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“When I Wasn’t Vanishing”

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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 Geffrey Davis: I’m struck by how much this folio seems keen on grounding us, despite or across realities of loss—on discovering or inventing a place for what we might call that forceful arrival of hope. What an awesome chorus!

What inspired you to bring your poem to Broadsided?
Poet Geffrey Davis: I believe very deeply in Broadsided’s insistence on making art accessible by tending to its visible presence, especially within the communities of its creation. I also love how those intentions make sure that works of art will continue to find folks as if by accident.

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: From my perspective, the poem contains beautiful shifts in the passage of time, contributing significantly to its tempo and enhancing its overall meaning. I was particularly drawn to the transitions within the poem, which alternate between a slow, prolonged, and dense rhythm and the intermittent emergence of morning and sunlight. This juxtaposition reflects the state of the individual in the poem, oscillating between permanence and impermanence, the ordinary cycles of life, and the profound density and wonder that resides within them, despite their natural occurrence.

I enjoyed the poem a lot and I hope that you appreciate the drawing, for me this drawing should resonate with themes I mentioned: the interplay of permanence and impermanence, and the shifts between dense movements and emergence.

How did this poem come to be?
Poet Geffrey Davis: I was well into writing and arranging what would become my third book (One Wild Word Away) and, before starting this poem, I was really struggling to imagine a final shape or even an ending to the grief-work I’d begun. Then this poem came through in nearly one sitting (a rarity for my practice), and its conclusive gestures and calm tones offered my first real sense that I could find a way out of this book, that I was already nearing an end. 

How did this image come to be?
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: I have been working on drawings of dandelions and as I read the poem it struck me that they could serve as an image that could have both prolonged and light movements and resonate with the imagery and structure of the poem. It was completely about reacting to the poem. I also wanted to keep it simple, like wanting to dance with someone, you don’t step into their place and take over, you just try to match their rhythm and continue their movements with yours, I look at it like being more guided by the poem.

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 Geffrey Davis: I’d hoped that the artist would pick up on the wind in the poem. I really love wind! But the way Daniel did so through the dispersal of a dandelion’s silvery-white tufts (which I just learned are sometimes called “clocks”!) was an unexpected delight. His image brought back so many childhood memories of trying to blow a flower head clean in a single breath—which I’d been told could make your wishes come true. Daniel’s response has made me see how that forgotten ritual of hope was still somehow informing the poem.

Poet to Artist: Did you try out any other images before or after this one?
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata:
I didn’t and, now that you ask, I am wondering why not. I wish to have a better answer but this was one of those rare times when I was able to find something that I believe works in a short time… It really doesn’t happen often at all.

Artist to Poet: I love poetry and admire poets so much, I would love to know what do you think are the main roles of poetry in our societies these days?
Poet Geffrey Davis:
Like most, I’m liable to feel pressed upon to move on through my days as if they were to-do lists. I’m grateful for how poetry—the reading of it and the writing of it—alters the pace at which I can take in experience, in part by refusing to let the relationship between understanding and expression stay casual. And so poetry plays a big role in reminding me to slow down and show up in a more present way for my everyday exchanges with people and places.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: Yes! I didn’t have the whole image resolved when I started drawing, but once I began to draw I started to make the connection between the placement of different visual elements and the tempo in the drawing and was able to play a little with the notions of intermittence, emergence, slowness, etc.  While drawing I had to go back to the poem and re-read it, I often take poems and try to write on top of them, I write my own interpretations, it’s my own little way of understanding them; this time that helped to make the drawing, and making the drawing helped me admire the poem more. 

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art? 
Poet Geffrey Davis: Yes, several years ago Bat City Review put together an ekphrastic feature, and I got invited to respond to Pete Driessen’s Blankets series (2013-2016). It was an incredibly instructional experience. The visual focus felt familiar enough—I think staying open and curious to what the rendering of an image will reveal is an integral part of poetry—but I also found having Driessen’s finished image deeply bewildering at first. It seemed like I needed to disentangle the rendering from the knowing, which I really resisted. Eventually, because I’m a writer whose work tends to take redemptive looks back into his own life, I learned just how much I’d been collapsing my sense of wonder and discovery and surprise with the feeling of tracking the moving target of memory. Having the fixed reference of Driessen’s work pushed me to explore the real role of imagination. In the end, I felt liberated.

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Geffrey Davis: Mount Rainier, in a field at the last elevation you might expect dandelions to bloom.
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: Oh well, perhaps it’s not as ambitious, but I would love it to be on a precious and intimate place for people, like it being one of those old images in a piece of paper that has been used for years as a bookmark for books people love to read. I would love the poem and the image to become that long companion. Simple and yet permanent.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Geffrey Davis: I feel like I’ve seen dandelions blooming throughout the year and in all kinds of weather, so I guess I’ll go with my favorite: a cloudy and windy fall day—hoodie weather.
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: I grew up in the Andes in Colombia, I feel it will be a grey sunset up in the paramos, cold, windy and fresh, close to the sky and close to the fresh natural water that drips from the Frailejones.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Geffrey Davis: The words we use—father, stranger, friend, love, enemy, pain, &c.—can shape our expectations and our understandings of the interactions we share with folks. This can make it challenging to speak on those we hold nearest or furthest with emotional accuracy or curiosity. What’s another word for mother? What’s another word for loss? What else (could have) happened before, during, or after your memory of joy? Let the unfamiliarity of your guiding word offer some new space to recall, admit, or invent things that the old word just wouldn’t allow.
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: The truth is that I love to ask people to draw rhythms, but it is difficult to put it in a written form. When you drawing rhythms, not only sounds, a lot of the visual language gets transformed. Marks become traces and volumes and the blank space becomes silence, everything starts shift into kind of a language of embodiment.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Geffrey Davis: Because I teach so much poetry, I feel like I’m constantly reading good books of poems. My students and I just had a wonderful conversation about Camille T. Dungy’s superb Trophic Cascade. But I’ve started trying to reach for more science fiction in any “spare” time I find. I just finished A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, which was a delight.
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes, it’s a book with many small reflections on a number of topics, especially on the relationship between art and memory.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Geffrey Davis: My first two books had covers designed from the artwork of people from my lived life. When I was at a loss for artwork to use with this newest book—in part a reflection of my uncertainty about the book itself—I just went searching online, which felt so absurdly boundless and hopeless at first. Then I found Kevin Foote’s work and was immediately arrested and so very grateful for letting some randomness enter the picture.
Artist Daniel Esquivia Zapata: In the summer I went to see artist in residence Tyrone Geter, he was my professor while I studied at Benedict College. He had a whole big gallery loaded with life size drawings, it was wonderful. His integration of torn up pieces of paper and drawing the human figure has always been inspiring to me.

Anything else?
Poet Geffrey Davis: Bless Broadsided!
Artist: Daniel Esquivia Zapata: Thank you for the opportunity to collaborate!!

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