“I’m not sure why I decided”
What made you want to submit this poem to our “Sense of Home” feature?
Poet Martha Silano: Ever since I found out about the amazing Broadsided, I’ve been wishing to someday write a poem worthy of publication there. When I discovered they were providing prompts for a series about home, I got excited. As instructed, I went around my house gathering words for a cento. I wasn’t sure I could pull off a sonnet, but the muses rallied for me. There was no way I wasn’t going to submit it!
What drew you, artistically, to respond to this poem?
Artist Jen P. Harris: I was drawn to the rhythm and meditative quality of the poem. The image of “each of us thrown twenty-three degrees off our axes” resonated with me and I was curious to see how I might evoke the feeling-experience of “the dark cold days and the warmest” through interacting patterns.
Do you often work within the constraints of prompts or exercises? Why or why not?
Artist Jen P. Harris: Constraints are an important part of my process, though I don’t typically work with prompts as specific as this one. My recent collage-painting project ‘Paintings for the long emergency’ was driven by a very specific constraint: I committed to working only with a limited supply of existing material (works on paper I produced in the previous five years) rather than producing new imagery. Two years in, I began to approach the “bottom of the pile” and it was harder to pull something vital out of the stuff I had to work with. The constraint pushed me to look at the remaining material in a new way, which led to new vocabularies and forms in the paintings.
Poet Martha Silano: I rely quite a bit on writing prompts. Often, it’s the only way I can focus/get started. Recently, I’ve been participating in a Zoom generative poetry group that relies heavily on prompts. Half the poems I write started as writing exercises, many of them created by Kelli Russell Agodon, the reigning queen of promptdom. Kelli and I wrote an entire book of writing prompts, one for each day of the year. It’s called The Daliy Poet. Prompts often coax out poems that are, for whatever reason, stuck inside us and waiting for a way to be born.
How has your sense of home shifted in the Covid-19 pandemic?
Artist Jen P. Harris: Like everyone, I’ve been home more than ever! The plus side of that is more time for fermentation projects and plants. I’ve been making lacto-fermented veggies, learning more about native California plant species, and planting and studying different varieties of sage. These practices ground me. I have always been something of an introverted homebody and so I feel grateful for the extra time at home, but after so many months of sheltering and more zoom calls than ever, I crave more human contact and contact with IRL (as opposed to digitally mediated) art.
Poet Martha Silano: An interesting question! I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of staying put. I didn’t travel much as a child, so a stay-at-home summer feels comfortably familiar. I’ve always enjoyed nesting, but I used to get antsy to get out of dodge at least once a month. My mindset has shifted as we hit the four-month mark of sheltering in place. I now know I am way more productive at home. I’m embarking on a few writing-related projects I doubt I ever would’ve touched if I were bopping around in my usual fashion. Also, home used to mean chores and meal preparation. It still IS those things, but I’ve found out I don’t mind cleaning and cooking when I’m out in the world less. It’s a great time to be at my desk! Also, I rarely sat outside in my yard, but now I’m out there a lot! Paying more attention to my garden, to the eagles, osprey and terns flying by, to the singing robins. My sense of home has shifted: I appreciate it more.
Has your relationship to your creative work shifted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Artist Jen P. Harris: I moved my art practice from a studio in a shared artists’ building to a smaller home-based workspace in March, so my relationship to my creative work has completely changed. After two years of working on large, multi-panel collage-paintings, I’m now working on small colored pencil drawings. The work feels more intimate. Drawing is becoming a daily practice as opposed to a project. It is my tool for processing the moment of reckoning we are experiencing in this country.
Poet Martha Silano: I’ve said this many times to friends and family: writing poetry is getting me through this. Being creative with words has been essential to my well-being since I was a tot, so it’s not a huge surprise that it’s been a daily practice since the stay-at-home order went into place. In that sense, the only shift is that I am even more committed to and grateful for a daily writing practice and a community where I can share new work.
