What surprises you about Jennifer’s poem in conversation with your art?
Artist Julie Evanoff: Honestly, I’m surprised that she was able to pull out what seems like such a specific narrative that goes deep into the myths and stories that inform our collective and individual unconscious in a way that resonates with my sense of the painting.
This poem was chosen in response to Julie Evanoff’s art—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image?
Poet Jennifer Perrine: When I first saw the painting, I was floored. I attempted a few drafts of poems in response to the image, but I think I hadn’t given myself enough time with the artwork yet, so everything I wrote was a fairly predictable or literal “translation” of the image. I decided that method wasn’t working, so I tacked up a printout of the art on my wall for a few days and waited for the right synapse to fire.
Eventually, I realized that what struck me about the painting was how much it resonated with certain themes (some might say obsessions) to which I repeatedly return in my poetry. In particular, no matter how or about what I begin writing, bodies, transformations, and the connections among humans and animals and between humanity and divinity usually creep into my poems. I realized I had already written poems that held the same feelings for me that Julie’s art did, so I sorted back through them and tried to find a few that were especially in touch with those feelings: monstrosity, humanity, vulnerability, danger, prayer, despair.
What did you expect a writer to pick up on from “Turn”?
Artist Julie Evanoff: When I make paintings I don’t have a specific narrative or intention in my mind that I am trying to articulate. The act of making images, moving paint, building a painting, creates a peice on its own. At any given time I my work is being informed by a unique set of images; when I painted “Turn” I had a lot of Medieval prints and old Middle Eastern imagery from textiles pinned up on my studio walls.
I figured that a writer would pick up on the darkness, the split, the fury, and the myths that seem to be part of every culture that speak to odd mixtures of human and animal.
What leapt out first from Julie’s art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Jennifer Perrine: At first, I saw red. I was drawn in by that color, especially by the red-bodied figure on the right, and it wasn’t until days later that I realized it had reminded me of the character I’d imagined when I read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (which I love!).
After red, I was struck by all the hybrid creatures—people with wings! claws! Is that a beak? And then, the bows and arrows, the sense of potential violence (these were no Cupids to me).
Then, I saw how almost all the figures were outlined in fairly thick black lines—as if, despite all the odd mutations that seem to have taken place, these bodies were tightly bound in whatever form they currently had.
(I’m giving this all a chronology, “first this, then this,” but the awareness of all these aspects took place in a matter of seconds, and probably, all at once. In any case, that was what was there before my later, conscious thoughts about the painting began to develop.)
Paired with the poem, do you think the art does something different or has a different tone?
Artist Julie Evanoff: I love the way Jennifer’s poem goes directly to speak of the mother of the monster. I love that. My work is always from a woman’s perspective, simply because I am a woman, but in addition to a women’s perspective, I have a feminist perspective. For me that is defined by the fact that I see and speak up about injustice toward women however it manifests, women’s rights, equal pay, sexual violence, etc. But, I also see a deep chasm in the culture of patriarchy that has both deep hatred and deep love for the mother. I think we all internalize this conflict. Much of my art making is a way of processing and expressing the mixture of rage and love I feel for humanity at large, and my own relationship to being woman.
So I guess what I’m saying is that paired with the poem my painting more explicitly reads with that female perspective.
Paired with the art, do you think the poem does something different or has a different tone?
Poet Jennifer Perrine: It’s hard for me to distance myself enough from the poem (or from my response to the art) to be able to answer this. What I can say for sure is that the positioning of the epigraph above the painting changed how I read both the painting and that bit of history (and so changes the starting point from which I enter the poem, if that makes sense). With the epigraph, the painting began to feel as though it were a commentary on the connections between religion and violence, or about what makes something “monstrous,” and Pope Julius II suddenly seemed truly heartless. Before, I suppose, that epigraph had just been a side note, a detail that had led me to meditate on the mother of the “monster.” Now, with the painting, the poem feels more like a triangulation, connecting the points between newborn, mother, and whatever forces are powerful enough to determine what’s normal and what’s not, who lives and who dies.
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 Jennifer Perrine: I have. Back in the day, I was both an art and an English major, so writing poems in response to art and making art in response to writing (and making things that aren’t quite sure whether they’re poetry or visual art) has always seemed pretty natural to me. As I look back through the most recent poems I’ve written in response to art, I’m recognizing a pattern: I seem to be hyper-aware of the security, the look-but-don’t-touch attitude towards art once it’s installed in a museum, sculpture garden, etc. I have one poem in which the speaker hops on equestrian statues and pretends to ride them, another in which the speaker surreptitiously touches a Caravaggio so she can feel its texture and trace the pentimenti with her hands, and one written just a few days ago from the point of view of the security guard on duty in one of Robert Gober’s installations in the Art Institute of Chicago. So maybe lately I’ve been responding less to art than to the surveillance culture that so often surrounds it.
If your art were an animal, what would it be?
Artist Julie Evanoff: I might be a chipmunk. I like the idea of being little and furry and cute, but having sharp teeth to get food and protect myself.
If your poem were an animal, what would it be?
Poet Jennifer Perrine: Human.
If the broadside collaboration were an animal, what would it be?
