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“Fishing Dead Frogs Out of My In-Law’s Pool”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to bring your work to Broadsided?
Poet Jared Harél: I like the idea of finding art in unexpected places. I often come across signs and billboards that feel unintentionally poetic, which is fun, but I’m also interested in people surveying flyers for guitar lessons or apartment subletters and, without warning, reading a poem.

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Cheryl Gross:
When I read the poem, I knew I had a piece that was perfect for it. The painting, titled Red Frog, is part of my series Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction.

How did this poem come to be?
Poet Jared Harél: During deep-COVID, my family and I lived in an apartment building in Queens, New York. There wasn’t easy outdoor access, so with two little kids and our sanity at stake, my wife and I spent a bunch of time at her parents’ home in Rhinebeck, New York. Their house is very woodsy, and they have a swimming pool in their backyard. The poem, I think, can take it from there.  

How did this image come to be?
Artist Cheryl Gross: As I mentioned, this is part of a larger series I made, Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction, a social commentary addressing the shifting and eventual disappearance of our culture using animals as metaphors to represent society teetering on the verge of collapse. Artistic depictions of animal species as victims illustrate the decline of the American democratic system. Red Frog alludes to complete extinction caused by disease through globalization. The African Bullfrog was brought to the Americas for one purpose—to be a living pregnancy tests for humans. These creatures, used to predict life, carried a fungus eradicating the indigenous golden frog.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Does the artist’s response make you see the poem differently?
Poet Jared Harél: First of all, I’m honored that Cheryl Gross chose to creatively engage with my dead frogs poem! I appreciate how her frog gets at the globby, delicate, “rotten grape” vibe I was going for. I really did save as many of those little frogs as I could. I remember waking up some mornings and racing poolside to see if there were any stragglers I might rescue. I like how Gross’s image captures both the vulnerability and dignity of frogs, which is something I also tried getting at in my poem.

What question would you like to ask your collaborator? (we will print your answers, too!)
Poet Jared Harél: My question for Cheryl is about her frog’s crazy-cool feet: What was your inspiration/thought process for making your frog’s feet so inky and bulbous and alien-looking? I love it!
Artist Cheryl Gross:
Many times I use design elements such as abstract and/or exaggerated shapes to make the work more interesting. I particularly like this painting because it’s so dynamic. It’s 40″x 26″ and commands the viewer to engage. I have a cartoonish style to begin with, so the feet were an added bonus. It’s fun to exaggerate certain elements of a painting. 

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Cheryl Gross: No. Both the image and poem are about death. My Red Frog found a home in Jared’s poem. It’s comforting to know we are like-minded in our interpretations of our separate art forms.

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art? 
Poet Jared Harél: Yes, I have written a number of ekphrastic poems before. I find visual art to be a great creative spark. I like how ekphrastic writing is really about dialogue, and how two writers might observe the same painting, yet come away with totally different poems. We’re always bringing our particular experiences and influences to the page.

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Jared Harél: I definitely looked up the word, “vectorization” just now! I think the ideal location for this broadside would be in and around public pools or summer camps. Maybe on fences, cubbies, lifeguard chairs, or even taped to the diving board. Sun-bleached and water-smudged. Collected in pool filters.
Artist Cheryl Gross:
Berlin, November 9, 1989.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Jared Harél: Muggy summer morning.
Artist Cheryl Gross:
Dark cold misty rain.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Jared Harél: Sticking with the ekphrastic writing theme, a prompt I really like is to engage with a painting or some other visual art by asking it 15-20 direct questions. These questions can be as concrete (“Why are you sprinting down the street with a bowling ball?”) or abstract (“Is yellow truly a happy color?”) as you wish. Direct questions can be very effective in poems, and this act of being open and curious often leads to moments of true discovery in a work.
Artist Cheryl Gross:
Don’t waste your time trying to please others.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Jared Harél: Always. I just finished and loved Ben Fountain’s short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. I was also at the AWP conference in Seattle a few months back, so picked up some excellent new poetry collections such as Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke by Eric Tran, If Some God Shakes Your House by Jennifer Franklin, Today in the Taxi by Sean Singer, No Sweet Without Brine by Cynthia Manick, Standing in the Forest of Being Alive by Katie Farris, Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates, 40 Weeks by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, and Deal by Randall Mann.
Artist Cheryl Gross: Regarding Ingres: Fourteen Short Stories, edited by Darin Strauss.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Jared Harél: Actually, I’d like to give a shout-out to Julia Potato (@julia.potato), the Georgian artist whose painting/collage is featured on the cover of my forthcoming poetry book, Let Our Bodies Change the Subject (University of Nebraska Press, 2023.) In addition to being really textured and eye-catching, I love how her work evokes transformation, bodies, rivers, tropical birds, roller coasters, and more. Each time I look at her art, I encounter something new and strange.
Artist Cheryl Gross:
My Pratt students’ final projects. My students are very concerned with social matters. A few semesters ago in my Integrated Visual Communications Class (I was co-teaching at the time with my colleague Erik Spooner), we gave an assignment to recreate The Wizard of Oz, applying it to today’s concerns and issues. The Wizard of Oz uses metaphors to address blatant racism, the changing of our monetary system, along with other topics that were relevant to the time in which it was written–and so many people are familiar with it.

One team of students focused on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Another group created a video of Oz as a cult, much like Scientology. It was very realistic. (If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed this cult really existed.)

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