Poetry in Collaboration

The Broad’s new series, Interplay, features poets working in a variety of styles to respond to specific artworks in the Broad collection to demonstrate the bond between visual art and literature. Some of the writings are new ekphrastic poems, and others are previously written works, chosen by the poet to pair with an artwork. Ed Patuto, Director of Audience Engagement, discusses the thoughts behind the series.

A: Where did the idea for the Interplay series come from?  
Since the opening of The Broad, poetry has been a mainstay of our programmatic offerings. The institution’s engagement programmes for elementary and high school students were developed with 826LA: a writing tutoring program. It first asks the students to look deeply at an artwork, then answer questions regarding the topics that the artist addresses in the artwork in order to inspire the students to write a story (elementary students) or poetry (high school students) based on their responses to the artwork. 

Another example was The Broad’s programming and wall text for the exhibition Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again. For millennia, poetry has been the primary artistic expression of Persian culture, and poetry appears in many of Shirin Neshat’s artworks as well. To celebrate Persians’ and Neshat’s passion for poetry, the museum displayed poems by noted Persian poets in both Persian and English on the gallery walls of the exhibition. The Broad also invited literary curators Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore to organize a series of poets of diverse backgrounds to respond to Neshat’s work. They performed in English, Persian and Spanish in the galleries before an audience of museum visitors. 

A: Why do you feel that series like these are important in our current time of isolation? What is the ethos behind the series in terms of providing creative / cultural respite? 
EP: Communication, both visual and spoken, as well as creativity are essential qualities of human beings – just look at the outpouring of imaginative social media postings from people who do not identify as artists. The interruption of normalcy in our lives has given us an unprecedented opportunity to be reflective about our priorities and how we could move forward as a society and as a species.

The arts are playing an even more vital role now in reminding us that to be creative is to be human and that we all feel joy and inspiration as we experience our ingenuity. The combination of spoken word and visual art in Interplay brings the creative process to the foreground and provides an opportunity to consider how we are inspired by art and how we collectively and individually create meaning.  It’s our aspiration that we will emerge from this pandemic more grounded in our fundamental desire to be creative and to experience the creative process as expressed by others. 

A: How have you selected the poets involved in the programme? 
My colleague, Associate Director of Events and Programmes Darin Klein, has been leading the curation of Interplay. He has chosen poets with whom the museum has worked in the past as well as some new voices. He gives a good deal of consideration to poets who have a comfort with visual art and ekphrastic writing and can bring a fresh way of considering visual artworks. 

A: How have they, in turn, responded to The Broad’s archive? How many have created ekphrastic works, and how many have found new connections with previous pieces? 
EP: The curatorial concept of the series is to have poets respond to a Broad collection artwork of their choice. Amy Gerstler, Meliza Bañales, and Carolina Rivera Escamilla have all written ekphrastic poems on works in the collection, as have some of poets whose videos we will release soon, so one can see very literal connections between image and word. Steven Reigns paired a very tender poem on sexual awakening that he had previously written with Andy Warhol’s Rorshach(1984), through which the viewer can visualize two figures expressing awkward intimacy. Sholeh Wolpé paired previously written poems of her own with artworks by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Roy Lichtenstein – but as you hear her read the words and you look at the artworks, it seems like they were always intended for each other even as new meanings emerge in both. For our audience, the objective of the series is to provide new ways of engaging with these artworks and poets. 

A: What kinds of poems have been created – do they adhere to traditional forms or are they more experimental?
The poets have submitted a mix of both traditional forms of poetry as well as those that defy categorization. For example, Missy Fuego performed writing that was personal, intimate and unsettling in response to Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your body is a battleground). Soon to be released is a video featuring  a work by Cy Twombly paired with a poem by Kazim Ali, whose use of language can be more abstract and gestural – much like Twombly’s paintings that appear to mimic language. 

A: Are there any common themes that are emerging? 
EP: There is such a wealth of art in the Broad collection, and the number of poets that have been invited to participate is huge. It’s therefore hard to see a theme emerging. However, since we are producing Interplay in the time of COVID-19, one might find traces of hope as well as anxiety that seem to speak directly to the current state of our planet and that can be relatable to all who experience them. One coincidence is that two poets have chosen artworks by John Baldessari, who passed away earlier this year. So, we’ll end Interplay with poet Shonda Buchanan on a Baldessari artwork, as we began it with Amy Gerstler – a small tribute to an immeasurably important and influential artist and educator.

What pairings do you have coming up over the coming weeks?

Stay tuned for videos with Ramón Garcíapaired with Gregory Crewdson as well as theafore mentioned pieces with Kazim Ali on Cy Twombly and Shonda Buchanan with two poems, one in response to Julie Mehretu’s Conjured Parts (eye), Ferguson (2016) and one in response to John Baldessari’s Overlap Series: Palms (with Cityscape) and Climbers (2000). A full list of the rest of the month can be seen below:

5 May: Shonda Buchanan / Julie Mehretu’s Conjured Parts (eye), Ferguson
12 May: Kazim Ali / Cy Twombly’s Untitled [Bolsena]
19 May: Ramon Garcia / Gregory Crewdson’s Untitled
26 May: Shonda Buchanan / John Baldessari’s Overlap Series: Palms (with Cityscape) and Climbers

1. Gregory Crewdson’s Untitled, 2001-2002.