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Influences and Collaborations is an art exhibit currently on display at the UAM Art Gallery. The display features the combined works of photographer, Pinky/MM Bass, and the late, ceramic artist, Kitty Couch. Couch was tragically killed in an automobile accident on January 3, 2004, while in Vietnam.
Bass, from Fairhope, Alabama, had worked with Couch, from Burnsville, North Carolina, since 1986, and in 1992, the two artists’ work was shown at The Headland’s Center of Art in San Francisco. Most of the pictures taken by Bass were done with pin-hole cameras that she built herself, but the highlights of the exhibit are the Clay Bodies (1-4) that showcase the ingenuity of the two artists.
The pieces started as an experiment, combining molded clay with photo emulsion (liquid). The exotic combination was then painted on strips of spun polyester to create three-dimensional pieces that celebrate the beauty of the human form.
Influences and Collaborations will not be around for long, so take advantage of experiencing this thought-provoking art for yourself while you still have a chance.
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What's The Deal With Poetry?
Poetry. The word itself can send shivers down the spine of some students. In some literature classes, it is not uncommon for professors to assign each student to write a poem. Sighs and worried looks fill the classrooms, but it is only when they hear they will have to recite their poem in front of the class, that sheer terror strikes. I remember the audible quiver in my voice as I stumbled through my poems at the professor’s podium. Insecurity pulsed through my veins, as I’d rush myself to get the reading done as quickly as possible.
I, like many of the students, wasn’t worried about writing the poem; in fact, many of us do it on a daily basis, whether it is in the journal form, writing lyrics, or for the sheer therapeutic value of recording simple observations. Some may do it without even realizing it (verbal poets), but whatever the case, poetry is an inescapable byproduct and need of the human condition. Everyone wants to be a poet at some time or another, but why? Fame and fortune? Maybe. To save the world? Possibly. But to find a suitable answer to this question, I had to ask informed people the right questions, collecting their thoughts and observations. This was no small task. Sheer terror strikes again.
Luckily, there is no shortage of informed professors at UAM, nor is there a shortage of talented poets. The school is fortunate enough to have teachers that love poetry, and poets who love teaching, and it takes both types to explain the appeal of poetry to young people. There may not be one concrete answer, but gaining a better understanding on the nature of the creative mind, and its need for poetic expression, should give a suitable, ball-park explanation at the very least. Shouldn’t it?
“People like to express themselves in some way.” Dr. Betty Matthews leans back in her chair, legs crossed, nibbles on the end of her eyeglasses and continues, “that’s why, in my (literature) classes, I make students write poems, and it never fails, they’ll say, (she slips into a mock-whiny-student voice) ‘But I can’t write a poem’, but I can tell that they really want to try their hand at it.” Of course she doesn’t expect a masterpiece from any of her students. “I think it’s more important for them to try to write a poem than it is to actually write one.” She adds, “And I’ve had some good poems from students in the past,” but something in her demeanor says they were few and far between.
Dr. Kate Stewart has her lit classes write and recite their own poems also. “A lot of people, not just students, aspire to be poets, but a majority of them just can’t pull it off.” She pauses and says, “I’m not sure to what extent the New Criticism way of thought, that the more complex the text is, the better it is, plays in the way we read poetry, but I think it affects us (the reader) more than we realize. The result is poetry that takes on a more mystical aspect, and the yearning of this complexity takes away from the basic need to communicate and inspire, which is what good poetry should do.” Dr. Stewart’s office has its own unique and comfortable atmosphere, partly due to the music always present in the background. “Good poetry has a musical quality to it,” she says. When asked if she considers singers and songwriters to be poets, she responds, “Oh, yeah.” Almost before she hears the obvious follow-up question, she grins and says in her cool, calming, Mississippi accent, “Don Henley.”
“I consider certain singers that write from the heart, like Sarah McLachlan or Alanis Morrisette, to be good poets.” Foreign language guru and poet, Charles Fleis, like Dr. Stewart, always has music on in his office. “But for the most part, songwriters just plop out one cliché after another.” On young poets, he says, “I think the attractiveness of poetry to young people is that there is no clear delineation of true meaning. Only the poet knows what the poem truly means, and that [meaning] can change over time.” Fleis, who is always easy to talk to, talks about the importance of catching the moment in poetry. “A lot of times, I’ll be in my car, and I’ll have these strong emotions about something or maybe society in general, and I’ll think, ‘Hey, I need to write this down,’ and I’ll pull off the road and write. I used to wait until I’d get home, but so many things run through my mind while driving. By the time I get home, I’ve lost the emotion, or just forgotten about it altogether.”
“There was this one writer; I can’t remember his name…” Dr. Gary Marshall, or Mars, is munching on a bag of dried fruit in his office. “But he would turn out the lights, and just sit in total darkness with just a keyboard typing whatever came to his mind, very free-form, very natural.” Mars is a poet who doesn’t shy away from the idea of changing the world with his work. “I really admire [70’s singer/songwriter] Cat Stevens. He wrote great, honest songs, then quit music altogether, went Buddhist, and now he teaches in Great Britain. I think that was a very noble and selfless thing to do.” When asked how important it is for poets to read the poets of the past, he answers, “Writers who don’t read are like auto-mechanics who only ride horses.” His wit, along with his general appearance, is as colorful as the bag of dried fruit on his desk. “Thinking optimistically,” he adds, “I think the best poets are yet to come.”
