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The Road of the Desert Flow

I wish to tell you the story of a book that has traveled for many years and countries and has taken its shape by many uncommon chances, casualties, serendipities and love. The poet, Charlotte Hart and the artist Adrian Caldera started a digital era yet a bit retro epistolary collaboration by email. Not a trace of personal or formal words, just an exchange of inspiration guided by their art. I will try to explain: It works asynchronously like this; In the Juarez desert a digital artwork piece is born, then without the hindrance of politics and borders it is sent. Arrives at the inbox and waits for who knows how much time an answer, then now unread and inspired by this; the poet in Chicago replies with a poem and viceversa. Imagination of the landscape and beautiful personal stories took shape for the 78 poems and art pieces that were finally compiled in the book. These are just the tip of the iceberg. there are so many more, they just keep going in this communication. Inspiration is obscure and difficult to find for most but not for them, it is fruitful.

A place to begin this story may be by saying that the completion of Desert Flow the book was a road determined by chance. let me start:

Introduction to the Publication of Desert Flow, The Poetry of Abstract Digital Art:

From Sonat Birnecker Hart, Charlotte Hart’s daughter, to Tem Horwitz, publisher of Cloud Hands Press.

(Charlotte Hart) is an accomplished artist and poet (she has had art in the Smithsonian and a solo show at the Art Institute, among galleries in Berlin and elsewhere, and her poetry has been published in a number of American and international poetry magazines over the years). She stumbled into a very interesting project in the form of an artistic correspondence over Twitter with an artist in Mexico. They would communicate with each other through their art alone. He does abstract art and she would comment on it through poetry. They did not know anything about each other but communicated for years through the art exchanges alone. This connection between art and poetry, Mexico and America, abstract and literal, distance and intimacy, could have only happened in our digital social media age and while it reflects our times, it is also representative of the timeless correspondence of artistic personalities and art as a means of communication. The award- winning poet, Albert Goldbarth has written a blurb recommending the book.

The renowned poet whos honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has won the National Book Critics Circle award, the only poet to receive the honor two times. He also won the Mark Twain Award for Humorous Poetry, awarded by the Poetry Foundation, in 2008.

Goldbarth has the characteristic of always writing on a typewriter not being bothered by keyboards and digital screens found and recommended the book.

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The poems in the book took shape through many years, there wasn't any plan; as life went on hardships and events kept going, almost breaking the creative relationship this is the poet on how it developed and endured:

The creative relationship of Charlotte Hart and Adrian Caldera at the request of Cloud Hands Press.

“I first saw the art of Adrián Caldera on Twitter in the spring of 2018. I wrote a tiny poem inspired by his work and retweeted his art with it.

At the time, my husband, who was fourteen years older than me, was a very sick man. I was my husband’s caregiver for many years. I slept in a hospital chair or on the floor of his room at the rehab center on a foam pad, later by his hospital bed in our living room. The last five years of his life, he was bedridden. I loved my husband, whom I met when I was fifteen years old. I wanted to care for him.

I have responded to many artist’s work with poetry on Twitter since 2009.

Unlike with other artists that I responded to on the internet, Adrián and I responded with art and poetry frequently.

Caregiving was sometimes lonely. Bob couldn’t hear or see for his last year; but, he knew that I was with him.

I began to look forward to receiving Caldera’s art. I was inspired to write the poems. The poems were freeing to me.

Caldera sent art and I’d write a poem. Sometimes he’d disappear for five or six days. Then, he’d send art. There were no explanations and no need of them. Just, art and poetry. His digital art was completely abstract. Looking at it’s beautiful colors and widely varying shapes gave me a door into my inner life.

Sometimes, sitting with Bob, the poems that I was creating were erotic. My love for my husband was strong as was my memory. I didn’t want to send the poems to Caldera for fear that he might think they were for him personally. I asked him if he could understand that the poems were my art, not directed to him in a personal way. He understood and agreed. He wrote that he would always respect me and my poetry. I trusted him. So, I proceeded to send my poems to a complete stranger in Mexico; and, he sent his art to me.