Artist Julie Evanoff: I think it might be a bird of prey.
Poet Jennifer Perrine: I’d say the mythological Chimera: a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. But still human.
Read any good books lately?
Artist Julie Evanoff: I’m reading Carol Becker’s Surpassing the Spectacle; just finished Twice upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale by Elizabeth Wanning Harries; Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman; Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics by Gino Segre; Being There by Jerzy Kosinski.
Poet Jennifer Perrine: Yes yes yes. I keep track of what I’ve been reading on my Goodreads page. If you want the full rundown, that’s the place to go (and also to send me recommendations of books to add to my list of what I want to read, one day, when I have boundless amounts of time…). If you don’t, here’s the highlight reel:
- Denise Duhamel’s Two and Two
- Stacey Waite’s Love Poem to Androgyny
- Sharon Olds’ Satan Says
- Brenda Shaughnessy’s Human Dark with Sugar
- Janice Harrington’s Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone
- Bob Hicok’s This Clumsy Living
- Marie Howe’s The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
- Terrance Hayes’ Muscular Music
- J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace*
- Richard Powers’ Generosity: An Enhancement
- Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues
- Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
- Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber
- Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love
- Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
*I still haven’t worked out how I feel about this book, but it produced a strong visceral reaction [read: vomiting] in me, so it’s certainly powerful, though “good” is probably not the best word for it.
Seen any good art lately?
Artist Julie Evanoff: Nicole Eisenman’s recent show of paintings (good review here); Jasmine Justice; Paul Chan; William Kentridge; Matthew Day Jackson; Superflex; Dana Shutz, Andrea Geyer, it’s a long list…
Poet Jennifer Perrine: Robert Gober’s installation, Untitled (1989-96), at the Art Institute of Chicago is still haunting me more than a month now after I saw it. The whole new modern wing there is worth checking out, for the architecture as much as for the art on display. Another piece that really struck me while I was there was Marlene Dumas’ Albino.
I just visited the Atkins-Nelson Museum in Kansas City a little over a week ago, and loved an untitled painting by Alexander Ross that I saw there. I think of it as a sort of photorealistic painting of microscopic alien organisms. Strange in the best way. I also spent a lot of time with “Mound Magician,” a mixed media piece by Radcliffe Bailey and tribute to Satchel Paige. Baseball is not even close to being my bag, but I loved all the individual elements that went into the huge, baseball-diamond-shaped piece, especially the footprints, as if the artist celebrated his work by dipping his feet in paint and running the bases.
Finally, if you happen to be in the Midwest, you should check out the too often overlooked Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa. It’s worth going just to see John Nava’s monumental tapestries, W Haiku Triptych.
Artist Julie Evanoff: Just a thanks to the folks at Broadsided and all the writers who wrote about my painting!
Poet Jennifer Perrine: Thank you, Broadsided, for the way you bring together text and image and the way you send art out into the world (especially into places where there are no alarms and security guards!).
I’m traveling to South Africa soon, and plan to leave a handful of May’s broadside in my wake. I’m hoping someone will spot one and become the first vector in Africa, unless someone’s reading this in Africa right now and wants to beat me to the punch!
What a rich, wild, dark, enspirited range of responses Julie Evanoff’s image inspired in writers. The overall tone was dark, but humor glimmered in many pieces—the mundane world of paper clips set against the mythic figures in the art. Dreams, it should be no surprise, figured in many poems.
There was another poem that stood out for us from the submissions. Rachel Contreni Flynn’s poem, “Turn,” works with the interiority of Evanoff’s painting not just with subject, but with the repeated returnings of words and phrases. It’s true, the painting could look like the inner landscape of someone disturbed, and Flynn’s tonal control, her ability to render a strange inscape without edging into the melodramatic, thrilled us. We publish her poem below as a finalist.
“Turn” by Rachel Contreni Flynn
Not a smile among us, but plenty
of grasping and hiding. I’m tired.
I’ve begun to see none of it. Office,
bus, three-story-walkup. Small, but
I’d like to mean something, even
something mean, or bright red,
scorching toward dry brush. Quick
trip home, shrug on my robe. In it,
I’m laundry with my smells and stains,
wadded in a corner away from all
that grasping. Hiding. I often call
taxis that come, late at night, to idle
at the curb. Courtyard full of exhaust,
then honking, soon a peeling away.
I’ve made something happen: a waiting,
full as a strawberry, lush and bursting,
then the flick of passion, anger. I’ve wasted
time, of course I have, and it tastes
of the darkest chocolate: sweet/bitter.
I stand at the window, of course I do,
then turn, afraid in the thrill of it,
the smallness, such that I bend
to the carpet and extend my hand
as if to comfort a small animal,
injured maybe, that does not exist.
Rachel Contreni Flynn‘s second full-length collection, Tongue, won the Benjamin Saltman Award and will be published in April 2010 by Red Hen Press. Her chapbook, Haywire, was published by Bright Hill Press in 2009. Her first book, Ice, Mouth, Song, was published in 2005 by Tupelo Press, after winning the Dorset Prize. She was awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she received an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship in 2003. She is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program and lives north of Chicago with her husband and two children.