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“Fossil Record: Smilodon”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet Brittney Corrigan: A friend of mine published with Broadsided, and I loved the idea of the project and the gorgeous broadside that was produced for their poem. I felt that my Smilodon poem in particular would be well-suited to this format and that its imagery would be interesting for an artist to work with. I also hoped that the poem itself would be engaging for a wide age range of readers and so was drawn to the idea of it being on display within my community.

What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Michele L’Heureux: I grew up taking road trips with my parents and three siblings, and we stopped a lot at roadside attractions, nature centers, and zoos. I responded right away to the vivid image of a coin-operated model of a saber-toothed tiger in the lobby of a natural history museum—the very kind of attraction that would have prompted one of my siblings to beg my parents for coins. As a budding artist, I would have marveled at the sculpture of it, the color, how realistic (or not) it was. As a discerning child, I would have mocked my siblings for wanting to engage with it after viewing all the amazing skeletons and fossils inside. Today, I absolutely love to spend time at a natural history museum, so this poem resonates for me on many levels.

Describe your dream “vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Michele L’Heureux: A natural history museum, right next to the Smilodon attraction, would be amazing, but otherwise, in a nature center or museum gift shop.
Poet Brittney Corrigan:
I would love to see my broadside posted in the lobby of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, next to the original saber-toothed cat bank that inspired the poem. Though its roar has been updated since the 1970s when it was beloved to me, it still resides at the museum and delights (and startles) all sorts of visitors.

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 Brittney Corrigan: I had thought that an artist might work with the fossil aspect of the poem: the bones, teeth, and fangs. And I love that L’Heureux’s collage showcases the mouth and teeth, really punching up the image of the child reaching into the creature’s mouth to drop a coin. What was unexpected to me, and what I admire in L’Heureux’s work, is that the Smilodon in the collage is so multi-layered, complete with muzzle and fur. In stark contrast to the smooth statue in the museum, the saber-toothed cat on the broadside really comes alive.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page?
Artist Michele L’Heureux: I made the artwork with this exact formatting in mind, and it was exciting to see them paired. I didn’t realize that the pattern of the lines would appear as ridges on the tongue or maybe something to be swallowed.

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 Brittney Corrigan: Yes! I’ve written a handful of ekphrastic poems. In my forthcoming book, Daughters, one of the poems is about the painting Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning. It’s my favorite painting, and when I first encountered it on display at the Met in New York in 2002, I stood mesmerized in front of it for several minutes while the crowds parted themselves around me like water to a stone. All these years later, I knew that “Surrealist’s Daughter” had something to say. In addition, in 2018 I participated in the Word and Image project with the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon. I was paired with a visual artist and tasked with writing a poem in response to one of her paintings. She, in turn, created a painting from one of my poems. It was a challenging, immersive, and rewarding experience.

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Brittney Corrigan: A thunderstorm gathering in the late afternoon on the Front Range in Colorado.
Artist Michele L’Heureux:
I imagine a hot, dry, sunny day on the savannah.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Brittney Corrigan: Though I haven’t yet been able to visit in person, I’ve enjoyed watching the Instagram video tours from Antler Gallery here in Portland, Oregon. The artists and artwork they feature often engage with the natural world in surreal, magical, and unexpected ways. Artists from recent shows whose work I’ve fallen in love with include April Coppini, Lisa Ericson, Amy Ruppel, and Chase Mullen.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: I was mesmerized by a virtual tour of an exhibition at the Royal Academy in which Trace Emin’s work is paired with paintings by Edvard Munch, which she selected for the show. I love the shows that bring together the work of contemporary artists with historical ones as a way to view the present and the past in a different light.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Brittney Corrigan: My recent favorites are Be Holding by Ross Gay, Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, and Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller.
Artist Michele L’Heureux:
I’m just finishing up Jaqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone. I just love how she can conjure such vivid pictures and place the reader in a very specific place and time with so few words.

Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).
Poet Brittney Corrigan: I really enjoyed the experience of being the poet in this collaboration. Wondering how an artist would visually interpret my work was delicious mix of excitement and anticipation. And the results are even more exquisite than I had imagined.
Artist Michele L’Heureux:
I want to know: “Where is the nearest Smilodon machine to me?”

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