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“Meditation on the Treason of His Body”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to “dibs” this poem?
Artist Alesia F. Norling: It just jives perfectly with my style of art—dark but subtle with lots of layers.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Joe Wilkins: Absolutely. This poem is more or less autobiographical, and I’d long ago let go the emotion of the experience to be able to create the poem itself. But Alesia’s print really shocked me into feeling it all again. The blued picture of the two boys and those awful, wonderful bird’s legs dangling down especially brought the sad understanding of those moments crashing back into me.

In what sense did the poem first present itself as a collaboration with a visual medium? Did it come to you first as image? As an idea? Music? Narrative?
Artist Alesia F. Norling: Lots of different images—like a mixed up story board.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Joe Wilkins: Every time I try to draw something on the board, my students loudly remind me what a terrible artist I am; so I wasn’t at all sure what a visual artist would pick up on in my poem! However, I’m delighted with the result. Alesia’s print seems to me to radically deepen the poem.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Joe Wilkins: How humbling and gratifying it felt to see my poem become part of such a beautiful broadside.
Artist Alesia F. Norling: That I finished ahead of schedule.

If your poem were a type of bird, what would it be?
Poet Joe Wilkins: A crow.

If your art were a bird, what would it be?
Artist Alesia F. Norling: A condor.

If the broadside collaboration were a type of bird, what would it be?
Poet Joe Wilkins: Still a crow, but one of those ones you notice—say, perched on the bare limb of a winter cottonwood or squawking over the abandoned grocery on the corner—on your walk home and can’t seem to stop thinking about.
Artist Alesia F. Norling: Roast Duck a l’Orange with mashed potatos (skins left on), snow peas and a big bottle of something yummy.

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art?
Poet Joe Wilkins: I’ve written a number of personal essays and poems that somehow respond to old family pictures, if you can call family shots taken out front of the farmhouse art.

What was that experience like for you?
Poet Joe Wilkins: I find working from photos very liberating, especially in essays. It allows me to leave the narrative for a moment and just mess with the images.

Why were you inspired to do so?
Poet Joe Wilkins: I think a long time ago a teacher told me it was a good idea, but I’ve also always loved visual art. And after this experience, I may even try to see if I can’t begin some poems from prints or paintings, rather than just photos.

If you had to represent the Broadsided of “Meditation on the Treason of His Body” with one word, what would it be?
Poet Joe Wilkins: Wow
Artist Alesia F. Norling: Distance

Read any good books lately?
Poet Joe Wilkins: I’d found a copy of Salvation Blues, Rodney Jones’s selected poems, at a bookstore in Chicago last winter, but hadn’t picked it up until just a few days ago. I can’t believe I didn’t get to it sooner. Such technically stunning and intelligent poems!

I’m also doing a lot of reading about the Great Plains, as I’ll be traveling up the eastern front of the Rockies this summer. Jonathan Raban’s Bad Land and Kent Haruf’s West of Last Chance are both wonderful.

And finally, though I’ve read it a number of times, I’ve started packing around Melanie Rae Thon’s First, Bodyagain. I go back to it to remind myself of the power of story.
Artist Alesia F. Norling: The 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Joe Wilkins: Visiting the National Portrait Gallery last month, I found myself fascinated by every picture of Lincoln I came across. Whitman once said the president’s face was “so awful ugly it becomes beautiful.” Whitman was right.
Artist Alesia F. Norling: Michael Cutlip:

Anything else?
Poet Joe Wilkins: Thanks so much for the wonderful broadsides each month. I post them on our department bulletin board where they’re a big hit with all the English majors. But sometimes, I’ll turn the corner out of my office and catch an administrator or composition student studying them as well!
Artist Alesia F. Norling: I’m looking forward to reading more of Joe Wilkins’ work.

Note:  This broadside and interview are included in the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020 (Provincetown Arts Press, 2022).

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