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“The Great Wall of China”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet Juan Pablo Mobili: I resonated with the ethics and aesthetics of the journal. I usually look for answers to two questions when I consider submitting to a journal: Do I find what they are about relevant and welcoming? and …Would my poems smile being in the company of the writers they feature? In Broadsided’s case, the answers were “Yes!” and “Yes!,” of course. This poem, “The Great Wall of China,” I felt, had a painting-like quality, capturing a specific moment, what I was watching before me, and the metaphor of the barbarians at the foot of the Wall.

What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Undine Brod: The emotion is palpable; it gave me pause. I was drawn to the strength and weight of several of the words. The poem has conviction. 

Describe your dream “vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Undine Brod: On the Great Wall of China, but of course!
Poet Juan Pablo Mobili: Not necessarily a wild dream but an intention, I would like it on any neighborhood wall where poetry is not made available because someone in power thinks that the people living there would not be worthy of it. I particularly dislike any statements, blunt or veiled, that think of art as something that can only be appreciated by the chosen few. Poetry is a human necessity, and appreciating a poem is an emotive choice a reader makes, first and foremost. A poem does not fully exist in the world until the reader meets the poet’s words. On the wild side, I’d love to see this broadside right on the Great Wall of China!

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 Juan Pablo Mobili: First of all, Undine Brod’s art created a beautiful “dialogue” with my poem and greatly exceeded any expectations I could have. I think she enhanced what readers might take away from my words. Better said, image and words are two poems side by side. Undine’s image had me think about what my son might have been looking at—seeing, really—with his back to me. That was something I had not considered before, even when I was revising my poem.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page?
Artist Undine Brod:
It’s always exciting to see what Broadsided Press does in putting the two works—the visual and literary components—together. I actually consider the process of building/making/editing the finished broadside as a third collaborator, if you will. A new layer of visual information gets created. When I see the final broadside, I tend to feel an easing up in my mind or somewhere in my body. Once the two parts are unified, I feel the process is complete and the intention fulfilled. It isn’t necessarily a shift in the work that is brought to light, but rather a whole new work is presented. 

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 Juan Pablo Mobili: The first time I can remember was when I was 16 years old.  It was a poem about Modigliani’s portraits of women. Not unlike my experience of poetry itself, I was attracted to their beauty and melancholy. Furthermore, it’s interesting you asked because recently I wrote another poem about the same “women.” I hope this one is more accomplished, depth- and craft-wise, but I was pleased to notice how much the poetic mood and emotive center of the new poem had in common with the one I wrote when I was so young.

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Juan Pablo Mobili: Sometimes it feels like Autumn, sometimes it feels like Spring.
Artist Undine Brod: Winter. It would be winter weather. It would be subdued light, cold sensations, and deadened colors.

Read any good books lately?
Artist Undine Brod: Yes. And, I’ve even listened to some being read as well.  Seriously though, I teach pre-K, and over the past few weeks these have been some of my favorites: Skin Again written by Bell Hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo written by Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller, and Life Doesn’t Frighten Me written by Maya Angelou with paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Poet Juan Pablo Mobili:
I’m always reading poetry (lots of it). Old teachers (I never met) and younger ones. Trying to keep the list short:  Robert Lax and William Stafford (always!); Robert Hass, Richard Hugo Juan Gelman, Anna Swir, and Lucille Clifton (often). On the “young poets” side (“young” to me, at least): Layli Long Soldier, Mary Szybist, Natalie Diaz, Hannah Sullivan, and Annie Bien.

On my “to-dive-in” list for the next few weeks:  Audre Lore’s collected works, the first three poetry books by D.A. Powell, The Economy of the Unlost by Anne Carson, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo… and I better stop there.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Undine Brod:  Every day at my teaching job I see children exploring materials. Thus, the art I get to see (more appropriately I might label what I do as witnessing) is that of a child’s mind and body discovering visual language.
Poet Juan Pablo Mobili:
Not in person, unfortunately, since the beginning of this year. I miss going to museums, and “find out” what paintings or sculptures call me over, to stand in front of them. I also love to take pictures of people looking at art, one theme I photographed for a number years.

As far as books are concerned… Richter’s book on his “September” painting (re: 9/11/2001), a book of remarkable photographs (portraits) of Mayan shamans (“Ultimos Testigos“) by Serge Barbeau, and “Domestic Scenes” by Ramiro Gomez.

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 Juan Pablo Mobili: Yes! “What are you passionate about but need to be vigilant about?” The answer: One too many metaphors, whether in poems or conversations.
Artist Undine Brod:
I’m always curious about what the vectors think of the broadsides they devote time to putting up for others to see. I also often wish I could sit close by to where the broadsides are posted in order to watch the expressions and reactions of the passers-by who stop to engage with them. I wonder how the work alters a person’s outlook and/or day via the spontaneous encounter/discovery people experience when they come upon the posted pages.

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