“Final Descent into Phoenix”
What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: It seemed likely that squares, or a grid of some kind, would make an appearance because they are a repeated element in the poem. And they do show up, but they’re completely different than I expected. They’re wonderfully playful—none of them are exactly square or lined up quite flush, and some even seem to be dissolving into little pieces of ash or drifting paper. The map is burning, lit by what it depicts.
What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Kara Page: Well…I was inspired by the idea of looking at the world via a bird’s eye view, except I took it to the extreme hence seeing the globe rather than a city. I had the idea of seeing the lights on earth at night more so than the actual earth, and the lantern (which is in behind the words) sort of grounds the painting in reality again.
I felt like the poem was about how Phoenix is sort of stuck in the past, and it “shines” literally from the sky, but not necessarily in spirit.
I debated doing a more political piece with silhouettes of protesters because of past protests in Phoenix, but the author didn’t really go there…so I didn’t either because that felt like a big leap for me to take without knowing for sure if it was meant to be political.
Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: Paired with the playful squares and the drifting bits of paper (or maybe they’re clouds—it changes every time I look!), those gorgeous, intricate streetlights peeking out from behind the text gave me a new feeling for the poem. When I think of this poem, the literal sight that inspired it—Phoenix at night, seen from the window of plane coming in for a landing at Sky Harbor International—comes very strongly to mind. Phoenix really is a very grid-oriented city when seen from above (and experienced from street-level). The streets, the neighborhoods with pools in every backyard, the shopping centers, and the orange glow of modern streetlights dominate that mental image. It’s magical to see that landscape reinterpreted here with a completely different sensibility. In a way, that’s what the poem is about: a place that is in some ways repulsive gets transformed by closeness, by a strange kind of love.
When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Kara Page: I wanted to stick with the location theme, so I used old maps alongside painting the globe.
What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: The color palette surprised me. The colors are richly saturated, deep, bold. The glow that hangs over Phoenix at night is thin, electric, harsh. The colors, like the other visual elements, gave me a new feeling for what the poem expresses.
Artist Kara Page: Originally this piece had the lantern on the right side, so what surprised me was the fact that it was mirrored, but it turned out wonderfully to mirror it once the words were added!
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 Julie Swarstad Johnson: I have written work inspired by visual art over the years, but none of it has yet made it past the draft stage! I’m usually inspired by work that surprises me in some way, whether visually or in terms of ideas.
How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Kara Page: Personally, I love to use old books in my mixed media paintings, and occasionally I will add words to a work of art if I know the person receiving it.
Describe the collaboration in one word.
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: Transformative
If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: “Concert in the Garden,” written by Maria Schneider, one of my favorite composers. Her compositions for jazz big band are lush. Melodic and harmonic lines cross each other, textures overlap and cross-pollinate, energy builds and diminishes, everything swirls forward. Lush only begins to capture it.
Artist Kara Page: Moonlight Sonata
Read any good books lately?
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House, which I read in December, continues to haunt and challenge me. Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude and Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (both poetry) have been recent sources of joy and wisdom.
Artist Kara Page: I am in the process of reading A Purpose Driven Life right now.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Julie Swarstad Johnson: Last summer, I saw captivating work by Canadian painter Wanda Koop at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. The work was part of an exhibit titled HER STORY TODAY: Six Painters from Quebec and Canada. The exhibit overall was excellent, but Koop’s work stood out to me for her use of color: neon, explosive, insistent. One piece, “Friendly Fire” from the series No News (2011), is particularly memorable for its forceful electric yellow paired with a strip of color that looks like a television test pattern.