What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Danez Smith: I imagined something brown & red in my head when I thought of the poem, those are the colors that I had in my head when I was writing the poem.
What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Sam Vernon: Abjection
Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Danez Smith: There’s something very impenetrable about the image, something that makes me scared or unable to enter it. I think since I feel every much “in the midst” of the poem, the image makes me see the aspect of danger in the poem — both familiar and still looming.
When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Sam Vernon: Grayscale and emotion.
What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Danez Smith: How uncomfortable the image makes me feel and now necessary that is.
Artist Sam Vernon: Parallels in Movement
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 Danez Smith: I often look to videos and visual art for inspiration in writing. So much of writing is about images, so I think it’s natural to look at images to think about how to translate that which we can experience into the readable material. Looking at visual art reminds me that I can make images that don’t exist, or maybe more that I am in control of what reality looks like in my poems. I love the feeling I get when I look something that grabs or stops me. I always think “I want to make that happen in a poem.” It’s freeing to see someone say something you want to say so clear in a vocabulary you don’t create it. It gives to a key on now to make it happen in your medium.
How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Sam Vernon: Literature is foundational to my practice.
Describe the collaboration in one word.
Poet Danez Smith: Haunt
Artist Sam Vernon: Death-wish
If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Danez Smith: “His Pain II” by BJ The Chicago Kid featuring Kendrick Lamar
Artist Sam Vernon: “Blood on the Leaves” by Nina Simone
Read any good books lately?
Poet Danez Smith: I just read drea brown’s chapbook dear girl and it rocked me to the core. I wasn’t prepared for how merciless and merciful each poem treated me as a reader, treated the language of the poems, the subjects of the poems. It’s currently changing the way I think about poems in wonderful ways. So so so good.
Artist Sam Vernon: Black Fire! New Spirits! Images of Revolution—Radical Jazz in the USA 1960-1975
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Danez Smith: Yes! There was recently this amazing exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art called “30 Americans” that featured art from 30 amazing black visual artists. It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had while taking in art. I fell in love with so many artists, but especially the work of Kalup Linzy. Linzy does a lot of different things, but their video work that draws inspiration from American Soap Operas infused with a queer lens that makes me rattle with joy and vulnerability that I wasn’t ready for. They have really been turning me out since I encountered their work.
Artist Sam Vernon: “Black Pulp” at Yale University, 32 Edgewood Gallery
Note: This broadside and interview are included in the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020 (Provincetown Arts Press, 2022).