Snowy field with line of trees and starry sky

Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration, 2005–2020

Reviewed by Renata Golden

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Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration, 2005–2020
Edited by Elizabeth Bradfield, Alexandra Teague, and Miller Oberman
Provincetown Arts | 2022 | 216 pages

 
Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration, 2005–2020The concept is simple—match a poem with an art piece, print the single sheet of paper in living color, and send it out into the world. Pin it in obvious places like the bulletin board at your favorite coffee shop or the faculty lounge. Duct tape it to lampposts. Hang it in unexpected places like on park benches/chain link fences/tree trunks. Broadsided Press editors Elizabeth Bradfield, Alexandra Teague, and Miller Oberman call this “vectorizing”: experiencing writing as an object alongside a visual response. The result is art let loose—translating the digital into the physical, rendering a thought as a thing. A broadside becomes a PDF becomes a vector becomes work that exists in countless locations simultaneously.

In her introduction to the anthology Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration, 2005–2020, Jane Hirshfield writes, “I am thrilled by the samizdat nature of the distribution my poem will have through this project. That it is outside the commercial world, offered by only the passion and generosity of the broadsiding ‘vectors,’ received by only the accidental openness and curiosity of passersby—this is fantastic, and moving, to me.”

After 15 years of making more than 300 collaborations available as PDFs to be printed and shared, Broadsided Press collected 50 of them into a collection published by Provincetown Arts in April 2022. The full-color, 9-inch by 12-inch paperback features more than 200 pages of reproductions, poems, and guided Q&As between the poet and the visual artist. Poems by the famous—Jericho Brown, Camille Dungy, Ilya Kaminsky, Heid E. Erdrich—keep company with the soon-to-be famous—Luiza Flynn-Goodlett, Suzanne Helfman, Adina Schoem, Willie Lin. A spectrum of Broadsided Press artists contributed artwork.

In choosing which collaborations to include in the collection, Elizabeth Bradfield admitted it was “such a difficult decision,” but explained that the editors wanted wide representation of Broadsided visual artists mixed with a blend of new and established literary voices. “In the end,” she said, “we also followed our hearts.” The diversity of styles, techniques, and approaches opened a dialog between poet and artist that yielded a new layer of depth; together they became larger than the sum of their parts. Bradfield added, “We’re most excited when the writing and art can engage with each other on the page in ways that feel generative.”

Example from Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration, 2005–2020

Examples are easy to find. In his poem “The Trees in My Chest,” Philip Metres questions possibilities made viable “by someone whose traces / hover in the absence? / The seen / in absence.” The poem unpacks particles of words like the “ember” in “December” and the “urn” in “return” while passing through door after door into room after room, finding only ghosts. Sara Tabbert was already at work on a woodcut when she read the poem, and in the Q&A between the artist and poet, she says, “the two became entangled” and in the final result she sensed “a kind of peaceful melancholy of absence.” The entanglement amplifies a sense of struggle to emerge from an illness, to return to a closeness to God.

A poem by Annie Finch titled “Landing Under Water I See Roots” coupled with artwork by Stacy Isenbarger echoes the imagery of trees. A rare example of a poem comprising rhyming couplets, its metaphor of connection is signaled in the thick yarn stitched through paper. This broadside is one of several with alternate art pieces. Jennifer Moses responded to this poem in a different way—with an abstract image of whorls and triangles. Unlike the portrait orientation of the primary broadside, the horizontal page layout of the alternate broadside separates the blue-green painting, superimposed with the words “Landing Under Water,” from the white space holding the poem under the second part of the title, “I See Roots.” About the two responses, the poet said, “Stacy Isenbarger brings the human body into it very clearly, which surprises me by reminding me that it is, after all, a poem about love and relationships. Jennifer Moses does the opposite, making a piece that surprises me by being even more abstract and self-contained than the poem.”

A poem titled “And Day Brought Back My Night” is one of the few broadside collaborations in the anthology that does not include a Q&A between the poet and the artist. Instead, a double-page spread reveals the broadside taped to a fence of rusted wheels crossing a rural landscape. On the broadside, a photograph of a falcon by Lisa Sette hovers over the poem by Geoffrey Brock, torquing the tension until the volta that belies the poem’s simplicity: the fact-checker shows up late for work, revealing the memory of happy days as mistaken. Meanwhile, the kestrel looms.

The anthology itself also takes a variety of approaches. Once a year during National Poetry Month, April, Broadsided Press issues a call for poets to respond to an image created by a Broadsided artist. One of the two Switcheroos in the anthology, “Como Una Vela” started with a painting by Meghan Kane that depicts a woman’s shiny black hair rolled up in purple, pink, and teal curlers. In the colorful English and Spanish of Ecuadorian/Dominican/American poet Michelle Moncayo, “The Caribbean licks at my back like the flame of a candle.” The poem’s lines roll in waves like a “bendición” that is “calling to an island I remember in dreams.”

Example from Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic / Artistic Collaboration, 2005–2020

Translations are another Broadsided Press highlight. In a collage based on an Audubon illustration of corvids, David Bernardy responded to a poem by Ishmael Hope written in both Tlingit and English, “Kadushxeet/Writing.” The broadside is a collage with the poem in Tlingit on the left and English on the right. The words in Tlingit are a visual delight with their multiple accented vowels colliding with consonants that never appear in quite those combinations in English. Over songbirds and stars, the poem speaks of moon and air, grandparents and spirits, and “people’s bones broken by electricity.” The effect is as haunting as the language at risk of being lost.

Broadsided Responds is another special edition, in which art and poetry engage with current world crises. The first collaboration in 2011 was a fundraiser to help those impacted by the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Subsequent Broadsided Responds pieces were in answer to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan; the Ebola epidemic; and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. “Sickness” by poet Jennifer Perrine and artwork by Michele L’Heureux examine the COVID-19 pandemic. Perrine describes her poem as a “meditation on love in a time of heightened risk;” L’Heureux’s painting is a response to the poem she describes as “nuanced and tender… heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time.”

By taking poetry and art out of the rarefied environments of academia and high culture and sharing their possibilities “in the wild,” this inspirational collection exemplifies new ways to discover the power of language and art. And by making the work freely available in communities from Iceland to Athens, Broadsided Press continues to surprise accidental readers around the world.

 

 

Renata GoldenRenata Golden’s essays have been published in several literary journals and anthologies, including a 2022 anthology from Torrey House Press titled First and Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100 and a 2020 anthology from Cornell University Press titled When Birds Are Near: Dispatches From Contemporary Writers. Look for her haibun in Dawn Songs: A Birdwatcher’s Field Guide to the Poetics of Migration edited by J. Drew Lanham and Jamie K. Reaser. Renata holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston. Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Renata lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To read more, visit renatagolden.com.

Read Renata Golden’s Letter to America, appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo by Manuel, courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.