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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Poet-in-Residence Elizabeth Bradfield to teach upcoming class

“How can art and literature, often the most solitary of pursuits for the creator, matter in the public realm? How can we contribute to the public lives of our communities as artists or supporters of the arts?” These questions, and more, are the pivotal topics of one of Brandeis’ newest classes, Broadsides, Public Art and Non-Traditional Publishing, coming this spring semester under the instruction of Poet-in-Residence Elizabeth Bradfield.

The class will focus on the historical application of art and literature, with a large focus on the “broadside” itself, and how it can be used as a method of communication with the general public.

“There is a lot of great writing about public art, and I’m looking forward to discussing those ideological frameworks,” Bradfield said. As editor-in-chief of her own online literary publication, Bradfield also has an extensive background in the field of publishing, which she believes “will be helpful for students interested in publishing to get to peek behind the curtain of what happens at an established press.”

Historically, a broadside was a large, one-sided poster and the preferred method of public broadcasting between the 16th and 19th centuries, serving a variety of purposes ranging from the announcement of proclamations to pure, unadulterated advertising. Broadsided Press, an organization launched in 2005 by Bradfield herself, while she was living in Alaska, serves to revive the long-lost artform.

“In Anchorage, where I was living, it was hard to find copies of current journals in bookstores, and I knew that for people living in more rural areas of Alaska, it would be even harder,” she said. “I wanted to create a publication that made poetry and art easily available to people, that put broadsides in spaces where someone who doesn’t seek out poetry or art might stumble upon it.”

Today, Broadsided Press continues to produce and distribute literature and art out on the streets through a network of talented editors, artists, writers, designers and dedicated volunteers, who are deemed “vectors.” On the first of every month, Broadsided Press releases a new visual and literary collaboration to their website, BroadsidedPress.org, which the vectors can then download, print and post in public settings in the traditional style of the broadside, though by untraditionally incorporating the truly ubiquitous influence of poetry.

“I think that poetry is not esoteric or elitist, but an art form that can speak deeply and movingly to any reader,” she said. “I wanted to facilitate the opportunity for more people to discover that.” Since its inception in 2005, Broadsided Press has gained a foothold in nearly every state, as well as several foreign countries, including Finland, Japan and Chile.

When she is not teaching, Bradfield often works as a naturalist, both locally on Cape Cod and on global expedition ships. “Moving back and forth between those two worlds is energizing for me,” Bradfield said. “I love being outside doing fieldwork or sharing what I know about, say, northern gannets with people who are beginning to learn about them, whether they are 12 or 67.” Bradfield’s relationship with science, art and the humanities offers a genuinely unique perspective in her poetry among her other works. Traditionally viewed as separate schools of thinking and seemingly separate ways of life altogether, “both fields—poetry and science—are about looking and fumbling toward understanding. They’re both about investigation, so the fit for me seems natural,” she made clear.

In the past four years, Broadsided Press has hosted the annual event “Responses,” where readers can submit pieces of fiction, prose, poetry and other works in response to works of art that in some way encompass a global crisis of the time.

“As a writer who loves visual art, I’ve always been curious about what an artist might ‘do’ with my own poems, so I figured that other writers might have the same curiosity—and that visual artists might feel the same. At Broadsided, I get to provide that opportunity,” Bradfield said. This year’s responses are intended to reflect on the severity of the Syrian Civil War and the staggering number of individuals displaced by the violence. In past years, “Responses” has covered issues such as the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

“We had such amazing responses to all of the visual work. I don’t want to say more, but come visit the site to see the collaborations that resulted and let us know, via Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, what you think,” she said. This year’s collaborative submissions are expected to be published on the Broadsided Press website this Monday, Nov. 16.

When asked her reasoning on the importance of the continuation of study and application of poetic language in contemporary curriculum, Bradfield responded, “Poetry is an art form that is expected to connect observation and emotion, and I think that our practical, data-driven world needs more of that. More wise explorations of why things startle, sadden, overjoy, enrage or delight us. Poetry also insists on a close attention to language. Because every word counts, and because poems are most often fairly short, writers can see how a preposition in one line impact the adjective five lines down. Poetry deepens an understanding of how language works, and that’s a skill that can be used in every aspect of life.”

For those either intrigued by the history or present of public art and its various media or interested in exploring a new and exciting area of study, look no further than Broadsides, Public Art and Non-Traditional Publishing in the spring. Though slowly but surely losing its influence in modern society, poetry, as both a form of art and communication, remains a vital source of inspiration and mental exercise for the literarily and scientifically-minded individuals alike.

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