When teacher and writer, Diane Payne, is asked if she has a favorite poet, she responds with a quick and dry, “No.” While waiting for her to explain why, she rotates in her chair back and forth and says, with the rhythm of the chair, “No, no, no, no. No favorites. There are too many, and it would change every week.” When asked why young people are drawn to poetry, she replies, “I think a majority of the kids fresh out of high school write for the romantic appeal, you know? It’s usually about love, romance, or some other sappy subject.” A great writer of prose and poetry, Diane Payne is full of boundless energy that is contagious. After a few minutes of being in her office, I find myself enjoying the simple pleasures of a twirling chair. Payne is in charge of UAM’s, literary magazine, The Foliate Oak. “We get over one-hundred poetry submissions a semester, but only twenty or so are from UAM students.”
This is Sandy Longhorn’s first semester teaching. She just completed the four-year MFA program at Fayetteville and is a published poet. “What I found surprising (about UAM) is that most of the poems turned in to me were from males,” she says enthusiastically. She adds, “Maybe the females are a bit more guarded, you know? Maybe they keep a journal.” Her office is small, and directly in front of her desk, on the wall, are two pictures of her favorite dead poets, Emily Dickenson and Walt Whitman. I mention that Dickenson lived a somewhat isolated life to be such a great poet. “She did live an isolated life, but that doesn’t mean she experienced life that way…she saw the world with intensity, and she was so blunt, I mean, ‘My life is a loaded shotgun,’ right? How intense is that?” About Whitman, she responds, “Walt Whitman’s greatest feature as a poet was his accessible. Anyone can understand and appreciate his work.”
Longhorn is a free-spirited, likable woman, and we talked about writing and writers as though we had known each other for years. “A teacher of mine once said that nothing good has ever come from the Mid-West. In the South, you have the Civil War, Faulkner…and in New England you’ve got Dickenson and countless others, and even the West has its own poetic style. But nothing came from the Mid-West…most people don’t even know where it is!” she says with a roar.
“I think the reason most young students are drawn to poetry is that it’s a way of expressing themselves that doesn’t feel like work.” On the delicate balance present between a poet who writes more than they read, and one who reads more than they write, she says, “All of my life, I’ve been a reader, and all of my life, I’ve been a writer, so I have trouble separating the two…The biggest question a poet has to ask themselves is this, ‘Why are you writing?’ Is it to get published…it for personal enjoyment? My biggest fear (about being a poet) is that I won’t have anything to say. Personal tragedy influenced many of the greats, and I grew-up a normal, non-traumatic life in the eighties, and I struggle with that. Of course, I don’t want to want anything horrible to happen to be a better poet.”
When I walked in to the office of Dr. Robert Moore, I didn’t quite know what to expect. We always greeted each other in the hallways, but I’d never been in one of his classes. Maybe he sensed my nervousness, but he immediately put me at ease. “(Poetry) has lasted as long as humans have been around. Poetry was called ‘song,’ so it’s pretty primal…in the womb, the first sound we hear is the beating of our mother’s heart, and secondly her voice. And it’s a sweet sound to our ears. It soothes and comforts…and that’s what poetry has always been about, rhythm and the spoken word. We need poetry.”
Dr. Moore, also known as red hawk, is the veteran poet of UAM, and he speaks on poetry with such an openness and passion, that the rhythm of his speech becomes almost hypnotic. Forget him as a poet; this man is a walking, talking poem. “So there is a psychological and an emotional punch to poetry, so if you get the psychological, which is the head, and the emotional, which is the feelings…you get a pretty powerful attraction.”
After a few minutes of listening to his insights, I begin mentally kicking myself for not having read his book, (The Sioux Dog Dance). “Every poem must begin with an emotion,” he says, never loosing eye contact. “If it doesn’t start with an emotion, it will not be honest…and it has to be honest, no matter how terrible the truth is.” I snap out of my trance and seize an opportunity to quote John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, and murmur the passage, “Truth is beauty, beauty is truth.”
“That is absolutely right,” he says with a reassuring smile. And for a brief moment, I wish I could go back and start my college career all over again. Needless to say, the moment passed. “Our culture in general, has a hard time ending anything. We don’t end things well. Relationships end bitterly all of the time. So if I can find a good way to end a poem, I can find a good way to die…it’s all interconnected. We die the same way we live.”
Later that night, as I listen to our
chat, I realize how right he is. I’m terrible at ending things, and I tend
to bury my emotions when they threaten to slow me down. It is all
interconnected. Life, poetry, music, paint, sculpture, acting, loving, and
dying all share common, universal themes: courage and creativity, the
heart vs. the mind. Why are young people drawn to poetry? Because
young people have something to say, even if they’re not sure what it is.
And poetry, like so many other things, only takes a minute to learn, and a
lifetime to master.
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