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“The Owls”

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 Laura Kasischke: I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m happy to see the floating bubbles with details from the poem—the fish, the armchair, and although the owls look more charming and happy than the owls in my imagination, that’s probably a very good thing. The other details—the unhappy armchair and the heart more than make up for their innocent expressions with their creepy implications.

What inspires you in this poem?
Artist Michele L’Heureux: I am fascinated by owls and can easily imagine them as the keeper of stories and knowledge. I worked as an environmental educator at a nature center for a few years and used to co-facilitate owl walks at night. There were barn owls who lived in the rafters of the sheep barn at the center, and I just loved their haunting and beautiful call in the darkness. I love Laura’s language and imagination, how she imbues the owls with so much wisdom and insight. I also love her sense of time and place. She so beautifully captures the range of things—from the ordinary to the unfathomable—that can unfold in a single place over time.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Laura Kasischke: I had no idea what to expect at all, so everything comes as a surprise. It’s a strange out-of-the-body experience to see something that was originally just in my mind imagined by someone else. The scattered bones were to be expected, I guess, but that heart, looking a little like a bird carcass at the same time that it’s a human heart is a scary surprise. I feel gratified by that heart, and how whatever is balancing it on the other side of the scale is not in the image. It could be anything. Or nothing.

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Michele L’Heureux: Given my love of owls, I was first interested in drawing/painting them and trying to capture the sense of them as perceptive and even all-knowing. Then I researched different parts of Laura’s poem to unpack the language. I wasn’t familiar with the Freud tales or the bones mythology and loved learning about those references. I mulled over different ways to depict the owls as the keepers of various stories, and that thought process propelled the drawing.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Laura Kasischke: I was surprised by the colorfulness of it, and the whimsy. I appreciate how vivid this is and how plainly symbolic it manages to be—the way the nouns in the poem were plucked out and rendered exactly. There’s something like an illustrated children’s tale about it, but with an edge. This could have been a happy scene if not for the implication of those hearts—bloody red—and the ghost-fish, and the discarded garment on the armchair.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: Like the last word/art collaboration in which I participated, I enjoy seeing the language and the image together, informing each other in new and different ways, depending on the viewer/reader.

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 Laura Kasischke: In my most recent collection of poems I included a number of poems that took their themes and images from plates in the Cloisters Apocalypse. It was a book we had around and which I’d not looked at in a long time, and both the commentary on the plates and the plates and the terrifying illustrations offered a great deal of material to work with in poems.

How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Michele L’Heureux: I have always referenced text in my work but in fragmented and unintelligible ways. Recently, I have begun using literature as direct source material for drawings, paintings, and animated projects. I am on a sabbatical in Lisbon, Portugal for seven months and have been working on a toy theater piece inspired by some Fernando Pessoa prose I was exposed to when I arrived. In general, I read a ton of fiction, and my creative process is definitely influenced and inspired by inventive uses of language and story-telling.

If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Laura Kasischke: Maybe some creepy Scottish ballad—a murder involved in it?—sung in a wavering voice by a little girl, accompanied by an evil old man on a lute.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: Maybe a dark Wagner composition—haunting and bone-tingling.

Describe the collaboration in one word.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: Broadening

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Laura Kasischke: Someone sent me a Christmas card of the Holy Family trekking across a barren landscape. Lots of stunted trees growing out of what looks like hills of cement. Two angels, Mary, Jesus, and Joseph all have crowns that are so golden that even in the glossy reproduction of this card they seem electrical in their brightness.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: I finally read Confederacy of Dunces, which I’m still digesting (like Ignatius and his hot dogs), and I’m pouring through lots of José Saramago novels in honor of my stint in Portugal (The Cave and Blindness are my favorites so far). I also recently read The Bastard of Instabul by Elif Shafak, which I adored for its rich depiction of women, family, and the city of Istanbul (can’t wait to visit!).

Read any good books lately?
Poet Laura Kasischke: I’m making my way happily and slowly through Daphne DuMaurier’s Echoes of the Macabre—scary and low-key at the same time, and full of nightmare images.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: Being in Lisbon, I’m looking at a lot of incredible religious art in churches, convents, and monasteries on a regular basis. I also recently saw a wonderful exhibition of work by Alexandre Farto, a Portuguese urban street and grafitti artist who works under the name of VHILS. This past summer, I discovered a new favorite place to view contemporary art in the US: the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky—really awesome!

Anything else?
Poet Laura Kasischke: It’s an honor and a highly unusual experience to find the images that one dredged out of her own subconscious transformed into something new—and in this case, very beautiful—by another person. It feels like an exchange of dreams, and a very rare experience, one that feels a little like having something lost returned, changed, but in a good way.
Artist Michele L’Heureux: Broadsided Press has given me the opportunity to come at my artwork from new directions and has provided new sources of inspiration for my image-making. I am eager to explore other ways of reading and art-making, and I am grateful to Broadsided for creating these unique opportunities!

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