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“No Diving”

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 Gabriel Welsch: I wasn’t sure, given how much of the piece is menace implied. The action happens offstage. But when it was chosen, I knew the colors at the beginning might give an artist an anchor, and in this case, the “red-letter scowl” forms the dominant image. I do like how the rest of the action of the poem is implied by the image in much the same way it is implied in the poem itself.

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Jim Benning: The uncertain interaction between people and water. During our every day activities we turn water on and off, adjust its temperature, make it wash our clothes, bodies and dishes. How it’s so subservient in our daily interactions yet so unpredictable in natural settings. By sheer volume of benign interactions we are lulled into a false assurance of control and are late to recognize when the transfer occurs of water asserting its power.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Gabriel Welsch: This treatment did not make me see the poem differently, though it did intensify the tension between what is seen and what is not.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Gabriel Welsch: How threatening the sign image came to be the more I looked at it. The other pleasant surprise, and surprise may be too strong a word, is that Jim resisted simple illustration. This is more interpretive mood, and given the work of the poem, it’s perfect.

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed?
Artist Jim Benning: It’s the idea of giving something (water) that has no standard shape/form, various colors and unlimited environs a recognizable visual presence that relates to the poem.

Did that change?
Artist Jim Benning: I will say it evolved as I worked through options to create visuals to associate with the poetry.

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 Gabriel Welsch: I have written work in response to visual art, quite a bit. The experience is typically a little more tense than typical work because I try to avoid falling into something that is descriptive or does a discount-store job of conveying a sensation for which the painting or sculpture itself does a better job. Not the most startling insight in the world to anyone else who has done ekphrastic work, but it is the main tension for me. That tension, though, has resulted in most cases an image set often very different from what the visual art uses, as if I am creating a secondary motif to reflect and refract the ideas of the initial inspiration.

If you had to represent the Broadsided of “No Diving” with one word, what would it be?
Poet Gabriel Welsch: Threat
Artist Jim Benning: Inspiring

Read any good books lately?
Poet Gabriel Welsch: In fact, and since we’re talking visual art, 2010 Word Works Washington Prize winner Brad Richard’s Motion Studies. The book concerns itself with a painting and series of preparatory studies by artist Thomas Eakins and delves into ideas of personal reflection, narrative, private and public selves, and representation. I am also in the midst of re-reading Kunitz’s collected poems, and a book of Pennsylvania folk history by Dave Hurst.
Artist Jim Benning: Just Kids by Patty Smith. An astounding tale of the life as an artist.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Gabriel Welsch: Yes. My campus, Juniata College, recently hosted in our museum the wood relief sculpture of Mary Cady Rubinstein, a central PA artist whose pieces blend classical mythology with Appalachian folk mythology.
Artist Jim Benning: Numerous great photographic reviews on Jörg M. Colberg’s blog Conscientious.

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