by Julie Swarstad Johnson, Senior Library Specialist at the Poetry Center
This summer, the Jeremy Ingalls Gallery at the University of Arizona Poetry Center is a space for magic. Another Person’s Magic: Collaborative Books presents works composed collaboratively, mainly drawn from the Poetry Center’s library collection of over 50,000 titles but also incorporating a special feature of broadsides by Broadsided Press.
The exhibit title comes from poet Jane Miller in 1994, discussing collaboration during an interview with Electronic Poetry Review. “When I lived in my imagination,” says Miller, “I held vainly to a code about creation: that it took place in a silence that was private. Animating one’s privacy with another person’s magic was something beyond me until Olga [Broumas, a collaborator of Miller’s] persuaded me that there was nothing to lose.” Like Miller, the poets and artists featured in this exhibit frequently describe collaboration as a freeing experience, something that releases them from the gravity of creating alone and the boundaries of their individual voices.
Another Person’s Magic features fourteen collaborative books—created by pairs or teams of poets, artists, and designers—specifically from the Poetry Center’s collection of artists’ books. The freed creativity collaboration encourages is evident in the unique forms and surprising content of the books: the exhibit includes gorgeous letterpress printing, gatefold and leporello bindings, three-tab file folders repurposed as interior pages, and even a set of poems presented as trading cards. “Collaboration is an invitation to interrupt our previously programmed modes. Generative, compelling, propulsive, welcome and uncomfortable discomforts galvanize, unsettle, resituate,” write Patrick Durgin and Jen Hofer in Tangelo: A Poem and Some Thoughts on Collaboration (2009). The works included in Another Person’s Magic disrupt standard ideas about what books can and should look like.
As we selected books to exhibit, Broadsided Press came to mind as an outstanding example of a press breaking with “previously programmed modes” of publishing and distributing work. By offering broadsides as free PDFs and inviting readers to engage in sharing the work on the streets as Vectors, Broadsided Press takes collaboration in a new direction. Readers can become active participants, putting poetry on the streets, in the halls, and anywhere they might find themselves.
For the duration of Another Person’s Magic, visitors to the Poetry Center are greeted by an array, a flock, a cloud of broadsides floating on a gallery wall. We chose to use a single pushpin to affix each broadside to the wall, allowing the edges to curl up and emphasizing the temporary nature of their hanging.
A label explains what the broadsides are and encourages visitors to take one away with them when they leave: “Collaborate with us by becoming a Vector! Take a broadside off this wall (really!), and hang it up somewhere for others to enjoy.” Next to the fluttering host, even more broadsides greet viewers via a rotating slideshow on a large monitor. We hope visitors will find this display of collaborative magic, and the invitation to participate in it, to be irresistible.
Julie Swarstad Johnson is Senior Library Specialist at the Poetry Center. Her poem, “Final Descent into Phoenix,” was published by Broadsided in March, 2017.