Longsuffering: The Collaboration between Poet John Poch and Artist J. Eric Simpson
"Longsuffering is intentional, though. Certainly, I’d rather for a work to be done as quickly as possible. But knowing my limitations, I force myself to keep looking; keep realizing my errors and my flaws and my lack of skill. Just as in any physical exercise, you train and you can get better."
Hannah Dean: How were you introduced to each other’s work?
J. Eric Simpson: Joe Arredondo introduced me to John as an undergraduate while I was working with Johnnie Thurston--if I remember correctly. Maybe he knew somehow that John and I would end up working together ... that kind of seems like a Joe thing to do. Anyhow, John and I have always kept in touch and he has always given me good feedback on my work, we've even made a few art for poemtrades back in the day. I guess this project has been a long time coming, really.
John Poch: I met Eric through a TTU grad artist, Johnnie Thurston. They were in a collaborative show at LHUCA. I liked Eric’s work, but I think Johnnie’s experience tended to give him a clear edge, so I didn’t think that much of Eric, truthfully. He seemed too much in Johnnie’s shadow. But I kept seeing Eric's work around Lubbock, and he started collaborating with a student of mine, the poet, Nick Pierce, and the work they were doing made me extremely jealous. Eric kept growing as an artist, and each work I saw seemed more and more idiosyncratic and polished. Eric had sewn together an actual, beautiful book, and it was well-crafted. I knew I had to work with him, but I wasn’t sure how. I found out that Eric did a mission trip down in Peru, and when I saw how sacrificingly passionate he was for the lives of others, I knew we had a common bond in our Christian brotherhood--beyond art, so I started thinking that we HAD to make a book together. I didn’t want someone just to give a physical presence to my words. I wanted someone who understood more deeply and spiritually the words I was writing.
HD: John, where does “longsuffering” emerge in your writing?
JP: I’m a pretty patient writer. I’ll let drafts of individual poems sit for months and even years, re-visiting them and revising intensely and lightly, by turns. I realize my limitations: I’m not very talented, so I have to keep working and working on something to be good. I know a lot of people who have fine first drafts; I’m not one of them. Longsuffering is intentional, though. Certainly, I’d rather for a work to be done as quickly as possible. But knowing my limitations, I force myself to keep looking; keep realizing my errors and my flaws and my lack of skill. Just as in any physical exercise, you train and you can get better.
HD: In the kick-starter video, you mention that the notion of “longsuffering” is derived from biblical ideas of patience, devotion, and how these play out in the work of the artist. How do you see notions of this kind of artistic, personal endurance in Eric’s [John's] work, specifically?
JES: Can I answer this one for John? I think I should. John's poems show us what it means to be a human being trying to make sense of this bizarre thing we call life. I think John has the ability to direct us through the valleys of life, through the dark stuff, the stuff we all want to avoid. The interesting thing is, and here is where I think the biblical ideas of patience (particularly perseverance) come in. His work embraces these things as a part of life. I think John, and therefore his poems, address that the valleys of life are not arbitrary, but can be fruitful experiences that ultimately bring us closer to our Creator.
JP: Eric works in almost every media he can get his hands on, and even stuff you put your whole body into (performance). His work with Land Arts of the American West this fall and spring culminated in finished projects in video, performance, installation, photography, sculpture, earthwork, drawing, architecture, and more. I have never seen an artist get so much quality work done in such a short amount of time. And during all this work, we were putting together the idea for the book and the prototype of the book itself. He spent more than an entire day sewing the binding and making the boards and fastening it all together. And a work day for him is certainly beyond 8 hours! I know he has a cot in his studio up at school, so he can keep working for longer stretches if need be, not wasting time by going home to Shallowater.
HD: Through the use of hand-made, laboriously intense books, what do you hope to accomplish? Describe the process of making a book
JES: I find that the labor intensive nature of making books becomes a reflection of this longsuffering process that John and I hope to get at with the project. I mean when you have to consider every stitch, every cut, and every mistake that goes into making a book: you really have to ask yourself if it is worth the trouble. But I think it is important to go through this because I want my viewers to hold an object that looks and feels like it's been labored over and I want this tactile object to create an experience which adds another layer to the content in the book.
JP: It’s funny that you use the word “use” here. I think books are mostly “useless”. And that is the great thing about them. When you are reading them (or looking at the photographs), you aren’t getting stuff done. It’s not business as usual. If you become immersed in a book, you enter a timeless space and a consciousness like no other. You leave your quotidian life behind. Reading is a spiritual realm. And this, I think, puts even more pressure on us to make a good book. The few parts in the Divine Comedy where Dante nearly passes out have to do with his awareness that he is writing a book and that he needs to be extremely careful that he guide his readers to Heaven and away from Hell. I’m not saying that our book is a guide for living, but we do hope it will make people ponder more deeply the joys of enduring hardship and overcoming failure in this very complex and difficult life we’ve been given. But not just intellectually. I want it to work aesthetically. I want readers to say, that’s a beautiful image (with both the poetry and the photography).
HD: Can you give us a “teaser”?
Images provided by J. Eric Simpson