What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Jessica Jacobs: I grew up beside a lake in Central Florida and, to train for triathlons, my father and I would often swim across it. To keep ski boats from running us over, we’d tow a jon boat along behind us, then row back home, often into the wind, etching into me the actions and images of those oars straining in the oarlocks, actions in the poem I attributed to Alfred Stieglitz. So images like these, pulled from my childhood, are the ones that stood out most to me—though I certainly couldn’t expect anyone else to make those same associations!
What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Jim Benning: The mental imagery created by the poem and connections to Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe and their great artist lives.
Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Jessica Jacobs: I saw this as a poem of conflict in which O’Keeffe, on the brink of marrying Stieglitz, pushes back against the feelings of confinement she experienced when visiting his family at Lake George. Because of this, I was at first surprised by the tranquil, mist-cloaked reeds. But reading the poem again, Jim’s design choices helped me find the calm amidst the conflict, the tranquility I imagined O’Keeffe seeking by jumping from that boat into the water.
When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Jim Benning: I thought about the imagery of water and what draws people just to look at it and contemplate.
What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Jessica Jacobs: I began this poem after seeing O’Keeffe’s Lake George, 1922 [formerly Reflection Seascape] at the SFMOMA and I was surprised by how the broadside evoked the serene atmosphere of that originating image.
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 Jessica Jacobs: As Pelvis with Distance explores O’Keeffe’s life through epistolary poems between her and Stieglitz, nearly every poem in the collection responds in some way to either one of her paintings or his photographs. [here is a link to my author site where I’ve compiled all of these images] I found writing ekphrastic poems to be a great relief in that I was not starting with an entirely blank page. Instead, I could begin my drafts by describing the artwork, finding metaphors in its subject matter and composition, or writing about the art’s moments of conception. In a way, it felt like collaborating across time with the artists themselves.
How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Jim Benning: As a visual artist I work to make ideas visual and greatly appreciate/envy that ability of writers to do the same with words.
Describe the collaboration in one word.
Poet Jessica Jacobs: Illuminating. As in, something that gives light and enlightens, but also in terms of illuminated manuscripts, where the illustrations were often not only decorative but were also meant to enhance or comment on the meaning of the text.
Artist Jim Benning: Synergistic
If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Jessica Jacobs: I’d like to say something my adult self might appreciate, like Philip Glass, but I keep hearing those terrible-wonderful ‘90s power-ballads we used to blast while cruising around the lake during long-ago high school summers.
Artist Jim Benning: Not having any musical talent I’m at a loss to make a relevant comment here.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Jessica Jacobs: After a year of reading only the books I was teaching, I recently indulged in a book-a-day binge. I absolutely loved Ross Gay’s first collection, Against Which; Helen Macdonald’s gorgeous memoir of grief, H is for Hawk; and Ann Patchett’s lush page-turner, State of Wonder.
Artist Jim Benning: Just Kids by Patti Smith.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Jessica Jacobs: I had the good fortune to recently meet Landon Godfrey and Gary Hawkins, two poets and artists who are publishing a very cool letterpress postcard broadside project called Croquet, which I imagine might appeal to the many Broadsided Vectors out there.
Artist Jim Benning: Group f/64 photography show at the Boise Art Museum. A show of legendary photographers work from the modernist aesthetic of Ansel Adams, Brett Weston and more.
Poet Jessica Jacobs: Honestly, it was an exciting, if somewhat meta-, experience to have an artist spend so much time responding to my poem, which was responding to another artist’s painting. Many thanks to Jim Benning and the fine folks at Broadsided Press.