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“Majestic Prayers of Bangor”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Sean Prentiss: I wasn’t sure. Being a writer, I notice literal details. The names of the bars. The way people look. The cut of a bar. So I would have imaged a literal interpretation of the poem. Something that showed the poem visually.

What I love about this idea of pairing a writer and an artist is the way the two genres push against each other, talk to each other in unique and unexpected ways. It’s about receiving what I don’t expect. Receiving what I could never create alone.

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Kate Baird: I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan, and the story being told in this poem covers some of that same territory. It seems like the girl’s odds aren’t so good, but on the other hand she just might make it out.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently? What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Sean Prentiss: I love seeing, visually, how someone else reads my poem. I love giving my work away and allowing someone else to interpret it without me around to comment on their ideas. This collaboration is how we all work when we see art or read a poem. The artist creates. And then the reader or the viewer interprets in their mind. But with this work, I get to see Kate Baird’s thoughts on my work through her images—the stark trees (or tree-like images), the soft colors along the bottom, the collage effect. I get to live in the artist’s mind as she experiences my poem.

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Kate Baird: I began with the town she wanted out of, and its visual properties (to me) were: grimy or gritty, colorless, worn down, smudgy. And then there was the fact that she felt trapped there, as her parents had been, so I thought it was important to make the image sort of claustrophobic and difficult to navigate free of.

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 Sean Prentiss: I have required my students to write poems inspired by art, but I have never done it myself. Unless you count mountains and rivers and cabins as art. I find my inspiration in the narrative, in the story. But, as I looked at this broadside, I was wondering what I would have written had I received Kate’s piece rather than her receiving mine. I like that question. What poem would I have created for her based on her art?

What surprised you when you saw the poem and art together?
Artist Kate Baird: I was meaning to emphasize the grimness and dinginess of where she was coming from. Now that I see the poem and image together, I feel like the image underscores her energy and drive more than it does the lack of opportunity in the town. I think the poem/image ends up having a more positive sort of energy than I had envisioned, but I’m kind of glad about that. Because I’m rooting for the girl.

If you had to represent the Broadsided collaboration with one word, what would it be?
Poet Sean Prentiss: Contagious. I wrote a poem. Kate was commissioned to create art for the poem. And then I look at the poem in a new way because of her art. It’s become a new thing. And it makes me want to respond to the poem in news ways. I makes me want to be creative in new ways. So rather than art being a static process—we see a piece of art and think about it—Kate has brought new life to the poem. She will inspire people to see the poem in a new light.
Artist Kate Baird: Mesh

If “Majestic Prayers of Bangor” were a piece of music, what would it be?
Artist Kate Baird: I’m gonna go with a Bruce Springsteen song, Darkness on the Edge of Town era.
Poet Sean Prentiss: It would be a Gaslight Anthem song. Or, maybe, even better, a Brian Fallon solo song. Something sung similar to “It’s the Blues, Mary.” It would be a gritty song. A rough song. Nothing beautiful about this song. But heartbroken. You’d hear it in the singers voice. Pain. It’s a song to be sung at a bar. Bar spilled on the floor. Lights dimmed. Or maybe sung under your breath walking home from the bar at 2 a.m.

Here, now listen to Brian Fallon. This man deserves to be heard.

Read any good books lately?
Artist Kate Baird: How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough. It’s not totally unrelated to this poem, actually. It’s a really interesting and moving book about what kinds of educational interventions can result in more positive outcomes for children who grow up in poverty. I’m also reading Dear Life, by Alice Munro. Also interesting and moving and not totally unrelated to this poem.
Poet Sean Prentiss: Anything by the poet David Budbill. Especially Moment to Moment. He inspires me with his simply powerful poetry.

Some of the great ancient Chinese poets: Li Po and Tu Fu and Wang Wei are three in particular. I’ve been reading them lately. And learning from them. I feel that they could be neighbors to my Colorado cabin.

Joe Wilkins writes so many wonderful poems as well. I have his new book but haven’t gotten to read it. But I love Killing the Murnion Dogs.

And I can always learn tons from Jack Ridl’s poems. His book Losing Season is always a great teacher.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Kate Baird: I haven’t seen the retrospective of Robert Adams’ photographs that is (or was) up at the Yale University Art Gallery this fall, but I sure wish I could.

Anything else?
Artist Kate Baird: Thanks to Sean Prentiss for sharing his poem and allowing me to interpret it!

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