What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet Nicelle Davis: Broadsided is simply beautiful—it represents all the things I consider to be “good” and “true.” Broadsided is driven by a sense of restorative justice—it gives art back to “the people” by building lasting and meaningful communities through words and images. It allows for surprise. It has a tenacious energy that runs on a belief that art and literature are essential to our lives. Broadsided is built upon a foundation of Joy and Possibility. We all benefit from its collective efforts.
What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Meghan Keane: I was drawn to the female protagonists and the way the poem pushed multiple multiple multiple reads to finally feel grounded, like I “got it” and could accurately convey the tensions of the piece visually. I was moved and inspired by the direct and veiled content of LGBT+ sexual experiences. A line that hasn’t left me: “When she said she knew, I understood tamales.” I was also drawn to the visual challenge of a long poem. I knew that this piece would take up the entire page and, as such, the artwork had certain conditions out of the gate in order to be visually successful and remain in conversation with both the meaning of and the optical condition of a large scrim of text.
Describe your dream “vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Meghan Keane: Printed on fabric, at monumental architectural scale, and fully draped over and wrapping 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, like a Christo and Jeanne-Claude piece — if the poet would be open to it!
Poet Nicelle Davis: I’ve spent most my life living in conservative, even oppressive areas. It can be exhausting trying to justify one’s own existence. I hope “Mothers” finds readers who need to know they are not to shamed for being “different.” I want them to know they are beautiful for being true to themselves and brave for not allowing the world to rob them of their truth. I want to find readers who understand love is difficult, yet worth the effort. I want the poem and readers to feel this effort—to feel loved.
What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Nicelle Davis: I expected an artist would linger on the actions in the poem, that they would visualize the verbs—the card game, the fire, the search for meaning. I was surprised by Meghan’s interpretation, how she didn’t see the difficulties so much as the tenderness. I found this very moving. She drew out the unsaid or unsayable. She is a very powerful artist. I’m grateful for what she taught me about perspective.
You are a designer as well as an artist–can you talk about how those two visual ways of working interact for you?
Artist Meghan Keane: Great question. The designer in me is concerned with the practical aspects, largely: legibility. Can the text be read easily or easily enough given the constraints? As an artist, my primary concern is expression—capturing the wordless, only visually-describable tension through design elements (color, composition, pattern, etc, formal choices) and content (what are we really looking at? is it representational? how do visual elements combine to create the meaning? etc.). The interaction between designer and artist is intuitive for me at this point, much less consciously acted out. I usually start by reading the poem over and over again until I feel it as a precise expression of multiple feelings. Then I sit in my imagination with the image that I think is a strong match for the piece.
This poem, being longer than many others I have worked with, created a specific condition of needing to use the poem as a scrim or overlay on top of the work. I knew that the background visual field couldn’t be too high contrast or too detailed because it would compromise the legibility (in both directions: reading the poem or reading the art). In the end, I color edited my painting to better match the mood that I thought the poem conveyed. I homed in on the description of “micro-pink-plastic lips” and the overall drama of the poem for my color choices; realistic color didn’t feel appropriate but something more imaginary, almost dream-like, and saccharine like the pixie-stick imagery.
If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Artist Meghan Keane: Steam coming from the sidewalk after a July downpour.
Poet Nicelle Davis: A meteor shower under a “Strawberry Moon.”
Read any good books lately?
Artist Meghan Keane: Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. The first truly avant-garde book I’ve ever read. It made me a better person and recommit to keep going. Highly recommend.
Seen any good art lately?
Artist Meghan Keane: I had the accidental delight of discovering Elisa D’Arrigo’s works in clay this spring when gallery roaming.
Poet Nicelle Davis: Yes! Where to begin? Where to end?
- Marthe Aponte: https://martheaponte.weebly.com/
- Stevie Love: https://stevielove.com/
- Leonard Greco: https://leonardgreco.me/about/
- Always Cheryl Gross: https://www.cherylgross.net/
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 Meghan Keane: Sincere gratitude to Nicelle, for her beautiful poem and trusting an unknown artist to engage and add a visual element that (I hope) illuminates and expands the meaning and does your poem justice. Many thanks to Broadsided for over ten years of collaborating and for keeping art and poetry public and present in our lives!
Poet Nicelle Davis: I’m not sure what to say here, other than thank you. Thank you, Meghan. Thank you Broadsided. Thank you, artists and readers, for caring. The world is in deep need of such tenderness.
Note: Artist Meghan Keane also created a Tabloid-sized (17″ x 11″) version of this broadside. It can be downloaded by clicking on this link or the image below.