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“The Mud Says to the Potter”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

When you consider the full folio of work from this issue (see the “related broadsides” links on the left), what questions, observations, or connections arise for you? 
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: I notice that many of the broadsides concern a deep understanding of the land that we live on—from flora and fauna to the mineral. This concern feels important in its ecocritical stakes and the connections between us all, poets, artists, and readers alike are provoked to ask ourselves questions about belonging and our relationships. 
Artist Janice Redman: This new way of publishing for Broadsided, in a folio, is awe-inspiring, because I’m seeing a whole pile of them together, all made during the same span of time. And each one of them is so its own self—to see how each of us express and connect, each so different and unique.  It’s a mystery to me how this happens–it’s truly like magic.  When I look at all these and see my own in with them, I just feel incredible gratitude for the Broadsided team creating this platform in which I can grow and develop.  It really enriches my life.  And to share it with other writers and artists? I’m so moved and touched; I’m grateful that I’m part of this.
What inspired you to bring your poem to Broadsided?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: I love the broadsides that I have seen before, especially ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui’s that was written in both ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and English—and the vision she shares of taking the broadside to the site of Kanaka Maoli activism during the protests of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Janice Redman: It is hard to put into words, because my reaction is in my body. I read the poem again and again to let it soak into me. Even then, I didn’t feel like I understood it completely. The poem isn’t simple or linear but so much about the body, sensation, feeling, honoring, ritual—all qualities that I value, which made me feel very connected to the poem. Also, I like the word “wrestling” a lot, and how the poem comes to honor letting go of effort, giving over to flow, making space. It felt very intimate and familiar to me as a process, similar to what making sculpture feels like to me.

How did this poem come to be?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: This poem came about when I was thinking about what Rama, in the Kabir sense—not the conservative Hindutva iterations of Rama—meant for me as a queer poet, diasporic, and mixed-caste person. The idea of a static realization: either you realize the Divine or not, does not seem to fit with the fluidity of life systems. I wanted to point that out. It was also my response to the song “Kahe Karat Gumaan Murakk Manva” a Kabir poem performed by Chhannulal Mishra. I was driving from Miami to Orlando and it came on my playlist and I was bowled over by just how momentary realization can be. 

How did this image come to be?
Artist Janice Redman: I’ve had a meditation practice for many, many years, and my altar is a shelf in my studio. I have a postcard of Seated Jain Tirthankara in Meditation (11th century, white marble) near the altar. The actual sculpture is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I go and sit with it every time I visit the museum. The statue is a foundational touchstone in my creative work because of the quality within it. Even though it’s a sculpture, it feels like it breathes; the rounded edges of Jain sculptures of that period have a sense of energy within pushing out, of spaciousness even when they are small, like life is within them even though it’s an object. This spirit is fundamental to me in my work and what I hope to achieve.

I knew when I read this poem that I wouldn’t be making a new visual response; I knew something right existed in my studio already, but I didn’t know what. After weeks, reading the poem over and over, trying this or that, my responses started to feel like shedding a skin. I saw that I needed to strip my response down. I have shelves in my studio where I keep works in process, materials, finished sculptures—and I decided to clear a couple and bring out some older pieces: the wrapped teapot and its wrapped pedestal, the hot water bottle wrapped and reformed. What will I do with these sculptures in the future? I don’t know. What will happen to these objects when I die? It’s a similar question to the question in the poem about the brass statue. These dirty cotton wrappings that show human touch as they age, these are my brass statue. Arranging them on the shelf felt like working in a parallel universe to that in the poem. The sculpture felt like it was asking the same questions as the poem. The teapot was my English teapot that I brought with me from Yorkshire when I moved to the United States, and after it cracked it became my first wrapped object. When I brought it down out of its glass case, I realized that, like the statue in the poem, it was a revered object, in fact, my first revered object.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Does the artist’s response make you see the poem differently?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir:  What I love about this image is that it takes the mundane and gross parts of life to show how there is beauty all around, even when we have decided through religious (and self-obsessed religious dogmas) notions of purity. The shit of humanity is also Divine; it can point to our actual state at our present moment. The stains are everything—the wrapping of the kettle also in a veil/skin also lights my thinking on fire.

What question would you like to ask your collaborator?
Poet to Artist: What was it like for you, thinking through this spiritual tradition if you were not exposed to it previously?
Artist Janice Redman:
I know who Rama is, and I’ve spent most of my life studying Eastern art. But that’s not my tradition or my world, and I didn’t know what it meant to the poet. I could only make a personal response. For me, the image in the broadside has the same feeling as the postcard on my altar. It is the same.

Artist to Poet: Rajiv already answered my question, actually–my work is not graphic but very physical, so I wondered how he felt about having his poem printed with these dirty old shelves and objects. I wish he could hold the teapot, then I could really have him experience the feeling I have for that object. It’s so special. Maybe he will one day.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Janice Redman: I felt like every time I came to the poem, it kept developing. It became deeper and deeper in me. As I became more familiar with the words, it kept revealing something else about itself. It never stopped. It felt like a vast well. It still keeps informing me when I read it, pulling different things forward, creating a new feeling or sensation or understanding. I can’t make myself understand it; I can only experience it. I’m really proud of this broadside. The poem is phenomenal, and I love my teapot and I love my shelves. The dirtiness of the fabric and the dark handle and spout is so satisfying to me. I feel very connected to it. Happy and proud.

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art? 
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: I have been writing ekphrastic poetry before I knew what ekphrasis meant. I have some poems that respond to photos, music, and sculpture. I love this exercise because it allows me to follow my associations into creation—a new conversation. 

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: It would be so wild to see this posted in India during protestation of the Modi government which is proven to be anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim. 
Artist Janice Redman: I would love to put this in the foyer of the San Francisco Zen Center—and I’m going to ask a friend to do just that.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: It would be a cool overcast day with sudden, unexpected sunshine.
Artist Janice Redman: It reminds me of snow, in a way—I made the teapot in the winter, and there’s a silence in snow that I like. You always have to have a hot water bottle and a teapot in the winter, if you’re English. So there’s a sense of coziness that reminds me of a snowy day.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: Prompts that I like involve finding an image and letting the mind find associations related or unrelated to it. So, for example: go outside and look. Collect images that appear to you. Right now I see chicory growing as weeds: the purple-blue flowers dotting the yard. From one of the collected images write in a new line a thought that occurs to you. In my example I’m thinking of the color of the flower—where it takes my mind. After that use the second part of this writing to leap into a new statement of where your mind it. This prompt may not produce a poem, or it may produce an entire field of wildflowers.
Artist Janice Redman: Working in unlined notebooks part of my sculpture practice. I write, draw, put in shopping lists or photographs—the notebook can be as rarefied (or not) as I want. Notebooks are a place of containment, intimacy, and portability. A pencil and a notebook. And an eraser. This is a reminder to myself as much as to anyone else about how simple artmaking can be.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir: ‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall and Ghostword by Crisosto Apache for poetry. I also am reading the novel Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein.
Artist Janice Redman: Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age, by Katherine May.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Rajiv Mohabir:  I just saw the interactive installation Humanature Relationships during the Anthropause: Songs of Humpback Whales and the Sounds of Humans by Joanne Marras Tate, Roberto Azaretto, and Steven Frost. It was wild to have AI generate sonic smog as visual image that interrupted projected image and sound of humpback whale communication. 
Artist Janice Redman: I really enjoyed Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, a documentary I recently saw on Netflix.

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