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“The Butterfly Farm”

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 Nicole Callahan: Well, the butterflies were a given. And then I thought: lollipops, a bottle of wine. I thought: concrete nouns! But that’s why I’m not a visual artist. To me, the visual is always the concrete, but to artists, it’s so much more.

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Amy Meissner: As a mother, I think I have been in this same gift shop, in this same space, at this same moment in time with my own daughter. I’m sure I composed this very same poem, but never wrote it down.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Nicole Callahan: I loved that the wool butterfly needlepoints dated 1973. I was born just one year later—was likely conceived in ’73! (hi dad!)—and so this element made me think of my own mother and of her transformation into mother, then into my own eventual transformation into the same; and of all of our transformations into, and away from, and back into, and then, well, who knows? A lot can happen in three hours…

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Amy Meissner: This was an existing piece of artwork. I work with vintage linens, embroideries and found objects. The wool butterfly needlepoints I incorporated are from an unknown maker, but are dated 1973, which is nearing the year that I began to ask my own mother for help embroidering. When I read Nicole’s piece, I knew immediately that this was the right piece to accompany her words and the voice of this poem.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Nicole Callahan: The circles. The wholeness. The notion that we can become something completely different and still be so true to who we are.
Artist Amy Meissner: I love how both the poem and the artwork incorporate beauty and terror with the same amount of subtlety.

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 Nicole Callahan: I recently had a very satisfying collaboration with the artist Joseph Quintela. I would send him two couplets, and he would choose the one he wanted to create an art panel out of, then he would create it and send it to me, and I would write two more couplets, and he would choose again. I loved letting go. I loved letting the art make the choice. So often, I confuse my artist life with my emotional life—or is it my emotional life I confuse with my artist life?—anyway, gah, the power of letting go, the power of the image…bliss.

How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Amy Meissner: I find writing about finished work and/or the process of creating is a vital way for me to distill my thoughts. As with the writing process, there is a fair amount of editing that needs to happen with visual art. There are darlings that need killing, precious moments that need to be jettisoned and the intuition to say, “This is finished.”

Describe the collaboration in one word.
Poet Nicole Callahan: Metamorphic
Artist Amy Meissner: Inevitable

If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Nicole Callahan: Putting my daughters to bed tonight, I sang them “You are my Sunshine.” When I got to the second verse, I realized: THAT was it. Gah. Gut-punch.
Artist Amy Meissner: Sorry, I can’t help myself: “Drowning Butterflies,” by Bipolar Sunshine.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Nicole Callahan: Oh, hell yeah. Just started Joy Williams latest collection of short stories (WOW!), and I’m lapping up Paul Celan because I am CERTAIN he has all the answers for me.
Artist Amy Meissner: I’m loving a collection of essays sent to me by a dear friend—The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison. The book came wrapped in a scrap of embroidered linen and came festooned with just the right amount of sticky notes poking from the top. Lovely.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Nicole Callahan: Recently, the Gowanus section of Brooklyn has been overtaken by folks who want to run the artists out (don’t even get me started!), but I was invited by my youngest daughter’s pre-school teacher (how cool is THAT?) to come to her show to support The Gowanus art world. There, I fell in love with Amy Weil’s paintings. I mean, if you want anyone in the universe to teach your child how to draw a circle, it’s THIS woman.
Artist Amy Meissner: I recently viewed a retrospective at the Anchorage Museum called “Living Alaska: A Decade of Collecting Contemporary Art for Alaska Museums.” I was really proud of all the artists who were part of this show, and it gave me great hope to see that Alaska has a vibrant culture of acquiring contemporary art for various permanent collections. It was a stunning show.

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