Mutanabbi Street Broadsides

We recently finished up a broadside project for the Mutanabbi Street Coalition, a group of artists and writers working to raise money for Doctors Without Borders that was galvanized by the 2007 car-bomb attack on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, an area of artisans and booksellers.

You can learn more about the Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project here.

Our broadside was designed and printed by Amaranth Borsuk from photopolymer plates made in-house and printed on Somerset Velvet Paper. It features a poem by Carol Muske-Dukes and hand-stitching by visual artist Amy Bouse.

Check out these pictures of the finished products! No two are alike.

Here is what Amaranth has to say about the project:

When Linda asked me to put a broadside together for the Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project, I thought about the history of bookselling on Al-Mutannabi Street in Baghdad and about the art of binding—the way it holds together languages and people. I asked Carol Muske-Dukes (www.carolmuskedukes.com), the current California State Poet Laureate, if she would be interested in giving me a poem to print, and she responded enthusiastically, sending me “Outside Santa Fe,” from her 1997 book An Octave Above Thunder.

When I received Carol’s poem, I was surprised at the many resonances between what is clearly a deeply personal poem about the loss of a loved one and the public tragedy of the 2007 Mutanabbi Street bombing. From the outlaws “firing their pistols into the air,” an ineffectual triumphant gesture, to the injunction to “hear and translate” with which she ends the poem, I was struck by the way an experience “Outside Santa Fe” in 1997 echoed an event that would happen a decade later and thousands of miles away. At the emotional core of the poem, the poet expresses awe for the way we seem to obey the voice of a master we can’t see, a voice whose commands we “willingly, dangerously, obey.”

I am inspired by the dramatic central image of the way we learn to do what seems deeply against our nature, like the horse learning to fall and play dead for purposes that, to it, must be beyond comprehension. Because of the context of the broadside, one can’t help but see an image of the futility of war, with its soldiers like “a pack trained // to act on command.” Yet that final image pulls upward even as it depicts a fall. The addressee has the power “to / re-make this world,” through language, through what is “hear[d] and translate[d].” Thus even as she mourns, the speaker acknowledges both a power and a need to rise up from catastrophe—to listen for the voice “an octave above thunder” that helps the individual overcome tremendous obstacles.

This dual reading of the poem gave me the image of the thunderclouds looming over the poem. I invited Amy Bouse (www.amybouse.com), a painter and fiber artist based in LA, to collaborate with me on the project, and her stitchings, each of which is unique, enact the binding together of three generations of women artists and perhaps bind some of those wounds inflicted in 2007. When she first saw the finished broadsides, Linda noted that the wild threads bring out the emotional violence of the poem. Each stitching has a life of its own, and they offer multiple reading possibilities–suggesting in some cases a disobedient streak or a flash of lightning illuminating the storm, to name just a few possibilities.

The project has been a rewarding experience for all three of us, and we are grateful that Otis Lab Press and the Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project made it possible.

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