Interview with Sally Deskins and Laura Madeline Wiseman,
Authors of Intimates and Fools
Interview by Kristina Marie Darling
Tell me about the logistics of your collaboration. Were the artworks created first, followed by the poems, or vice versa? Was the collaboration done long distance or in person?
Sally Deskins: Madeline wrote the first draft of the poem in 2013.
Laura Madeline Wiseman: Sally had completed a couple of the body prints that appear in the book prior to our collaboration.
SD: The whole collaborative project was done long distance—I’d met Madeline in person in Nebraska a few years ago while producing Lit Undressed. I included a few of her poems in this live reading event, and since then was a big fan of her writing, inviting her to participate in other readings, and even one exhibition.
LMW: I was a fan of all things Les Femme Folles once I found out about the organization and all the great work LFF does to support women artists, like Lit Undressed of which I was lucky enough to be included.
SD: Right before I moved across the country to West Virginia, she asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a book, and I thought, of course! This would be a great project for me to linger on while in the midst of finding my way in a new place. Once she sent me her finished manuscript, my family was on the road to our new place, so I printed and brought it with me, making notes and sketches as we drove from the Midwest to Northeast. Once my family arrived, I began creating and sent Madeline images of my work as I went, in progress. She would send me some feedback, ideas and encouragement.
LMW: That was the part I loved! Every few days, Sally would send something to my inbox titled “more” and “what I’m working on” and “breast cups.” Each new piece of art was fun, fresh, and exciting. I changed my desktop background each time to admire her new creations. I loved seeing her creativity transform a word from a poem—a piano, a cup, a bathroom, water balloons—into a full body print and illustration. I was amazed by her productivity.
SD: This was last summer when my kids were home from school, we didn’t know anyone in the Northeast, and my family of four lived in a 900 square foot apartment—nothing to complain about—but when you’re accustomed to this size of studio area alone, your work is going to change. So I made work quickly during naptime, a stroke here and a watercolor here, some text while they played, and finally finished last fall of 2013. Madeline—I can’t remember, did you write the poem for Intimates & Fools while teaching at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln or on residency?
LMW: I wrote the first draft while I was teaching at UNL, revised it that spring term of 2013, and sent you the final version after the semester was over, but the majority of our correspondences occurred while you were in your new apartment in the Northeast and I was a fellow at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico.
How did each of you respond to the work your collaborator was producing? Did your vision for the project change, shift, or expand as you worked together?
SD: My vision definitely shifted and changed as I went. I began thinking I would just illustrate or text my body prints (an art series which I had been working on for the past couple of years). As I began, text played a larger role, and I began illustrating intimate-wear by itself in a more focused fashion than is my body-prints which is much more chance-driven and expressive. I used watercolor, one page with my children’s watercolor as background, to achieve a lighter feel. Each page was done and redone many times. The whole project changed.
Madeline I remember you saying at a reading that you had a vision of the stanzas being together, but when you saw my work, read it differently. Could you describe that more in depth?
LMW: Sure! While I was in Taos, Sally was finalizing the art, but had not yet decided upon the text. She sent several ideas about how the text might look. My one request was that the text be readable—whether it was handwritten or laid out in a standard font. Poets, of course, think about how a poem appears in terms of stanzas and line breaks. Line breaks and stanzas make meaning. For example, when I teach poetry, we discuss the tension of the line and the tension of the sentence and how those two work together. However, the line becomes more complicated when considering a visual collaboration. How does one decide how a stanza or a line appears when coupled with art? The page transforms. It’s no longer just white space.
Ultimately, Sally decided to handwrite the poems—a decision I loved. When she illustrated the poem, she broke the lines where it made sense from a visual artistic and literary perspective. It was a “changing, shifting, and expanding” moment for me as a poet, because her visual presentation of the poem was not what I had typed into the computer when it was my poem alone. And yet, this was a collaboration. Sally’s art was being transformed to tell a story about bras and suddenly, so was my poetry.
I trusted Sally’s creative vision. The first time I had the opportunity to read from Intimates & Fools, my reading changed as well. The art gave me occasion to pause on pages, to add in commentary, and to emphasize words and phrases I might not otherwise if the poetry and art didn’t mesh together so well, if that white space hadn’t been transformed into something new.
I love that the book takes a seemingly mundane subject (women's undergarments and lingerie) an imbues it with personal, political, and aesthetic significance. What drew you to this subject matter? Did the subject of the book emerge collaboratively, or was one of you the mastermind?
SD: Madeline was the mastermind of the subject matter, but for my part, she knew I was an artist who focuses on the body, so the topic was right up my alley. It was fun this time, because now I was examining clothing’s—or moreover—underclothing’s role with the body, body image, femininity, and feminism.
Madeline, I think you came to the topic via Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014); is that right?
LMW: Yes, I did have Sally’s art in mind from the first. Early on, we exchanged several ideas on the book’s topic. One idea that I thought might work was a retelling bluebeard, but as I was pulling poems and organizing a sequence, it quickly became apparent to me that what I had was a full-length book of poems, far too long for the type of project Sally and I had in mind. I set that idea aside to come back to—and it’s a good thing I did because my book was accepted and published by Lavender Ink this year—but, without Sally’s body prints and our collaboration foremost on my mind, I might never have thought: You know, I should write a book about bluebeard. Back at the drawing board, we revisited some of our original ideas. I wrote and wrote, sending Sally a few poems and sequences that might work. I also included a long poem about bras. It was a fun piece—provocative, fun, flirty. When I sent that last email, I knew this was the one we should do collaboratively. And we did.
