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“Under Construction”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to “dibs” this poem?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: Well to be honest I hadn’t done a poem in a while and this one popped up in my email, so I said why not give it a go.

Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Leah Browning: Ira Joel Haber’s artwork picked up on the passion of the moment described in the poem. It embarrasses me a little to say that. There was something restrained about the wording, or at least my intention was to have a certain restraint, but in the moment, yes, there was just a crash of emotion, all these hopes and dreams and expectations spinning out all at once. I think he captured that element of it.

What first leapt out at you from the poem and what was your gut response?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: I liked the title under construction. Aren’t we all still construction?

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem?
Poet Leah Browning: I liked the idea of an artist interpreting something I had written. I was just curious about the finished project, and I tried not to have any expectations. Still, though, I think I expected something compact, something very black and white and finite.

What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Leah Browning: This was always, to me, a very quiet poem. The images it brings to mind are quiet, nighttime, snow—things that are very grounded and peaceful.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the artist’s interpretation. He picked up on the underpinnings of the scene more than the exterior description. There’s a real intensity to this image: the vivid colors, the combination of images. I think it highlights the scene in a completely different way than I would have expected. I’ve always really liked collage, and it seems like such an appropriate medium for a collaborative project. My favorite part here was the use of maps.
Artist Ira Joel Haber: I did quite a few images for this one, but I knew that you would pick the one that you finally did.

When you begin a piece of visual work (or, if that’s too broad, when you began this piece), is it color, shape, or some other aspect that you follow?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: This collage began life in 1994, I did some photoshop stuff to it, and I added the vintage car, which seemed like a good match with the poem’s imagery.

If your poem were a place in the world (city, land formation, river, stretch of road), what would it be?
Poet Leah Browning: The stretch of road between Alamosa and Durango, in Colorado.

If your art were a place in the world (city, road, land formation), what would it be?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: Some made-up metropolis, a city out of my dreams

If the broadside collaboration were a place, what would it be?
Poet Leah Browning: Somewhere busier, bigger. A city, or a more populated stretch of highway leading into a city.
Artist Ira Joel Haber: ?

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 Leah Browning: I recently wrote a poem for the Public Lives/Private Lives: Photo Voyeurism mixed media project from the PEN American Center. Although I’ve read many poems that have been influenced by visual art, this was the first time I remember writing one myself. There were several photos in the project, and there was one—Grace Cavalieri’s photo of a cottage with a green door—that brought back a memory from my early twenties, something I’d completely forgotten. It was that memory that sparked the poem. The whole process felt very organic, very responsive.

Not too long before this, I’d seen Broadsided’s recent Switcheroo, where writers had responded to artwork. The result (“Among Trees (or) The Heart is a Bee Hive” with a poem by Cindy St. John and art by Elizabeth Terhune) was amazing, and I’d like to recommend it to anyone who missed that broadside. There was something so evocative about their collaboration. In the last couple of years, I’ve become more interested in collaborative works in general (songs, plays), and this also inspired me to a certain extent.

If you had to represent the Broadsided of “Under Construction” with one word, what would it be?
Poet Leah Browning: Alive

If you had to represent your response to “Under Construction” in one word, what would it be? 
Artist Ira Joel Haber: Ira Joel Haber

Read any good books lately?
Poet Leah Browning: Oh, yes. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry (courtesy of Poetry Month). Also, I finally got to a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read for years now: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. At the moment, I’m catching up to everyone else in America (apparently) by reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love. I normally read quite a bit more fiction than nonfiction, so this list seems strange without adding at least one novel to the list. Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage is probably the last one I finished, though there are several more piled on my nightstand.
Artist Ira Joel Haber: I’m reading Leaves of Grass.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Leah Browning: Some of my recent favorites have been from two surrealist artists, Michael Abraham (www.michaelabraham.com) and Cynthia Tom (www.cynthiatom.com). My sister is also a visual artist, so I always enjoy seeing her new work (Sarah Browning, www.sarahbrowning.com.)
Artist Ira Joel Haber: I teach art to retired New York city school teachers, and the work that they produce always amazes me.

Anything else?
Poet Leah Browning: I really enjoyed this collaboration, and I’d like to thank Ira Joel Haber for his contribution to it, for reading and interpreting the poem in a visual way. I’d also like to thank the lovely creators of Broadsided, who continue to promote writing and artwork and working together as a team—all good things.

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