Brad Richard

recorded in New Orleans, LA

 

Brad Richard

This is Brad Richard in New Orleans. I have been here most of my life. My father took a job here at the University of New Orleans teaching fine art in 1975. I was young. I was, what, 6th grade. So I grew up here, graduated from high school here, and then went to the Midwest for college and graduate school at University of Iowa and Washington University. And then one of my old high school teachers offered me a job and I was like, “Well, a job in New Orleans. Huh. I hadn’t thought about moving back there. So maybe I’ll go back for a year,” and that was in 1991 and it’s now 2010, so I have been teaching in New Orleans for 20 years.


The Knox Writers’ House

How does the interplay with visual art influence your writing?


Richard

Oh, that started early. My father’s a painter, so I was around his work all the time, I was around visual artists all the time, and I got an education in visual arts. And I was interested. My father was lucky. It wasn’t like he had this kid around who wasn’t interested in what he was doing. And good thing, too, because he was painting in the dining room for a long time. I never wanted to be a visual artist. I dabbled with photography for a while, in high school, but kept the interest. When I got to college, and was lucky to take art history courses, I really loved learning all that stuff.


KWH

So, what is it like writing with a piece of visual art in mind? How does that open your mind in ways that only just an idea for a poem doesn’t? How does ekphrastic work expand on the original piece?


Richard

I love ekphrastic poetry and in much of what I had written before Motion Studies, what I loved was another way of not writing about myself. Another way of imaginatively going into other material the way you would with a persona poem, just letting go of me and going off into the world of the painting. In my first book, there’s on ekphrastic poem about a painting by Egon Schiele, the great Austrian painter who’s known mostly for really creepy self portraits and nudes. They’re beautiful but very disturbing. This one is a landscape called Four Trees, and it’s very pretty but slightly somber, autumn colors, and there are four trees. Three of them just look like normal trees in autumn and the other one is dying.  So I wrote a poem about that, which I wrote in the voice of the trees. So that’s what I mean about enjoying going totally into the imaginative aspect. With Motion Studies, it was different, as I said in introducing one of those poems. I saw the Thomas Eakins retrospective at the Met in 2002. I didn’t really know Eakins’ work that well, and IO saw Swimming, and I really couldn’t decide if I loved this painting or I fucking hated it, you know? It was really perfect, it was really classical, it was also really academic, you know, what is going on? It’s homoerotic; it’s not. It’s like, what are you trying to do to me? So like I said in that introduction, that just led to a couple years of research and actually driving to Fort Worth where the painting lives and all this.  And then when I started writing about it, I ended up writing a lot of really personal stuff about me and my relationships.


KWH

So the opposite of what you were writing before?


Richard

The opposite, yes. But that interestingly led me –that allowed me different ways into the painting than I had had before.


Narcissus to Echo by Reginald Shepherd

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