It is an honor to select this year’s Switcheroo artwork. I entered into thinking about this opportunity from the framework of: what sort of work hasn’t been published yet? What artwork would potentially elicit the most wide-ranging or unique poems? What might poets get excited about in 2022?… the unexpected yet unfazed qualities of this piece feel appropriate for the times. I am drawn to the crisp, modern, graphic whole (despite initial hesitations for the exact same reasons) juxtaposed with solar system light modulating on real flower petals.
–artist Meghan Keane, upon selecting the work for the 2022 Switcheroo (read her full statement to the left)
What surprises you about the poet’s writing in conversation with your art? Did Stacy Balkun’s poem refract any element of the art that made you see the piece differently?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: The layers of ambiguity in the poem refract the flora and human elements in the art. I appreciate being able to empathize with the main subject in the poem, which is barely there in the artwork due to the cold nature of a cyanotype and the radial design. I’m glad the poem caught that sense of loss from a lifetime of struggling.
This poem was chosen in response to Millian’s cyanotype—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image? What leapt out first from the art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Stacey Balkun: The mood leapt out first: I am drawn to liminal spaces and the balance, depth, and sheer blueness of this piece drew me in. I’ve been writing a series of cryptic poems about my own adoption as a baby, and viewing this image helped me phrase the emotions I feel when thinking about that experience: so much is flowering and growing, yet it’s confined to this space, to this form: the x-ray feel of it reflects pre-birth in an interesting way, too.
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: It is currently included in my solo exhibition at Strata Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. Please swing by if you’re in the area. The show runs from 4.19-5.07.2022. I couldn’t ask for this to come at a better time. This broadside and past broadsides that I’ve collaborated with are also included in the show. My copy of the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration 2005-2020, is also available in the gallery for folks to peruse. I’m so glad Broadsided Press is so flexible in medium that I could easily include them in my show at a moment’s notice.
Poet Stacey Balkun: Oh my gosh, what a question! I have always been envious of musicians for having tour and show posters, so I guess I’d love to see it posted alongside concert posters, the way certain streets would just be PLASTERED with them. That’s the dream “Vectorization”!
Paired with the art, do you think the prose does something different or has a different tone?
Poet Stacey Balkun: This may sound obvious, but it’s bluer. The cold tones of the image take away some of the softness of the poem, making it feel more cold, distant, and perhaps even melancholic, especially because the wrap pushes the left margin out and then pulls it back in again, inferring a sort of return to where it begins; a lack of forward movement.
Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page? Did you imagine what a writer might use/create from the image?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: : I made the cyanotype from a desire to come to terms with the loss and struggle as a woman existing in multiple flavors of patriarchy while trying to tie down a sense of belonging. It is a letter size composition on cloth that is meant to function as an altar cloth, to be hung on the wall of an altar or placed under bowls of incense and offerings while one meditates on movement and growth. The art composition uses approximate radial symmetry with the potential of being placed in any orientation. The poem tells the backstory of this composition by leaving it open and almost universal, with the only specificity being the church. I appreciate the references to a crown and being tangled, which are in the image but isn’t immediately seen. I can see the art and poem existing independently while functioning very well together.
Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art before? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
Poet Stacey Balkun: Yes! I often turn to art for inspiration, most often Surrealist paintings. I think surreal landscapes are open to possibility and are fertile grounds for exploring difficult stories and emotions.
Have you ever had a writer respond to your work before? What was the experience like?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: This is the first time for me, and I’m so glad it was Stacey.
If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Stacey Balkun: A snowstorm so late in spring that it feels unreal: the shape of flowers are there but they’re covered and we have to imagine what they’d look like unearthed because we can’t see through the gusts of snow.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: Cool spring day awaiting warmth for the buds to bloom.
Do you have a prompt you’d like to share for readers that they might use to engage in their own artistic practices?
Poet Stacey Balkun: I suggest checking out https://visualverse.org/ for a monthly ekphrastic challenge!
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: Visualize a movement or ritual that would help you cope with a pressure point.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Stacey Balkun: I just read Anna Journey’s new book The Judas Ear and loved it. Journey is a master of tying the domestic to the folkloric, and the imagery is so surprising: grotesque and beautiful at the same time.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: The feminist sci-fi book club I’m in just finished Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots. We’re currently deciding on The Sandman by Neil Gaiman or A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine for our next book.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Stacey Balkun: Earlier this spring, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art where I got to see Dorothea Tanning’s Birthday in person for the first time ever! It was stunning. I also saw a few cool taxidermy pieces by Bunny Lane in the window at Mortal Machine Gallery recently.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I want to give a shout-out to my students in my foundation studio art classes right now. They’ve been struggling with burn out and fatigue from two years of pandemic living, but they’ve been consistently challenging themselves to make good work in class. It’s been a pleasure to see them lose themselves in making art and see the art that came out of all that making.
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 Millian Pham Lien Giang: One of my collaborators and I have a started an Instagram account that document movements that hurt and heal in our daily lives, which is related to my cyanotype investigations. It’s still young, but Oliver Klicker and I plan to populate it with weekly individual movements from the both of us. It came out of a desire to get back to art performance but tie it to our daily and mundane rituals. Please come see what troubles we’re making @catislandcollective
Here at Broadsided, we eagerly await spring and the freshness of the Switcheroo, the one time of year our process is flipped inside out, when writers respond to artists. Each new Switcheroo seems to bring out vibrant creative energy, and this year the responses to Millian Pham Lien Giang’s gorgeous cyanotype brought particularly verdant, springy poems. Carefully rooted in the visual piece, we received many submissions investigating circular themes full of blue tones and flower and leaf imagery.
We enjoyed reading and discussing them all, many at length, and we were bowled over by Stacey Balkun’s “IN HER IT IS IN HER,” whose first three lines each begin with the powerful repetition “I was born.” Born in response to the cyanotype, which only requires two chemicals (plus water) to develop and fix, Balkun’s poem holds the visual form in the bones of its couplets. Just as the speaker of the poem is “born” and “pruned” the broadside is made of two pieces which dance around and surprise each other.
“I was blossom /across a square” at once describes and responds to Giang’s cyanotype, and just as the circularity of the cyanotype looks made to spin, so does the poem turn; washed, developed, and fixed in the elements of its speakers’ birth.
We are grateful to you for trusting us with your work, and look forward, as ever, to next year’s Switcheroo!
—Elizabeth Bradfield, Michelle Moncayo, Miller Oberman, and Alexandra Teague