all the books I have read in translation. But it also generally makes me lament all the authors there are in the world that I haven’t heard of or read yet. I’m taking suggestions, so let me know who I’m missing!
Artist Meghan Keane: I was recently painting in the Atacama Desert. While there, I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littín cover to cover (in Spanish). It is a non-fiction literary retelling of Littin’s experience of being exiled, breaking back into his country in disguise to shoot a documentary, and getting out again. Exhilarating. Next: to watch the documentary!

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: I’m in Taipei right now, and so I have to mention the National Palace Museum and its exquisite collection of ancient Chinese paintings, ceramics and artifacts. I trend more towards contemporary art and paintings, and I think being surrounded with such history changes one’s interaction with the pieces of art.
Artist Meghan Keane: Saw Matisse’s reclining nude at the Jewish Museum today. Matisse never gets old, despite ubiquity. The man can paint.

Anything else?
Poet Angela Veronica Wong: It was truly an honor and pleasure to participate, so thank you Broadsided! I hope that people enjoy this collaboration as much as I have enjoyed being a part of it.
Artist Meghan Keane: I would love to work with Broadsided and a Spanish-speaking poet. If that ever comes about let me know! That might be an interesting way to improve arts literacy in Central/South America and to improve respect, stateside, for the tremendous work of writers south of the border. Dream big, right? : )

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