We began to dream of publishing our work together. That simple formula of emailing poetry and art continued in the alchemy of the internet. Our only other communication was an occasional comment of enthusiasm for each other’s work or expression of desire to show together or publish. In my isolation, sharing creative work was a blessing. It is a wonderful thing to have another soul truly interested in my poetry and desiring to see more. It was inspiring. I was inspired by his art. There was reciprocity and equality.

Seven months after first sending our work to each other, my husband died. We had been married almost fifty-three years. Happy years. I emailed Adrián Caldera and said that he wouldn’t hear from me as I mourned.

After some time, I wrote asking to see Adrián’s art again. We resumed sending our creative work to each other. Over a year and a half of that pattern, I began to feel that I needed to know something about Adrián Caldera. To me, he was totally abstract. I asked him to please tell me about himself. He sent a photo of his Mexican national identity card which contained his picture, address, etc. He told me that he was married twice and separated from his second wife. He wrote that he has seven children, four from the first wife and three from the second. He worked as a photographer and taught at a college.

We have continued to send art and poetry to each other. Desert Flow, The Poetry of Abstract Digital Art is the first of many collections that we have made. I began to study Spanish.

Caldera’s art flowed to me on the North Shore of Chicago by Lake Michigan in the USA; and, my poetry flowed back to him in Juarez, Mexico in the Chihuahua Desert. He continues to write in English with enthusiasm about my poems. Sending poetry and art during the isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic has been liberating. Now, I sometimes attempt to praise Adrian’s art in my faulty Spanish. We don’t write about our personal lives or families; but, very recently, our correspondence has begun to include words of affection and tenderness. Adrian sends a wide range of music links to me in most emails. We have never met.”

Charlotte Hart, 2021

Adbar, Big Bend Chihuahuan Desert, size by no, CC BY-SA 3.0
Adbar, Big Bend Chihuahuan Desert, size by no, CC BY-SA 3.0

We also wanted to know about Caldera who was for us a mysterious figure, he is the co-author of the book we were publishing yet we knew almost nothing of him, in order to understand his take on this creative relationship and with persistence we received a conversation:

Writing by Adrián Caldera and Charlotte Hart to each other: Communication between Caldera and Hart occurs in emails, without dialogue. The following dialogue is rare, and the request of Cloud Hands Press.

Excerpt from an email from Charlotte Hart to Adrián Caldera on March 11, 2021

“We have known each other and remained unknown at the same time. This magical relationship has interested the publisher. He wanted to know how we developed a relationship only sharing art and poetry, not really knowing each other. He asked me to write about it in prose. I tried; but, I didn’t like what I wrote because it was only from my perspective. I told the publisher that your perspective was as essential as mine. I have written some thoughts. I will send them to you tomorrow. Think of it Adrián, we essentially didn’t know each other except our art and poetry. Even until this past December, we seldom expressed personal things. I do not wish to be too specific about the personal aspects of our relationship to anyone. Yet, the publisher says that it’s an essential part of the story of the book.

He wants to know, from your perspective, what your life was like before we began sending our art to each other. What you felt about my poetry. He wants to know how we maintained the unique sending of art and poetry excluding the elements of personal conversation. Even now, I know little about your life. That has actually worked in our favor in some ways, I think. We relate in art and poetry and have so much freedom and inspiration as we appreciate each other’s work and it inspires our own! Tomorrow I’ll send you my thoughts. Begin to think of your own. How has our shared creative life developed for you since spring 2018? These thoughts will be written as a forward to Desert Flow.

Adrián, you have been my artist, my friend, my encouragement, inspiration and more…”

The following is a copy of the complete email response from artist Adrián Caldera to Charlotte Hart, March 12, 2021.

“Querida Carlota, Cherished Charlotte. I believed in You since the first time I saw and read

You, you where the Contemporary American Poet, the XXI Century Woman, the omnipresente Mujer norteamericana, the Culture One, the only person in this World that understand what is Art about, what is Poetry about, You where the Dreamed Woman, the ideal of Musa. The Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Great Lakes, the Desert all the Women.

You colored my Dreams with Poetry, because my Art are my Dreams and You where there, maybe there’s distance, maybe Time exists, but in the meanwhile, We where having a Life unparalleled, our conversaciones in the mornings, throughout the internet We where building roads and bridges and castles, of pure Art. That is called Life. Now You and I have grown like the trees in the forest but stand still against all odds, because We respect each other, We Admire each other, We believe in each other. We are Art, We belong to the ages...