I noticed that the book was published by Les Femmes Folles Books. Was the design and visual presentation of the book a collaborative endeavor? How did your ongoing dialogue shape the book as a physical object?
SD: It was collaborative, thanks to our designer. I created all of the pages and had them planned in the order as they are, but Madeline made a suggestion that made the end product work better as a real book.
LMW: When we received one of the early proofs of the book, I suggested we might add some erased words and phrases to the cover art Sally had selected and illustrated. It just made sense to have that luscious, layering effect on the cover when it was so much of the interior art. Sally and the designer agreed.
How did you negotiate the "business" side of the collaboration (journal submissions, finding a publisher, getting the book reviewed, etc.)?
SD: We have both been working hard on sending out the book for review (if anyone reading this is interested, get in touch!), doing interviews, and having Intimates & Fools featured in various journals. The publisher, Les Femmes Folles Books, is a part of my organization, Les Femmes Folles, which supports women in all forms, styles and levels of art. LFFB has published three anthologies of art and just began releasing collaborative books of work featuring a writer and artist pair.
For April, LFF did a “Our Intimates and Our Fools” series to celebrate National Poetry Month which was really incredible. Every day I got to post a poem and a piece of art by different writers and artists inspired by undergarments. The outcome was really amazing—the breadth of perspectives on this topic is incredible!
LMW: It was amazing! When Sally and I began collaborating on Intimates & Fools, I thought that there must be other artists and writers who wrote about undergarments or made art featuring the intimate apparel we wear, but I didn’t really realize how many cool other women were doing such work. In seeing each new post during the month of April, I felt like I was part of this great community of women making art about the body. Lauren Rindaldi makes this gorgeous series of women in underwear. She calls them her “Cheeky” sketches. Sara Henning writes luscious poems about the body and has one in the series on lingerie. There’s also work by Kayla Sargeson, Fran Higgins, Rachel Mindrup, and many more.
SD: You can still view all of the posts on Les Femmes Folles. A portion of the art and poetry might be included in the next Les Femmes Folles anthology (which will come out in March 2014). I believe Madeline is going to have a contest on Goodreads soon, is that right?
LMW: Yes, there will be a Goodreads giveaway that begins the first weekend in August.
What advice do you have for artists who are interested in collaborating across disciplines?
SD: Do it! Ask.
LMW: Yes, I agree!
SD: I have found so much has come simply from asking; even if someone isn’t interested, something else usually comes from it. Communication is a big part of creating. Once you get it going, you just have to get started and it will come together. It’s a really fun process to collaborate across disciplines, as many artists have done before to mix it up, to try something new, and to see their work in new ways—that is what artists do, so I really encourage it!
LMW: I just started collaborating with a new artist. At one of our first meetings, the artist talked about how collaborations push us to our edge. That’s exactly right. I’ve experimented with ekphrasis writing (e.g. writing that responds to art) for a long time, but working with an artist and writing and revising your work with the artist’s work in mind is a whole new experience. It makes you rethink and reconsider why your characterizing something one way, when you could characterize another way, why you might be creating a scene one way, when there’s another possible. That’s what’s so brilliant. You’re no longer working alone, but together, and that together takes both the art and writing somewhere new. It pushes my work in new directions and I love that.
What else are you working on? What else do readers have to look forward to?
SD: I’m currently at work creating more body-work and illustrations for our next collaborative book Leave of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection. Moving from fairy tale to kid book, film representation to fact, our forthcoming book tells the love story of two trees as they fall from a growing forest into the outstretched limbs of the other.
LMW: Yes, our new collaborative book has been so much fun! Sally’s new prints and illustrations are dazzling and I’ve only had the opportunity to see the early pieces and ideas—these fabulous body prints with leaves and sketches of trees.
SD: I am playing with body-printing with leaves, and drawing trees into the female figure, and lots of fun stuff. I’m also continuing to create work for my “What Will Her Kids Think?” series on motherhood and the body, as I have two exhibitions this summer in Charleston and in Pittsburgh. Madeline I know you are busy this summer too; what are you working on?
LMW: Beyond promoting Intimates & Fools, I’ve had a chapbook Spindrift (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and two other books released this year. My book Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014) is a campy, contemporary retelling of the Bluebeard myth that charts the love of three sisters who each marry the same man upon the demise of the sister who preceded her. Bluebeard is usually framed as a story of blood and gore, but Wiseman focuses on the love each of his unfortunate wives felt, the first blush of romance and young marriage, the complicated turns of mature desire and the past we bring into our present affections.
Opening with an epigraph from Charles Simic, “Lots of people around here have been taken for rides in UFOs, my newest book American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014) explores the sci-fi realm of Martians, crop circles, abductions, and how the human race faces an extra terrestrial invasion: “I don’t know/ what I’d do if Martians arrived at my door.” American Galactic charts the intergalactic tale right here at home. Find out about “The Left Boob of Largeness.” Learn “What do Martians Want.” Understand “Why not to Buy Martians Sundaes Topped with Cherries.” And ultimately enjoy these “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in this bold new collection of sci-fi poetry.