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“The Other Side”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Kate Baird: The idea of the line (or path or intention or life) that continues until it doesn’t is one that I like to mull over, and thresholds and doorways are images that I like to play around with, so this was definitely the poem for me.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Matthew Thorburn: This is a poem that’s partly about visual art, so I was curious whether that would help the artist or make this more challenging. I thought the door and the single long line of ink I describe in the poem would probably make it in, in one way or another, but I’m glad Kate didn’t take any of that too literally. As I expected, her work is much more interesting than any “visual interpretation” I might have dreamed up.

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Kate Baird: I started with the line, as would (I think) most people responding to this poem. To me, curving continuous lines are pretty much always beautiful no matter what, so that was the easy part. The size and proportions of the doorway—where and how to make that dark shape—was harder.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Matthew Thorburn: I don’t know if Kate’s work changed the way I see the poem, since it’s such a short, matter-of-fact little poem. But I like the way she combined two elements of the poem—the “blue-black” sky and the door—in that swatch of dark blue that looks like a doorway out of (or into?) the page. I also appreciate how she refracted my image of the sweeping single line of ink described in the poem, but did so using a medium—chalk? crayon?—with a more textured look.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Matthew Thorburn: I’m happily surprised that my little poem inspired another artist to create something beautiful and engaging. I think as writers we always imagine (or hope for) readers who will be drawn into our work and feel some kind of response to it—that’s what I hope for, at least. To see that response expressed in another creative work is an amazing and humbling experience.
Artist Kate Baird: I think I registered the title for the first time when looking at the broadside. I had surely read it before, but I guess I’d sort of mentally skipped over it. I think I got lost in the time element of the poem, and seeing the title brought me back to the space element of it.

How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Kate Baird: To be honest, I feel like literature is my creative life at present time. I don’t have a daily art practice, but I do read every single day and so disappear into some imagined place or space—even if the place I’m reading about is real, I still have to imagine it.

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 Matthew Thorburn: Oh yes, I often write poems about visual art—mainly just because I love looking at paintings and drawings. Over the years I’ve written about some of my favorite artists and their work, including a poem inspired by Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio in my first book and, more recently, one about his collage called The Swimming Pool that will be in my next book. I also have a new-ish poem about my experience running up to the Frick on my lunch hour a couple years ago to see The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Writing about paintings is an exercise a friend recommended years ago, which I still use sometimes when I’m stuck and need a little spark to get started again: look closely at a painting and describe what you see.

Describe the collaboration in one word.
Poet Matthew Thorburn: Surprising
Artist Kate Baird: Signals

If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Matthew Thorburn: A solo played on the erhu—a two-stringed Chinese fiddle, a kind of cousin to the violin—which would reflect the poem’s single line/sentence as well as the sweeping lines of Kate’s beautiful work.
Artist Kate Baird: This week an old Belle and Sebastian cd emerged from the piles of stuff on the floor of our car, and I’ve been listening to that a lot—I feel like it kind of fits.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Matthew Thorburn: I just read a book of William Trevor’s troubling, unforgettable short stories. I can’t believe I’d never read his work before, and have been missing out on it all these years.
Artist Kate Baird: I read this back in July, but it was so good that it’s still the book I thought of first: A Manual for Cleaning Women, short stories by Lucia Berlin.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Kate Baird: I’m lucky to get to see Anne Lindberg’s tilted sky almost every day.
Poet Matthew Thorburn: Back in December, I was struck by several works in acrylic and ink by an artist named Daniel Marin Medina—particularly one in which a small, finely drawn man in a suit is set against a bright yellow background. The man seems to be falling, feet first, through an infinite—but infinitely sunny—space. There’s no sign of where he fell (or jumped?) from, or where he might finally land. It’s ominous and scary, but also a little humorous because he has no context except for all that beautiful yellow. I saw this painting at a silent auction fundraiser for a local arts education program my young son participates in. The auction mainly featured the kids’ creative efforts, so Medina’s work was displayed surrounded by paintings and collages by three- to five-year-olds. I kept looking at this painting, then walking away, then wandering back to look some more. I was hooked—and when the day ended, I was lucky to have won it.

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