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“Overheard at the Zoo”

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 Jessica Johnson: Always hoping for surprise, I tried not to pre-conceive any ideas about what an artist might do with my poem.

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Se Thut Quon: I am inspired by the poem’s humor and its sadness. I appreciated how incompleteness opens up the imagination.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Jessica Johnson: Totally. The poem I submitted had a less interesting layout, with all the lines on the left margin. The floating lineation in the broadside made a lot of sense to me after I saw it.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Jessica Johnson: The background scene in the broadside very much reflects the shape of the specific zoo where I overheard the lines in this poem. I was surprised by this and actually did a little research to see if the artist lives in Portland. Though the poem itself is just these overheard lines, I enjoyed the fact that it might also convey something particular about the location in which the lines were overheard.

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Se Thut Quon: My first thought was of an overhead of the zoo. I wanted to make a map that the poem could traverse as floating nuggets of observation and insight.

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 Jessica Johnson: Right now I’m working on a series of poems inspired by William Eggleston’s photographs. A lot of them have to do with a child’s experience on the periphery of the industrial world and parents’ occupations: imagination meets commerce. The photographs include mundane and mostly vanished objects that were common in my early childhood, and they allow me to enter a world that is unavailable in the picture show of daily life.

Describe the collaboration in one word.
Poet Jessica Johnson: Dream

Read any good books lately?
Poet Jessica Johnson: I’m enjoying and learning a lot from from unincorporated territory: [saina] by Craig Santos Perez.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Jessica Johnson: Smart and tender work by Elizabeth Knight at PDX Contemporary Art.
Artist Se Thut Quon: I always enjoy looking at the giraffes.

Anything else?
Poet Jessica Johnson: Much gratitude for the editorial and artistic labor that went into this collaboration!


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