Te Abrazo Fuerte Carlota Querida…”

Their relationship was important, art was important, most of all the conversations between art and poetry. So the meaning of the medium, the technology behind it, on the subject we were fortunate to have the insight and foreword of the book written by Dr Ethan Plaut who is a scholar of computational media with expertise in disconnection and communication avoidance, technology ethics, and journalism. Next is an Excerpt of his foreword on the book”

“ Hart and Caldera's work is fundamentally not in the medium of email; it uses email as a mode of transportation. This is clear when one learns, for example, that although Hart often simply pasted the text of her poems into the body of an email, she would instead attach a document if the poem required any peculiar formatting. But nonetheless there is some essential spirit of correspondence, and the mode of transportation may be important in other ways. At the speed email travels, the two-thousand kilometers between them would've passed in an instant, imperceptible as a delay yet pivotal as a reminder that technology will never conquer space or time. The rhythm of this book, despite overflowing with love and being created at the pace of the post, is not quite the rhythm of love letters. There is no extraneous banter. The book's rhythm feels more like an exquisite game of correspondence chess, with the poet and artist taking turns to find their next move with days and weeks between. ”

Ethan Plaut, Oct. 1, 2021, Auckland, Aotearoa NZ

There is another aspect of the road of the Desert Flow book that is also very contemporary, Ever since its inception it was clear that the book was going to be a bilingual edition. The poet felt that a translation was pivotal to the vision. She had such love for the Spanish language that embarking on the nuances and details of the translation was another delight and joie de vivre. So much so that a recruiting of a bunch of Spanish speaking collaborators with different nationalities and backgrounds started appearing, they were different and they by love for the work started the arduous work of translating the poems.

I was by chance one of those collaborators, to my surprise, I fortuitously met the poet, introduced by the amazing Sandra Barreto who felt the need to enlist me casually then (I ended up much more involved…). So the three of us engaged in video meetings, sessions of a work that now we recall as bliss. We went through each of the poems and felt and thought of them in two languages, with the amazing opportunity to speak with the author and with curiosity we tried to unveiled the intricacies and foremost share the deep sensibility that emanated from them; everytime we finished a session we could just exclaim how wonderful is this!

Crowdsourced poetry translation for “Desert Flow.”

“...Usually, the translation of a book to another language is the interpretation of a single translator. The Spanish translation of “Desert Flow, The Poetry of Abstract Digital Art,” was crowdsourced in dialogue with Charlotte Hart. The translators came to the work, each with a new and personal understanding. The poems became a living dialogue engaged with by many. The process was pleasurable, the kind of pleasure that comes from seeking answers and enjoying the discovery. It was an intimate approach of one culture to another in the framework of creativity. The sharing of poetic discovery and understanding created friendships.

“Desert Flow” includes a few poems translated by Adrián Caldera and José Luis Domínguez, both from Mexico. Wendy Hiza Alvarez and Salim Hiza, from Honduras, re-visited the already translated poems, and thoughtfully translated the whole book. Sandra Barreto, editor at Cloud Hands Press, Laura Barreneche, and Camilo Cortes, all from Colombia, added their insight and edited the poems. All of the translators except Adrián Caldera and José Luis Domínguez worked with me on Zoom. I began our Zoom meetings, at the request of the translators and editors, by reading each individual poem aloud in English. The translators asked questions and considered how the poem resonated in Spanish. We shared enthusiasm for the process. The meaning, intent and music of the words were considered, not only a literal transferal to Spanish. The translators discussed interpretation, made suggestions of nuance, rhyme and rhythm in Spanish to correspond to the English. All the original translation remained and it grew. It was digital and organic at once. Each translated poem has many heartbeats. Perhaps the translation will overshadow the original.”

Charlotte Hart

July 26, 2021

Everything resolves in the book, The editing and design all of it was made with much care and respect, with space where the artwork could shine, and the poetry could breath. The translation was given the same treatment as the original words. An object we feel proud of

You can get a copy of the book in our Shop


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