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… there is poetry in our surroundings and I think our job, our mission, is to listen for that and then go a step beyond…

Ramona Cearley

Learning Library Segments

Ramona Cearley, Borderlands Texas Poetry Journal

Primary Use of Medium: Storytelling & Awareness of Connection

Interviewer: Donna Wetegrove
Interview Location: Borderlands new office space just off South Congress in Austin's SoCo district on a hot Texas summer afternoon.
Interview Date: 9.5.06
Writer: Lori Henika
Videographer/Audio Editor: Josh Kinney

Inspiration
Art Form/Product
Green Aspects
Marketing Values
Special Offering
Additional Comments
Artist Profile

Inspiration

What Type Of Artist Do You See Yourself As?
"My work mainly involves the promotion and support of others."

"[Borderlands] is a print journal. But we promote artists, photographers, writers, poets, and a large, broad-based number of people who are interested not just in poetry, but in different types of visual art or writing."

How Did You Get Here?
Ramona volunteered to work with Borderlands in 1996 after taking a workshop from one of the founders, Dorothy Barnett. The journal was founded in 1992 by a group of graduate students in the Texas Center for Writers, now called the Michener Center. The students created the journal as a venue to publish their poetry, as well as address broader social and political issues during the first Gulf War of the early 1990s. Borderlands is run by an all-volunteer staff to which Ramona feels indebted, especially to Deb Akers, Christine Gilbert, Graham Stewart, and a long list of editors, poets and artists who make the journal possible. Ramona began as an Art Director, soliciting art series for publication in the journal, and currently serves as Director. The journal receives submissions from across the United States and around the world, and is published twice each year. The City of Austin cultural arts program provides funding in part for the publication of the journal.

Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?
Ramona's answer to this question is clear and direct: "Oh, from the people themselves. From the artists, writers, poets, photographers themselves. We not only believe in partnership and collaboration, we live our daily lives in that effort." One of these collaborations that Ramona details is with a group called Words Without Borders, an online publication based in New York. Borderlands aims to feature regional and international writers in speaking opportunities, and artists in touring exhibits. For example, in conjunction with a new anthology by Words Without Borders, Borderlands will co-sponsor a reading based on the anthology "Literature from the 'Axis of Evil,'" featuring writers published by Words Without Borders. Borderlands sees itself as an organization that contributes to artist exposure through their high quality and high standards, in spite of a very tight budget. Ramona notes that all earnings go directly back into the publication. Her hope is that the financial base can increase, so that they can reach an ever widening audience and support more and more artists.

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Art Form/Product

Why Do You Like The Medium?
"I love to listen. I love to listen to people's stories. I love to view their art. I like to absorb their creativity and I think that's one of the ways that I've developed as a person."

Does The Material Dictate The Design, Or Does Your Design Idea Dictate How The Material/Medium Is Used?
The overall format of Borderlands is consistent, but the number of pages and photographic series varies. The editors decide which pieces of writing and art are chosen for publication. These editors change on a one-year or two-year basis, and their personal tastes may influence the types of work published during their tenure. Editors are required to have a strong background in poetry either through publishing or academic experience. The board of directors serves a supporting role, but board members are not involved in the selection of poems for publication. Ramona explains the process by which Borderlands publishes twice a year: All entries must be hard copy and mailed in to Borderlands to preserve the integrity of the work, ensuring the artist's intention is carried out.

What Tools Are Required In Your Process?
Ramona names stamina as one of the qualities necessary for doing her job. To contribute to rising operating costs, Borderlands has had to reconsider selling advertising in the journal. Another initiative has been the development of promotional packets to use in approaching larger corporate funders to contribute to programs Borderlands is developing. One example is development of cultural exchange programs with artists and poets from other countries, including one inspired by artists who, at different times, visited Iceland and were themselves inspired by the country. The photographer, Bill Wright, made the trip in 2005, and made fast friends with Iceland's president, who together decided to initiate an exchange program. The composer, Steven Barber, wrote a composition for a 100-piece orchestra, and shared his experience with Bill. Thanks to their motivation, we are now seeking collaborators with whom this program can move forward, so Icelandic artists can visit Texas, and Texas artists can venture to Iceland. Additional cultural exchange programs are planned with Macedonia and Mexico.

