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“The Complicated Thing”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What surprises you about the poet’s writing in conversation with your art? Did “The Complicated Thing” refract any element of the art that made you see the piece differently?
Artist Janice Redman: I  made this sculpture and it sits on a shelf in my studio… a mystery. I am still trying to make sense of this strange object that manifested. When I read Brian’s piece, I was taken aback by the world I entered into—horrified and laughing out loud at the same time—it hit my being in such a visceral way. The strangeness and the quality of its existence…the largeness and the smallness.

I entered a world with the piece that both repelled me and fascinated me, wanting to turn it around in my hands and see it from all sides. I feel like I have been given a window into another world, maybe history that it now owns, adding to my relationship with it and my continual desire to understand why it exists.

It feels more like a living, breathing being more than ever now… Brian’s piece has gotten under my skin and is now part of this continual dialogue and investigation.

This poem was chosen in response to Janice Redman’s sculpture, “Ouroboros”—can you talk about the experience of finding words that were in conversation with the image? What leapt out first from the art? A particular image? A mood? A line?
Poet Brian Clifton: I guess it’s one of those things about tapping into the collective unconscious—Janice and I seemed to be sensing the same thing at a particular moment. What I like most about Janice’s sculpture is the scale; it looks small and large simultaneously. I love that sort of disorientation. I think my poem has a similar feel.

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Janice Redman: In the National Coal Mining Museum in West Yorkshire. Down in the pit…. I went there once. I am completely claustrophobic, but with the help of a kind miner, I managed to go down deep into the mine, trembling all the way, with headlamps on. To stumble upon this piece would be strange and yet somehow make sense.
Poet Brian Clifton:
A veterinarian’s waiting room among the pamphlets about proper nutrition and deworming medications.

Paired with the art, do you think the prose does something different or has a different tone?
Poet Brian Clifton: Yeah totally! I think so much of the prose poem is violent, but the physician’s bag makes this strange connection to healing or the belief in the medicine’s power to heal. And then I think about how damaging old-timey doctors could be. 

Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page? Did you imagine what a writer might use/create from the image?
Artist Janice Redman:  I had absolutely no idea! Because this piece is such a mystery to me and a little scary, I didn’t imagine anyone would even respond to it—just too weird! It was like having a note pinned to it and handed back to help guide me in its care and continued study.

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 Brian Clifton: Always. I often watch music videos on mute and write what comes to mind or try to work in scenes from movies into poems (this one has a scene from Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman in it). My partner is also a visual artist so we go to a lot of shows together and seeing visual art gets my brain moving. I just finished a manuscript that is notional ekphrastics mixed with real ekphrastics—sort of like the poetry equivalent of The Museum of Jurassic Technology. And then before that, I wrote a book length poem about Martin Schongauer’s woodcut “The Temptation of St. Anthony.”

Have you ever had a writer respond to your work before? What was the experience like?
Artist Janice Redman: Yes, for Broadsided Press. “You are Migrant,” by Poet Katherine DiBella Seluja. I loved this one, too. My work is so mysterious to me and yet makes sense in a visceral, unspoken way. To receive a response with words is just such an amazing gift!

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Brian Clifton: The weather on the cover of “The Exorcist.”
Artist Janice Redman:
It wouldn’t see the weather, as it would be deep in the coal mine, slogging away burrowing along the seams, making its own relentless headway!

Read any good books lately?
Poet Brian Clifton: Yes! Whale and Vapor by Kim Kyung Ju, America at Play by Mathias Svalina, NOS by Aby Kaupang & Matthew Cooperman, The Orchard by Brigit Pegeen Kelly (always with this one).
Artist Janice Redman:
Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust series Vol 2). I love these books—may start again on the Golden Compass and reread them all.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Brian Clifton: Yes (well, mostly not in person)! David Jeremiah’s exhibition “Things Done Changed” was the last gallery show I went to; Stephanie Hanes constantly makes things that bend my mind; and Michael Portnoy’s performances on Instagram are devastatingly funny (also his installation “Progressive Touch” is NSFW amazing). I saw Matthew Barney’s REDOUBT a couple of months ago and that was rad, and Rowen Foster, my partner, is always getting me to see the world in new ways with her sculptures. 
Artist Janice Redman: 
Staying close to home, I have been thinking a lot about how much I really appreciate Michael Mazur’s monotypes in Robert Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. I have been making monotypes all week, and when I was feeling lost in the process, I would invoke Michael to help me. It really helped!

Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).
Poet Brian Clifton: We’re all a little complicated. Maybe remembering that whenever we try to help someone heal (physically or otherwise) is a good thing. 
Artist Janice Redman:
I feel like so much of our emotional worlds exist under the surface. Sometimes close to the surface, sometimes deeper, entrenched, not sure if they will reach the light, not sure what shape or form they take, not knowing if they are safe to explore. I’m just wanting to acknowledge the value of patience and listening deeply to feelings and sensations that don’t have words… not yet anyhow.

On that note, I’d like to say how much I continue to love listening to Pauline Oliveros “Crone Music.”  It is the one and only piece of music that I can play whilst I work. It takes me into that cavernous space of the unexplored, waiting for things to arise.

Editors’ Note:

This year, we invited writers to respond to Janice Redman’s sculpture “Ouroboros.” So much great work was created! Work about mouths, maws, money, snakes, and hunger. Armadillos factored in, as did birds. We weren’t surprised that Janice’s haunting sculpture invited such wild responses; the submissions delighted us and made our decision very difficult.

Every year, we look forward with great anticipation to The Switcheroo. What will happen? There’s a palpable excitement and energy humming into the inbox. We love seeing the raw materials of creation, of seeing the energy between visual and literary art.

Thank you, all who held this work in your creative minds, who put pen to paper, and shared it with us.  We hope you find the piece by Brian Clifton as strange, wonderful, and surprising as we did.

—Elizabeth Bradfield, Miller Oberman, and Alexandra Teague

Note:  This broadside and interview are included in the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020 (Provincetown Arts Press, 2022).

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