How did you choose the “Vectorization” site for your collaboration (pictured left) and, if anything were possible, where in the world would you most love to discover your broadside posted?
Artist Jen P. Harris: I chose the closest telephone to my apartment on Cabot Street, in keeping with the theme of home. My own neighborhood is where I’d love to discover it!
Poet Martha Silano: Can we dream? I’d love to see our broadside posted on the doors as folks enter the Louvre! While we’re at it, why not plastered all over the streets of Paris?
Read any good books lately?
Artist Jen P. Harris: Just before the pandemic: The Overstory (Richard Powers). While drawing at home in quarantine: The Broken Earth Trilogy (N. K. Jemisin). Also: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler); Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Donna Haraway); As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance (Leanne Betasamosake Simpson); Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Karen Barad); Notes from the Woodshed (Jack Whitten).
Poet Martha Silano: Where do I begin? As soon as I knew a pandemic was heading our way, I dove into David Quammen’s Spillover. What an amazing read! When I needed to take my mind off the tsunami of grief and loss, I fell contentedly into Dutch House by Ann Patchett, one of our most gifted contemporary novelists. Earlier in the year (which feels like a different epoch), I gobbled up Elizabeth Rush’s Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World, Amanda Little’s The Fate of Food, and Jeff Goodell’s The Water Will Come, all excellent reads. For a dose of levity, Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe, hit the spot. Right now, I’m reveling over the poems of Evie Shockley: The New Black and semiautomatic are brilliant and timely, the image-rich and metaphorically gorgeous Indigo (Ellen Bass), and Nicole Sealey’s toothy and clarifying debut, ordinary beast.
Seen any good art lately?
Artist Jen P. Harris: I saw a group of works by the American fiber/collage/assemblage artist Lenore Tawney at the Art Institute of Chicago in December. Some of her weavings and drawings stuck in my mind, and post-pandemic I ordered the recently-published monograph Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe.
Poet Martha Silano: The pandemic has turned my attention to art made during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just before the 1917-18 pandemic. I’m currently revising ekphrastic poems about Monet’s waterlilies, Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip, and Van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen.
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).
Artist Jen P. Harris: Thank you!! I love this project.
Poet Martha Silano: I just want to say thanks to Elizabeth Bradfield, Alexandra Teague, Miller Oberman, and all Broadsided editors and staff for the important work they are doing to bring poetry and visual art into the world. It is truly a gift to have my poem featured. Also, many thanks to Jen P. Harris for creating a compelling and aesthetically pleasing accompaniment to my words. I am most grateful.
The Prompts: Anti-Erasure/Home Cento
WRITER PROMPT: Erasures can be a wonderful way to find a story within a story, working against or beyond what’s on the page. But it seems these days we’ve had too much of paring back. Centos are built from the words of other writers. But what can we build from what’s around us daily?
Look around your home for a set of 14 words (verbs or nouns only) that are easily visible. They can be from food packaging, book spines (don’t open any books!), magnets, or “to do” lists left on the counter. Create a 14-line poem (a semi-sonnet), in which each line uses one of those found words. Please provide a list of the sources!
ARTIST PROMPT: Your image must use ONLY 14 colors. The colors must be taken from objects in the room around you (please write down your sources and send them along with your image). You may NOT depict the following, which were the poet’s “found” words from their home:
equal, night, moon, collision, planet, sun, smooshed, hear me, listen, axis/axel, escape, ripening, lily
Note from Jen P. Harris: Regarding the artist prompt: I interpreted the constraint about the colors being “taken from objects in the room around you” quite literally, and chose 14 colored pencils I had on my desk. These pencils were given to my by a former studio neighbor about a year ago and had been sitting around unused until COVID hit. Since quarantine began, I have been making small colored pencil drawings at home using the somewhat random selection of colors I received when I was gifted that box of pencils. The second file attachment shows the names of the specific 14 color sources for “23 degrees off our axes.” As you can see, the image is abstract and does not depict any of the 14 restricted words, although I do think of it as a picture of being off our axes!