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“Neighbors”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What is behind your choice of this piece of art in response to the topic “Guns in American Culture”?
Artist David Kamm: “End of the Rainbow” was created in response to the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  A long series of related work has followed.  Sadly, gun violence never goes out of style in America.

Why did this piece of art resonate for you or seem like it would give you an avenue into writing about this subject?
Poet Melissa Fite Johnson:
I was so struck by David’s piece. The ways gun violence affects children is something I think about often. Every day, really—I’m a high school English teacher, my husband is an elementary school teacher. Schools should be safe places, and they aren’t anymore. David’s piece stirred up old fears and memories—my poem is based on a true story, though I changed the name of my childhood neighbor.

What surprises you in the poet’s response to your artwork?
Artist David Kamm: I was surprised to see that Melissa wrote her poem from a child’s point of view, or as someone looking back on a childhood memory, with a matter-of-fact response to tragedy that children sometimes exhibit.  I was also surprised by the title of her poem, which not only refers to the literal proximity of playmates, but also suggests the interrelationships we share with others.

What do you think is the role of art in regards to real-world, real-time events? In other words, what makes a “successful” occasional or political piece of writing or art?
Artist David Kamm: Some work is a punch in the mouth and other work whispers in your ear.  In either case, the most successful occasional or political work probably doesn’t simply report or reflect real-world events, but generates a sense of empathy or concern for our collective well-being.
Poet Melissa Fite Johnson: I think the most effective occasional and political poems feel honest and avoid preaching or unearned sentimentality. They make readers consider their own lives, because the personal is absolutely political.

If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Artist David Kamm: Maybe the song of a morning dove at dusk.
Poet Melissa Fite Johnson: Eels, “Going to Your Funeral, Part 1.”

Read any good books lately?
Artist David Kamm: I just finished reading The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer, which was written in a way that actually made me care about the characters.
Poet Melissa Fite Johnson: I finally read Maggie Smith’s latest collection, Good Bones. That, and Shuly Cawood’s memoir The Going and Good-bye, are both vulnerable and brave and just so beautifully written.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist David Kamm: Envisioned Worlds: Lithographs from the Hokes Archives by Beauvais Lyons.  Beauvais’s work is conceptually engaging and beautifully executed.
Poet Melissa Fite Johnson: At the risk of sounding self-serving, or like a suck-up (or both!), I got permission from Maura Cunningham to use her painting “Another Portal” as the cover art of my chapbook that’s coming out later this year. I’ve loved this piece since it was the artwork for the Broadsided Switcheroo in 2014. (I did not win the Switcheroo that year, by the way! But the title of my chapbook comes from the poem I wrote for Maura’s painting.)

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 David Kamm: Two things come to mind.  First, “End of the Rainbow” is not “anti-gun,” but rather anti-violence.  Second, a colleague once asked if I ever made anything “happy.”  I don’t believe my work wallows in tragedy, but rather is rooted in a deep optimism that things can get better if we honestly address the issues.
Poet Melissa Fite Johnson: It’s strange when a poem or piece of art springs from tragedy. I worry about coming across as exploitative. Ultimately, though, I think art helps us heal, helps us remember our humanity. At least, that’s what it aspires to do.

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