Collaborate with a Poet?
At the urging of a long-time friend and colleague, I submitted my application to the Red Wing Arts 20th Annual Poet Artist Collaboration. I have created under similar parameters before where I would create the art after being selected based on my previous works. I love combining images with stories and so this felt like a natural.
I didn’t expect to be thrown out of my comfort zone (always a good thing, right?), nor did I expect to do a watercolor that is far removed from my usual approach and technique. More than anything, I wanted to do right by the poem I chose and to the woman who wrote it.
HOW DOES A POET ARTIST COLLABORATION WORK?
It goes something like this. After being notified to participate, artists are provided poet-submitted poems that have been jury selected. Artists pick their top seven poems, ranking the order of preference from one being the top poem pick and so on down the line, choosing the poems that move and inspire them to create a work of art that will accumulate into a group exhibition. The poem lists are emailed in and through part lottery, part diplomatic process, and timing of poem pick submissions (kind of a first-come-first-served situation), artists are then emailed the “their” poem and then create a work of art based on their impressions of that poem.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Besides being moved out of my comfort zone, there was considerable thought that went in to create a piece behind my poem choice. For the 20th Annual Poet-Artist Collaboration exhibition, here is my final watercolor painting inspired by my poem choice, Planted by Deborah A. Goschy, and my artist’s statement.
by Deborah A. Goschy
At the plant nursery
grass seed lived in barrels,
silent and sleeping,
a cool soft touch
when I plunged my bare hand
into its silky abundance,
but we bought it by the bag,
this promise of lawns, lush and green,
and it spiraled in fanciful trails
from the seed broadcaster
onto the stubborn soil behind the house.
One warm summer day I carried it in a metal can.
My fingers savored the feel of the steel,
my eyes, the stripes: orange, brown, and tan,
behind the words “Butternut Coffee”
as I let the seeds drop from between my fingers,
and observed their curling descent on an eddy of wind.
“The wind’s coming from the southeast,” I said.
Dad said that meant rain, one of those facts
he had gleaned in his youth among farmers.
That night after the ballgame, the predicted storm came,
a startling shower of cold drops that pelted us
as we ran to our cars across pavement
washed as black and glossy as polished jet,
rain that came down miles away,
wetting rows of scattered promises…
the roots grew down and
the leaves rose up and it was home,
but my life carried me like a current.
I rode the breeze, as children will,
and took root somewhere else.
I have a confession. The initial painting I created for this poem was wrong, a failure. The work was too literal that it made it creepy — it didn’t feel true to me, nor did it feel true to the poem. On top of it all, the painting lacked movement.
Poetry, after all, is about movement. It’s how words move through the body and move through those listening. It’s how a poet moves when performing their work. Many poets talk about their process of writing involves walking. Poets like Mary Oliver, Maya Angelo, and others walk or pace, letting the poem’s words wash over them. After a month struggling with the first piece, I recalled what the artist Harriet Bart wisely said, “you don’t have to show the work if you don’t like it.” With that, I remember I have agency. And a deadline.
I got busy with a new and different approach. This one relied more on feeling and instincts than needing actual references to guide me. I went through all the lines involving movement again and again “spiraled in fanciful trails,” “their curling descent,” the wind, we ran, “the roots grew down, and the leaves rose up.”
Because I am curious, I tend to research as part of any project I am working on, and in doing so, I found connections to grasses that play a role in Planted. I vaguely remember the brand Butter-Nut Coffee, not so much brewing in our kitchen, more just an old can storing the odd assortment of nuts and bolts in my Dad’s basement workshop. In looking into Butter-Nut Coffee’s origins and its disappearance from store shelves, I discovered it began in 1887, in Omaha, Nebraska, a state I think of having prairie grassland as far as the eye can see. In one interview I read about Butter-Nut Coffee, there was a comment that before being gas-roasted (as opposed to coal-roasted), the beans smelled very much like “freshly cut grass.” But like so many things we take for granted, coffee not only starts our day, it alters the places where it is grown.
I also found diagrams labeling the many parts that make up a grass plant. The offshoots from the parent plant are called daughter plants, apropos to the poem’s author.
Planted is also a poem about memory, and because of that, I wanted colors that felt nostalgic. Six layers of watercolor paint created this piece, perhaps to mark each decade I have lived and suspect the poet has too. In the end, it feels more like a tapestry than a painting. If you tilt the work just so, you can see the “fanciful trails” swirling across the surface.
The opening reception and poetry reading will be held online on Friday, April 30, 2021, at 7:00 pm. All are welcome. Poems and artwork have been published into an exhibition clap book available through Red Wing Arts.
IF YOU GO: In-person viewing of the Poet Artist Collaboration exhibition is possible during gallery hours, NOON-4:00 pm, Thursdays-Sunday at the Red Wing Arts, 418 Levee Street, Red Wing, MN 55066. The Red Wing Arts gallery and shop are located in a historical train depot situated behind the St. James Hotel. In-person poetry readings are being planned for each Saturday afternoon starting on May 1st through June 19th. Check out the RWA’s Facebook page for details. The Poet Artist Collaboration runs from April 30 through June 21, 2021.
ABOUT THE POET
Deborah Goschy is a member of Southern Minnesota Poets and the League of Minnesota Poets. She has won awards for her poetry at the state and national level and has had her work published in Encore: Prize Poems 2020, The Martin Lake Journal, and in The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride Project, which exhibits poems on signs along Mankato bike trails. Deborah is also a freelance graphic designer, a painter, and a digital photographer. You can find excerpts of her poetry and images of her visual art on her Instagram and her graphic design portfolio on her website.