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“Donji Žabar”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Lisa Sette: The poem reminds me of my family when I was younger. We had these outdoor gatherings of many generations of my extended family—grandma, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins—always in summer, the kids running around like animals, the parents playing poker and drinking.  There was a lot of joy in those gatherings. The poem has that joy, but there’s loss underneath it.  I understand that loss, because most of those family members are gone now—and with them, an experience of family is gone. The Italian-centric sense of us in our food, our language, our traditions, the stories we share.

What inspired you to share your work with Broadsided? What is rewarding, exciting, and/or challenging for you in Broadsided’s unique format?
Poet Milica : As soon as I heard about the Broadsided concept, I was so intrigued by it. I wanted to see what a visual artist would create after reading my words, how they would interpret my poem, whether our work would be similar in aesthetics or whether it would conflict. Waiting for the finished product created some butterflies in my stomach, in sweet anticipation. Also, I find the community aspect of this project quite revolutionary—placing our work in the wild for passersby to see.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Milica : I wanted the artist, just like I want any reader, to read the poem and take from it what they most need or want in that moment. It could be the familial nostalgia, the perseverance of a family after war, the profundity of rose juice, the happiness of summertime grass, the humming of a village, the storytelling of an old uncle who smiles and smokes. What I loved about Lisa’s photo is the way it made me look up. When remembering these moments in Donji Žabar and writing this poem, I focused more on the sounds, the slight breeze on my skin, the rose juice in my body. But I didn’t think much about what I could see, lying there, head in the shade. The photograph in motion reminded me of the trees my family loved and cared for, and I remember spinning as kids until we fell down. 

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Milica : My dream Vectorization would be in the village, Donji Žabar, which is located 20ish minutes from Brčko where I was born.
Artist Lisa Sette:
Any place where it would surprise someone.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Lisa Sette: I like to read the poem several times over a few days and see what the piece generates visually in my mind, then I go out and try and find something that works as a photograph. I couldn’t find a gathering of people, which is what I first wanted for an image. Then, as I was walking and searching for an image, I was surprised by a single late-blooming rose and remembered the poem’s rose juice, rosy days, and rose petals.

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 Milica : One of the first poems I ever published was inspired by a painting I saw at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I was quite young, so I don’t remember the name of the painting or the artist, but I’d know it as soon as I saw it. There was something that just pulled me in. I sat on the bench in front of that painting and just started writing. I don’t know exactly what made me write—I just knew I had something to say. 

If this Broadsided collaboration were a specific historic moment, what would it be?
Artist Lisa Sette:  It brings me back to when I was young and listening to my grandmother speak of Italy, where she grew up. It feels very non-American. It spoke to that part of me, to my mother and father’s families who had to leave Italy.  I feel like it can exist anywhere in time, but it’s suspended in that time/non-time of family and generational memory tied to another country and culture.
Poet Milica :
I agree very much with what Lisa writes. “Non-American” really captures it. More specifically, I think this collaboration could be any moment or any time where families are together one last time before some of them immigrate, whether that be for better opportunities or to escape war, before they have to say goodbye again.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Milica : Take note of interesting words or phrases or snippets of conversations or lyrics you hear throughout your day. Write them down. Over time you might find yourself coming back and finding poems in your entries.
Artist Lisa Sette:
Just start taking pictures.  Make it about color or make it about shapes, but just start taking  pictures, because it usually leads to something interesting. 

Read any good books lately?
Poet Milica : I read Agatha Christie’s The Secret of Chimneys, which I really enjoyed. There’s something so charming about mysteries from the last century. And I’m reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which has been quite interesting so far. And for poetry books, Aaron Caycedo-Kimura’s Common Grace is an absolute must-read. 
Artist Lisa Sette: 
I’ve mostly been reading in preparation for some upcoming travel–guidebooks, history, bird guides, mammal guides.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Milica : I recently saw To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway in LA’s Pantages Theatre. It was engaging, moving, humorous, and approachable. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as good as it was—if you have a chance to see it, the cast is marvelous, and the writing is impeccable. Also, I’ve had one song on repeat the last few days, and I feel I should mention it, in case someone else might like it: Sumbuck’s “Are You Dreaming.” A rainy rosy love song for your evenings or mornings. 
Artist Lisa Sette:
I recently saw “A Strange Loop” in New York.  It’s a queer musical theater piece by Michael R. Jackson, and I wish everyone could see it (it’s playing into January). It is so powerful and different.  It’s about a young, Black, queer man wrestling with and trying to break free from the inner thoughts that are holding him back.  The cast is made up of these thoughts, personified (thought 5, thought 6, self-loathing, etc.).  They’re always challenging him:  you’re big, you’re ugly, you’re fat, etc.  He takes you into his interior world, and it’s complicated and raw and fraught.  How do you get away from the thoughts that get you down? How do you break free from that?  I can’t stop thinking about the play.

Note: special thanks to Megan Tan for her design input.

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