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“Tomcat”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to bring your work to Broadsided?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: Frankly, I think the internet has done awful things to publishing–especially for poetry. There are a million places to submit work, most of which are WordPress sites and none of which anyone reads except for an occasional slightly more dedicated submitter attempting to personalize a cover letter, and almost all of which will become defunct about halfway through the submission window for their third issue. It democratizes publishing in a lot of ways, but it also means that readers have no filter available to decide what’s worth reading and what isn’t, and in response they read nothing. Broadsided, as a concept, has by its nature far more staying power and capture power than the various online avenues for poetry and art; I’m a strong believer in physical publishing, and I think that in particular the way Broadsided works, with art and poetry in direct conversation rather than just pulled and juxtaposed from a blind submission window, creates a means to an audience that wouldn’t necessarily be there otherwise for this kind of work.

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey:
I first read “Tomcat” as a love poem, situational and all-encompassing, but the final lines, “her legs / on mine and bent a little / like broken gutters / hanging from a wall” blew me away with their visual, quixotic, and crisp imagery.

How did this poem come to be?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: This poem is a somewhat clumsy response to my wife’s coming out as non-binary a couple of years ago, and an attempt at affirming her decision to tell me. I think that I’m generally progressive in my views on gender, but I also think that when someone in your life tells you anything like that, then the response they should get has to be something beyond just use of the correct phrases that you learned from a Twitter thread about How To Be An Ally; I’m not my wife’s “ally,” I’m their husband, and there needed to be something more personal said. That’s what this poem was, I suppose: something personal to be said.

How did this image come to be?
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey: I did about six images before landing on these quirky cellular images. Somehow they made sense to me, abstracting the idea of organisms connected and related and then focused to the pertinent coupling.

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 D.S. Maolalai: I’ve never been much good at the visuals of poetry. I have to admit, beyond hoping for something more than an abstract “cat” image, I had no idea what to expect. The coloring absolutely nails the poem, in this case; it feels like an odd thing to say, but that’s definitely the color of this poem.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey: The poem slowly became less constricted by the specifics and was opened to the non-descriptive and the ephemeral quality of the work.

What question would you like to ask your collaborator? (we will print your answers, too!)
Poet to Artist: This work feels like something instinctive – as I said above, I can’t speak to how abstract visual art is created, but I imagine that it’s a similar case of “going on your nerve,” as Frank O’Hara put it about poetry; finding a reaction that feels instantly right and then building around it. Was that the case? Were there many (any?) false-starts or go-backs on this piece once you settled on the overall idea?
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey:

Artist to Poet: I wonder how much of the poem is actual and how much is illusory. I feel bad even asking this question because of the poet’s personal dynamic, but its universality envelops like a blanket.
Poet D.S. Maolalai:

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 D.S. Maolalai: I think a lot of the work in this folio is in a way dancing around themes–allowing for implication to do some of the lifting, though without turning the poem into a puzzle or a riddle to be solved. I’m thinking of the disquiet sitting behind the words in “Highlights” and the unreadable language in “Graffiti on Moving Day,” as well as the abstract nature of much of the art, which seems in general to illuminate the poems rather than just illustrating them.
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey:
I am always interested in a poem’s point of view. The folio seems to ride a familial theme of closeness and intimacy.

Describe your ideal “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: There’s a bar in Toronto that I once lived nearby that had a lot of posters on the stairwell–want ads for drummers and band stickers and vaguely graffiti’d images. I like the idea of someone pausing in a conversation with a stranger and finding themselves picking at the corner of the poster they’re leaning against. Maybe reading it, maybe not even–background in an arty photograph about a minor city social scene that’s later wiped out by the construction of condos. When I think about finding art in the wild, that’s the sort of area that comes up in my mind.
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey:
I would love to run across these many and beautiful broadsides in the least expected places while walking the streets of Berlin and its intermingled street art. Also, those secret spots on Mount Holyoke campus.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: The images tell me there’s rain on the window and lights coming through the raindrops. It’s grey cat weather–wet and cold with bins knocked over.
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey:
Undoubtably a late summer evening, ripe with an interior of gathered and blurred color.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: Oh god no, what inspires people is absolutely none of my business.

Read any good books lately?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: Coincidentally, I’ve been reading a bit of Barbara Comyns lately–her first novel–but I’d recommend her second one, Our Spoons Came From Woolworths over it, particularly as we’re talking about the intersection between art and writing here. I’m honestly not sure how well known she is in the US–she was a painter and novelist from the UK writing in the 50s and has what I guess you’d call a naïve style–she writes almost caricaturishly simply but with a terrific sense of irony; the sort of prose that you feel yourself unintentionally copying for weeks after finishing.
Artist Bailey Bob Bailey:
I just bought Anne Carson’s new book, Wrong Norma.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet D.S. Maolalai: I’m in Dublin–we don’t have much in terms of visual art beyond various “elevated” graffiti murals and more or less a rotating Jack Yeats exhibition that I visit about once a year. A good friend of mine, Gui Moraes, works as a photographer and took an excellent series of unfortunately unpublishable photos of the neighbor who lives across the road from him in a kind of study of voyeurism–not pornography, I should say, just pictures of a guy going about his day. It was an excellent and artistically interesting exercise in the gross invasion of privacy. It’s a real pity that no reputable gallery would take the risk on them.

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