Do You Consider It Functional Art?
"…art is an integral part of our daily lives. It's who we are. It defines us. And in that sense, it can't help but be a functional art."

Please Speak About The Connections In Your Work.
The single factor that Ramona mentions often is the importance of people in the success and development of Borderlands. "There's nothing sweeter, there's nothing more inspirational than getting to publish the work or promote the work of others. Other than meeting the actual people, that gets to the very core of my being, and that's why I love Borderlands."

Please Summarize Your Entire Process.
"The mission of the journal is to promote work of merit, but work of merit that shows an awareness of connection. …the work that we publish, whether it's spiritual or social or political or historical, expresses an inter-connectedness, and it's not poetry alone. It's all different types of art."

Do You Recommend What You Do As A Career Choice? … Why?
Ramona mentions that the work that Borderlands publishes is intended for a college-age, adult audience, while they feature interviews online for younger learners. "But it's not limited to our own expanse of mindfulness, and so … what we attempt to do it set up connections so that if one of the poets whom we feature is a classroom teacher, then we can introduce her to other poets or artists who can support or collaborate or partner with that particular person, and continue to develop."

Since Borderlands is a volunteer group, Ramona mentions career choices that can help develop the interest and skills for working in that sort of setting: copy editor, proofreader, editor, designer.

What Tips Might You Have For Someone New To The Medium? … How Best To Develop Their Interest?
For people interested in writing, Ramona advises them to write and to visit with and talk with other people with similar interests. She also suggests finding a mentor: "At least for me, life is so much more fun, not to mention easier, when there's someone else in our corner. I think it's extremely helpful to fully engage with someone who has our creative well being at heart.

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Green Aspects

Please Point Out Any "Green" Aspects Of Your Process And Your Medium.
"One of the things that we did recently in setting up this office space involves going through our storage room and culling through the papers. Some of the works that we've created, including an issue of each of the journals, have been sent to the Center for American History at UT and the Austin History Center locally, for archival purposes. So we're very happy about that."

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Marketing Values

Please Talk About Making Multiples Of A Creative Effort As A Part Of Your Business.
"We're more focused on the particular theme of the artist. We don't publish just individual images, but it's a series that has some sort of theme-based aspect to it, and that helps in our marketing in terms of collaborating and making a tie-in with different community groups."

Where Do You See Your Creativity Evolving?
Ramona hopes that the exchange program "is a very smart segue into increasing our marketability and long-term viability, sustainability, so the we have artists visiting other countries, other regions, other areas, bringing in different perspectives, and we get to enjoy and share the results." She also hopes that Borderlands offerings can expand to include more classroom teaching modules, and incorporating audio files of interviews with poets. Borderlands can be purchased at bookstores nationwide, independent bookstores, and online. She encourages people to volunteer in whatever area most interests them.

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Special Offering

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Additional Comments

Following is an example of the work published in Borderlands, excerpted from a review by Marcela Sulak on Khaled Mattawa's second collection of poetry, Zodiac of Echos.

Vicinity
by Kalin Matowah

Exile,
your ninety-nine names trill the tip of my tongue.

Isn't it time to sing what I've gathered into blessing-- indigenous though scant?…

I am certain that what I carry of you is more wonderful than I can know.

It's what makes me unknowable when I look airline hostesses, shop clerks, or janitors in the eye.

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Artist Profile:

Ramona Cearley
Borderlands, P.O. Box 33096, Austin, Texas 78764
Website: www.borderlands.org
Email: borderlandspoetry@sbcglobal.net

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