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“Neighborhood Watch”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to “dibs” this poem?
Artist Douglas Culhane: There is an openness to this poem both visually and textually. It conveys that sense of thoughts taking shape just as the words appear on the page—something only poetry can do. Also, the ants.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Anjali Khosla: Wow, the ants are big on the page! I suppose I imagined the ants to be very tiny. Actually, I remembered them to be very tiny.

What first leapt out at you from the poem and what was your gut response?
Artist Douglas Culhane: I was immediately taken in by the self-interrupting thought process and the quirky sense of rhythm. Also, the ants.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Anjali Khosla: The ants, of course! But I did not expect the letters scratched into the bodies.

When you begin a piece of visual work (or, if that’s too broad, when you began this piece), is it color, shape, or some other aspect that you follow?
Artist Douglas Culhane: I’m a sculptor, so I always start with shape. Numbers and rhythm are also very important.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Anjali Khosla: The editors encouraged me to put off the syntactic slips early in the poem, postponing the first “are” to the second stanza. The poem’s format has been altered, as well—the poem runs all over the page now, rather than straight down the side. Combined with the terrific illustration, these changes (which I approved) effected a somewhat different project. I suppose that is what has surprised me the most—this collaborative broadside is a piece of art in its own right. It’s not simply my poem printed over an illustration. I like that.
Artist Douglas Culhane: It was really hard to do. I had so many ideas and did not want to be too literal or too oblique. I also struggled with how to accommodate the interiority of the poem with the public face of the broadside project. I really came to love this poem and felt a bit protective of it—even against my own collaborative efforts. During this process my house experienced a sudden infestation of ants—very helpful.

If your poem were a song, what would it be?
Poet Anjali Khosla: Scuttly and possibly simple-minded.

If your art were a song, what would it be?
Artist Douglas Culhane: Brian Eno’s “By this River” (from “Before and After Science”).

If the broadside collaboration were a song, what would it be?
Poet Anjali Khosla: The first track on a CD of lullabies for gothic children.
Artist Douglas Culhane: Syd Straw’s cover of Brian Eno’s “By this River” (from “Pink Velour”).

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 Anjali Khosla: When I was a teenager, I spent hours almost helplessly sitting before “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey”, the Paul Delaroche painting from 1833. This was in the National Gallery, in London, a city I used to visit almost every year. I’d been going to museums with my family all my life, but this was perhaps the first time I had ever been to a big gallery alone. That scene—poor young Jane, blind-folded, reaching with her hands for the executioner’s block; the executioner watching with such a calm but not mean expression (I wondered what he was thinking!); the man gently guiding Jane to her death; the almost melodramatic, grieving women—is perhaps always with me as I write. This painting has appeared and reappeared in my work, in various ways, in various manifestations. Poor Jane.

If you had to represent the Broadsided of “Neighborhood Watch” with one word, what would it be?
Poet Anjali Khosla: Anty
Artist Douglas Culhane: Where

Read any good books lately?
Poet Anjali Khosla: I just finished reading Brick Lane by Monica Ali. A very good novel!
Artist Douglas Culhane: Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson; The Glass Age by Cole Swensen; George Oppen Selected Prose, Daybooks and Papers Stephen Cope, ed.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Douglas Culhane: The Poussin Show at the Met was sumptuous and revelatory. Elizabeth Terhune at Metaphor Gallery in Brooklyn—rich, difficult and frequently beautiful paintings in a world all their own.

Anything else?
Poet Anjali Khosla: Lots of gratitude to the artist and to the editors of Broadsided. You were the first editors to accept my poetry for publication, the first artist to illustrate it, and perhaps the only artist to ever illustrate it. Cheers.
Artist Douglas Culhane: Music: Sam Amidon’s “All is Well” is a strangely beautiful collection of traditional American songs scored by composer Nico Muhly; Syd Straw’s collection Pink Velour is (at last) available from cdbaby.com.

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