“Superfund Site, Butte, Montana”
What inspired you to share your work with Broadsided? What is rewarding, exciting, and/or challenging for you in Broadsided’s unique format?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: This poem has a real-world setting that I thought might catch the attention of casual passersby as a recognizable place they’d want to read about. It also has a variety of concrete, visual elements, so I was curious about whether an artist would approach them straightforwardly or abstract them somehow. It’s exciting to see the poem take up a whole sheet of paper (not a half page, like in a literary journal) and surprising to see the text in white.
What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Meghan Keane: I was drawn to this poem by the challenge of it being both long and using nontraditional (creative, intentional, full page) spacing. I knew it would require a piece of art that served more as a wallpaper or background that the poem could be situated in, or on, rather than a side by side layout that I am personally fond of (where art and text each has its own space, and presence). I knew that I wanted to tie in the color blue from the start as well as to utilize abstraction to capture the mood of the piece.
What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: Something about blue, for sure, and spread. Maybe the sky, because Montana is Big Sky Country and the poem’s ending reinforces that. I was interested to see if a cow or two would show up. Meghan’s art makes the poem strange to me again. It reintroduces a layer of ambiguity that I thought the speaker had wiped out. But now the speaker doesn’t get the last say, nor does the subject, the poet, or the artist. The whole, the collaboration, has its own agenda.
How did this image come to be?
Artist Meghan Keane: This image is a monoprint on paper. A monoprint is a type of printmaking where you only get one, there’s no edition, and could reference a variety of techniques but is usually referring to manipulating ink on a surface (plexiglass, linoleum, etc) that looks typically more painterly, and then running it through the press. I created this image using printmaking ink on linoleum and added solvent (effectively, a liquid eraser) to the image; I drew into the ink and solvent with a towel to create the image. Solvent, specifically, mineral spirits, is toxic; breathing it is really bad for one’s lungs. Mineral spirits are actually a petroleum by-product. This type of ink-painting/drawing with the contents of (in a sense) a superfund site was very interesting to me and I knew from a glance at the poem that this type of monoprint process would be a strong expressive match. Corrosive chemicals are not only at play in the making of the print but are quite visible in the image that’s created, underscoring the meaning of the poem on a few levels. The downward descent appearance was intentional on my part as well, a visual echo of the “low spots first” line.
Amy asks Meghan: What’s your most cherished poem?
Artist Meghan Keane: One poem collaboration that comes to mind as a real favorite is the one that holds two, one-line poems by Yannis Ritsos, published in 2017 by Broadsided here.
Meghan asks Amy: Why the format spacing choices, what informed each space, where, why there etc…
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: Some of my creative process is beyond my powers of interpretation! This poem came together from several different sources I was grappling with at one time, so I’m sure some of the spacing results from the poem’s origin as collage. And I can see how the spacing enacts some of the pauses in my insight, or my acceptance of the insight, as I worked through this material. I don’t know if it’s because of the sky or spread references within, but this poem didn’t congeal for me until I moved words from the left margin across the whole page. The story wanted to expand.
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: A treehouse. An airport.
Artist Meghan Keane: In every coffee shop, grocery store, and on every telephone pole and community bulletin board in Butte, Montana. As the namesake, that feels honorific and fitting!
Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Meghan Keane: I was initially drawn to the Superfund aspect very literally; I slowly came to sit with the profundity of the piece as an expression of unrequited love interest and/or intimate partner harm. It shifted how I saw it, grappling with the imagery provided while specifics are left a bit up for interpretation… and while I could have gone toward a more literal figurative illustration/interpretation of this piece being a metaphor for toxic relationship, I thought the chemical quality of the monoprint (mineral spirits interacting with ink) accurately captured the corrosiveness being expressed in the poem.
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 Amy A. Whitcomb: There’s a photo of me fishing, with lake water up almost to my waist and a dog by my side, that has meant one thing to me for a long time. At some point I realized that the moment must have meant something to the photographer as well, or was at least an opportunity seized. I used that photo to write an ekphrastic poem from the point of view of the photographer.
If this Broadsided collaboration were a specific historic moment, what would it be?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: I’m shit for history. Pass.
Artist Meghan Keane: #MeToo (2017)—assuming I understand the piece correctly!
Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: I have a few mainstays. Create a found poem. Mimic a sentence or paragraph written by a famous author. Write from the point of view of anything not human.
Artist Meghan Keane: For artists: What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it? For both: If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Read any good books lately?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: I’m making my way through this year’s Pushcart Prize anthology. I read it every year and always find a new voice, or several, to seek out afterward.
Artist Meghan Keane: 2022 is the first year where I have not read an actual book. In it’s place, I have been doing online research all year on disinfo networks. I would like to finish War & Peace, which I started in 2021.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: I recently visited an exhibition of Keiko Hara’s series Topophilia, both paintings and prints, at a local university art museum. The colors and scale of much of her work resonated with me. I now live in the landscape that she’s been working in, and her interpretations encourage me to let this place challenge and comfort me.
Artist Meghan Keane: I am back in the Brooklyn College print shop this semester and enjoy seeing what the grad students and undergrads are up to.
Poet Amy A. Whitcomb: Working with Broadsided Press was definitely outside my comfort zone. I’m the kind of writer for whom it’s easier—safer—to share with an infinity of strangers than risk one acquaintance glimpsing the life of my mind in a coffee shop or bus stop we both frequent. But it feels good to be part of the Broadsided community, part of the tradition of broadsides more generally, and vulnerable as a voice in our world. I’m grateful for the growth opportunity.
Artist Meghan Keane: Immensely grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Broadsided Press on this piece and to the poet, Amy A. Whitcomb, for trusting us artists with your art, your written expression. Thank you. I hope the community enjoys vectorizing the piece broadly!