Molly Tenenbaum (poet) & Ellen Ziegler (artist) have been working on a very cool project over the last several months. Here's an interview with Molly Tenenbaum that shares all about it.
MS: What are you making?
MT: Glad you asked! We’re making an artist’s book* that puts archival material together with Molly’s poems about her grandparents, who were ventriloquists on the vaudeville circuit. The “book” will be a 3-D object* that contains maps of their travels across the U.S. and images of their datebooks and pages where the poems and visuals interact.
MS: Why an artist book for this collection of poems?
MT: We’ve always wanted to work together. Ellen is a maker of artist books; she’s worked with poets Frances McCue and Patti Smith (the musician, who’s also a poet.) This collection calls out for imagery, especially since the poems refer to actual archival material. Ellen’s most recent book about her ballerina mother was a natural link to poems based on my own family history.
MS: What is your process for working together?
MT: We stare at images. We read poems aloud and talk about them while Ellen moves images around on the screen.
MS: What are the thrills and advantages of joining poems and visuals?
MT: See that image at the bottom? That's what it will look like. But in the actual book, the poems will be legible. So here is the poem:
In the market
in the square
must be here
dusk and time
to go home
goes home with them
and also stays
faint in the air
even after he’s seen
the doll’s just a doll
the policeman keeps
checking all night
is the baby
under dropped rags
behind those old boards
under these thinnest of sticks
Breathe from Your Diaphragm, My
But I couldn’t find it, the belly
supposed to round out
as breath swelled in,
press in as a breath rounded out.
Mine hollowing in
as breath inched in,
and in till breath
The back of my tongue
to send tone through my nose,
my face to look one way
while saying another.
But first I must breathe
from the belly,
so never got
to the tongue or the face, so he never
said, Now, start talking.
MS: This all sounds amazing; I can't wait to see the final product. Thanks so much for providing a window into how a poet might hook up with an artist to creat something beautiful on the page/screen.
Molly Tenenbaum is the author of three poetry collections, The Cupboard Artist, Now, and By a Thread. Her work appears in many journals, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Best American Poetry 1991, Black Warrior Review, Crab Creek Review, Cutbank, The Mississippi Review, New England Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and Willow Springs. Recent honors include a 2013 4culture grant to collaborate with artist Ellen Ziegler in producing a limited-edition artist book of Exercises To Free the Tongue, her collection of poems centered on her paternal grandparents’ careers as ventriloquists on the vaudeville circuit. She also plays old-time banjo: her CDs are Instead of a Pony and Goose & Gander. She teaches English at North Seattle Community College and music in her living room.
Ellen Ziegler is a multimedia artist whose practice includes the making of artist’s books. She is currently working on a project with poet Molly Tenenbaum on vaudeville-era ventriloquism. Recent books include “El Torero y La Bailarina”, hand-typed in Mexico City, “IMBUE”, a collaboration with poet/musician Patti Smith and poet Frances McCue, and “On ‘Auguries of Innocence’” with Patti Smith. Her work is in special collections libraries of institutions and universities across the country, including Baylor, Cal Poly, Carlton College, Harvard, Mills College Center for the Book, Rutgers, University of Washington, Yale, and many private collections. She received the First Place Juror’s Purchase Award at the Brand 40 Competition in 2011. She is represented by SOIL Gallery and Cullom Gallery in Seattle; her books are represented by Vamp and Tramp, Birmingham, Alabama.