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“Scythian Radio”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

It was so easy for me to pick one of Douglas’s sculptures for this Switcheroo. Many of his sculptures combine different visual signifiers that already generate an array of different meanings for me. I’m excited to read poetry and writing responses to Scythian Radio. The work uses one mode of conveyance to suggest another. Without giving too much away, this Switcheroo is a good reflection of the way meaning can be pieced together. We’re building bridges with a mode of conveyance that wasn’t part of that historical narrative.

Millian Pham Lien Giang

Can you talk about the experience of writing your in conversation with Douglas’s sculpture? What leapt out first from the art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Lynn Schmeidler:
I loved Douglas’ sculpture the minute I saw it. I was struck by its ability to project an ambivalent combination of starkness and whimsy, along with its serendipitous sense of accidental balance.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page?
Poet Lynn Schmeidler:
How the fingers of the branches on the page reach out to poke, prod, and tickle the words of the poem.
Artist Douglas Culhane: It was enlightening to read Lynn’s poem. The first-person response clearly voiced insights about the sculpture that were both surprising and apt. Poetry can use a first-person voice in a way that sculpture cannot. When I make a sculpture I am making an “other” and, if things are going right, it looks back at me with its own gaze, speaks to me with its own voice. This is especially true of this piece. In the poem I had the opportunity to hear a viewer’s response in a rich articulate form. The imagery that Lynn used made sense to me. Not what I was thinking of or intending but a thoughtful and imaginative response. When an artist sends work out into the world they never know how it will be perceived. Reading Lynn’s poem I had a sense of that, and of a careful study and engagement of the work.

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art before? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
Poet Lynn Schmeidler: 
My writing is often inspired by visual art. In fact, when I’m stuck in my writing, I often go to a museum in search of inspiration (and it never fails). I’ve written poetry in collaboration with a photographer, and I’ve written a short story in the form of a hijacked museum guide and another whose narrator is a con-woman posing as an artist. I’m currently working on a series of poems inspired by an exhibit of Molly Rausch paintings where she took postage stamps of iconic paintings and extended them outward into larger, more detailed paintings. My poetic equivalents place a short poem by an historic female poet literally in the center of a longer one of my own; they’re called Embedded Poems in the Public Domain.
Artist Douglas Culhane:
The ekphrastic poem is a historied form with so much potential. In participating in this project I realized what good company Lynn and I are in: Rilke’s “Archaic Torso,” Keats’s “Elgin Marbles,” and many more recent poem/sculpture pairings.

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Lynn Schmeidler: Early spring, windy, clouds rushing across the sky carrying a sense of something needing to be gotten to.
Artist Douglas Culhane: It’s spring now–and green and gray. This piece was made in the autumn, the bare branches had been recently denuded. Here, in Lynn’s poem, they are about to leaf out and bloom.

Do you have a prompt you’d like to share for readers that they might use to engage in their own artistic practices?
Lynn Schmeidler: Take yourself somewhere interesting—outside your front stoop, a café you like, a street corner… and for one minute simply note everything you see. Then change ONE thing about this scene. Begin, “In this version….” and see where it takes you.
Artist Douglas Culhane:  Make something (image, object, text) bury it in the ground and try to forget about it. After one year dig it up and re-examine it: how has it changed? Then reconstruct it, or rebury it, and make another piece.

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Lynn Schmeidler: On the playground of a nursery school, on the back of a high school bathroom door, in the dining room of a nursing home. Art and poetry for all ages in unexpected places!
Artist Douglas Culhane: Somewhere Herodotus would see it.

Read any good books lately?
Lynn Schmeidler:  Elif Batuman’s The Idiot is currently making me both laugh out loud and become aware there’s a reason people do not always recognize my sense of humor.
Artist Douglas Culhane:
Anaximander: And the Birth of Science, by the Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli. A compelling, deeply researched and clearly written account of the Greek philosopher Anaximander. Full of profound insights into science, thought and culture.

Seen any good art lately?
Lynn Schmeidler:  I love the exhibits at Woodstock Artist Association Museum and go regularly to see what’s up on their walls. Also, the Artists-in-Residence show is about to begin at Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe Guild, which is always a treat.
Artist Douglas Culhane:
Cy Twombly in Boston.

Anything else?
Lynn Schmeidler: I would ask viewers/readers to sidle up to this Broadside, press an ear to it and listen. What music is playing on this radio? And who’s the DJ?
Artist Douglas Culhane: Thank you Lynn for engaging with my work and responding with this poem!

Editors’ Note:

We love the Switcheroo.  We love seeing the many ways writers engage with, leap from, focus in on a piece of visual art. It’s a testament to creativity and connection.  This year, we had many submissions engaging radios, seasonality, sound, and stasis, and our final choice was particularly hard.  Lynn Schmeidler’s poem, though, captivated us from the start.  Her tone, its blending of fatalism and feral hope.  The way her poem is wildly imaginative (everything looks like kindergarten?  Yes!) and practical (it’s true: you can encourage moss growth with buttermilk).  And oh, forsythia.  That most intense of early spring blooms.  We can hear it ripping out of Douglas’s iron branches.  We know that there’s secret life everywhere, thanks to the collaboration of these amazing artists.

This year, we also wanted to mention two finalists whose work held us in conversation for a long while.  Their writing opened portals of connection for us, and we hope to see more of their work in the months and years to come.


  • Dawn Davies, “The Art of Acquiescence.” Dawn is the author of Mothers of Sparta (Flatiron Books, 2018), which won a few awards. Her work can be found in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Fourth Genre, elsewhere.
  • Afton Montgomery, “Song for the Mojave’s Lathe.” Afton has recent or forthcoming work in Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Fence, and elsewhere. She calls Colorado home.

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