Open-Air Publishing

Broadsides turn poetry into guerrilla art

| September-October 2010

  • Open-Air Publishing Image

    Elizabeth Bradfield

  • Open-Air Publishing Image

Amid the endless barrage of advertisements and byte-sized news that has come to define modern life, innovative independent publishers continue to find ways to thread literature into the social fabric. Lately, the impulse to bring literature into people’s daily lives has resulted in the rise of open-air publishing ventures like Broadsided, a monthly literature-and-art project that has gone global.

Founded in 2005 by Elizabeth Bradfield, a poet who lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Broadsided brings together writers, visual artists, and anyone interested in “putting literature and art on the streets,” as the project’s slogan states. “Dana Gioia’s essay ‘Can Poetry Matter?’ has nagged me for years,” says Bradfield, whose venture also welcomes prose. “Of course it can. I thought that perhaps if people ran into poetry on the streets, if poetry was paired with something eye-catching . . . then maybe I could persuade them that literature and art can speak to them directly and viscerally.”

Drawing from the rich history of the broadside, once a popular means of occasional publishing before the Civil War and later used as a political tool by writers of the Harlem Renaissance and the Beats, Broadsided has fashioned its own virtual grassroots approach to disseminating the word. The process begins with a small editorial team, including Bradfield, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Sean Hill, and Mark Temelko, who select works to publish from e-mailed submissions of poetry and short prose. The group then invites artists to respond to accepted pieces with original artwork for the broadsides.

On the first of every month, a new broadside is posted on the project’s website. The jump from page to public stage is ultimately facilitated by “vectors,” interested folks who can download the PDFs and print and post them at will. Broadsides have been tacked on office doors, placed in waiting rooms, left on airplanes, and even slipped, guerrilla style, between the pages of newspapers and magazines.

 “What subversive fun to have poetry and art in a newspaper insert, when what you expect are ads for computer gear and cheap socks,” says Bradfield.

Vectors have already posted broadsides across six continents, in Chile, Japan, England, and Finland, as well as the Australian island of Tasmania. At home in the United States, Broadsided has appeared in urban centers including New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as small towns such as Healy, Alaska, whose population is fewer than a thousand. “Each month I post the new Broadsided on a community bulletin board in the post office lobby, and it’s up there among all the other signs from rural life,” says Healy vector Christine Byl. “I see people stopping to read it and know it might very well be the only poem they see all month. I love that.”

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