Summer’s Planting

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This summer I had the opportunity to do  two projects that were exceptions to the community orchestrations which usually characterize Poetry of the Wild. After installing an ambitious project in Newport, Rhode Island with many partners and participants I changed gears and began work on two quieter projects that were done as unique commissions. One was a project abroad in Barcelona Spain. A poetry box was completed during a one week residency at Jiwar, an international artist residency in the Gracia District.  The process was full of wonderful inspirations and the challenge of completing a project in a short time. The second box was commissioned by the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association as a gift for environmental patrons, Ed and Linda Wood, who live in Hope Valley, Rhode Island.
The choice of poets for each of these was also noteworthy, the box for Barcelona featured a poem by Humberto Ak’abal, translated by Miguel Rivera. Ak’abal is a Mayan poet from Guatemala. I first learned of his poems at the Great Mother conference started by the poet Robert Bly. I was one of the presenters and a fellow presenter, Miguel Rivera, was Ak'abal's major translator. Rivera had been urged to translate Ak'abal by Robert Bly. During the week-long conference Miguel recited numerous poems by Ak’abal which  I found very compelling. The week before I left for the residency in Spain, the translated poems of Ak'abal  Poems I brought down from the Mountain, landed as a gift from Miguel at my door. The timing was perfect. I was searching for a poet for the project in Barcelona and I found Ak'abal's powerful poems steeped in ancient wisdom a perfect offering to bring back to the "Old World". The poetry box for Barcelona featuring his poem, La Luna, will be installed at the beautiful and busy library in the Gracia district of Barcelona from October to December of 2017.       
The permanent poetry box made for the Woods was a special collaboration between the patrons, myself and the poet, Noah Warren.  The Woods are no strangers, they are friends and mentors. Their example of environmental stewardship and community generosity has been a constant lesson for me and many others. Ed and Linda had two requests, they wanted a design that would allow them to switch out poems, and they also wanted the first poem to be by Noah Warren. Noah is our son, and a serious young poet, in 2015 he won the Yale Younger Poets Award. For the project, Noah wrote a new poem entitled Visit which resonated beautifully with the setting and the Wood's sentiments for their garden.

Day 5/ Barcelona Poetry Box project

Place: Jiwar Residency, Barcelona Spain Challenge: To build a poetry box in one week for Barcelona, . Bring no tools, or materials, Notes from Day 5, . Old shoe box for 5 Euros found at big flea market. Tools are being provided by neighborhood studio that builds communal decorations for the August celebrations in the neighborhood. page parts assembled 2
The trail through Newport

The trail through Newport

On May 6th we did our poetry walk and launched POW/Newport. We had had rain for several days but at 12:45, 15 minutes before our walk the rains paused for several hours. Here's the link to the map: Hope you'll take time to take a walk, and respond in the journals. They are up until August.  

Going for a new walk

A new year and a new project begins, Poetry of the Wild goes to Newport Rhode Island this spring and summer. The first public presentation for Poetry of the Wild/Newport is scheduled for Jan. 26th at 6 pm at the Newport Public Library in Newport, RI. The project is sponsored by Salve Regina University but its all about community wide collaboration. If you're a poet, a poetry lover, a walker, a maker of things, interested in helping make the world more magical and meaningful, please come out and become involved.
I have a great deal of nostalgia about the Newport library, it provided my intellectual stimulation many summers ago, my first summer living away from home during college. I remember bringing stacks of poetry books home to my rented apartment and losing track of hours. I was already committed to being a visual artist, but poetry expanded my mind and powers of observation, it helped me compose my thoughts and emotions and make sense of my world.
Poetry taught me to really see- not just to observe. Now I no longer find poetry just in books, I see that it grows almost everywhere. Come take a walk with us through Newport, find the poetry boxes, write and respond in the journals, and see the town with new eyes. The installation will be up by the third week of April and stay up through the summer. If you want to become involved come to the library meeting on the 26th or get in touch:  

Weaving Together the Many Elements

Print by Antonio Frasconi, cover for Fully Empowered/ poems by Pablo Neruda

Print by Antonio Frasconi, cover for Fully Empowered/ poems by Pablo Neruda

In my role as community catalyst and coordinator I rarely have the time and distance to reflect on the many threads that the human and natural history tapestries woven during a Poetry of the Wild community project have. At the beginning of this new year, a fine and expansive article on Poetry of the Wild written by Professor Suzanne MacAulay appeared in the Journal of Literature and Art Studies. The article is titled Communities and the Poetic Imaginary: A Folklore Essay on the Poetry of the Wild Project. Dr MacAulay who knows the project well from being one of the patrons when it was installed in Colorado Springs in 2006, to studying it as an art historian and folklorist, has identified many cultural parameters addressed by Poetry of the Wild. Some of the parameters she highlights include environmental aesthetics, cultural identity, poetic sensibilities, communal creative actions, and sense of place. Reading Dr MacAulay's analysis confirms the value of orchestrating creative platforms for communities to connect with their places in a reflective, affirming, and tactile manner. At the core of Poetry of the Wild's philosophy is making an excuse to walk and reflect by having to go out and find the poetry boxes. Too often in our contemporary culture our engagement with the natural landscape is replaced by the virtual landscape. This project reminds communities of the simple and transformative powers of walking. This month I also began the book project for Poetry of the Wild. Its time to bring together the many voices of place that I've been so fortunate to work with and learn from. Curating the history, poems, and artwork from this project will generate its own new challenges, long walks will undoubtedly help me in unraveling the thoughts and shaping the book.    

The Season’s Harvest

catalog from St Louis and journal pages from Tubac

catalog from St Louis and journal pages from Tubac

My work in communities as a visiting artist is seasonal. The projects only stay up for three months or so, passing like the bloom of a garden. But I believe the projects' spirit stays with the place and participants in other ways. Just this last month two communities: St Louis, Missouri, and Tubac, Arizona, where POW recently grew sent me some of their artifacts. In early May, Terry Suhre, the gallery director of Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri/St Louis sent the lovely catalog  that was published to document the ambitious project that was done in St Louis during the summer of 2014. St Louis' rich tradition of writers and poets were well represented thanks to efforts from Terry and poet curator, Jennifer Goldring. Just last week I received a large packet from Tubac, Arizona. The Tubac project was installed along the historic Anza Trail and had the greatest number of participants thus far- a total of 42 boxes were created. The journals filled up and were replaced numerous times.  At the end of the project many of the boxes were auctioned off and the two main partners: The Tubac Center of the Arts and the Anza trail Coalition benefited from fund raising. The Arts center sent me the copies of journal entries and I got to imagine walking the trail one more time. Because of the temporal nature of the project I often talk about the poetry of the wild installations as one would of community gardens. To begin, I come in with the seed of the idea to share with the community and during that first week of my engagement the garden gets planted in the minds of the participants. I then leave for at least 6 weeks. During this time the community participants begin to think of the poems they will use or write and how to create poetry boxes for them. When I return to work with the town I see the seedlings that have sprung, tactile beautiful and inspired poetry boxes. During this stage the community decides on  a network of trails for the boxes and we plant them together. Once installed in the local landscape, the third stage is pollination. Like the bees doing the work of plant pollination the public seeks out and visits the artful boxes which are meant to be inviting to open and use.  Each contains a journal and the project is fully animated only when the public response begins. The last phase is the harvest, when the poetry boxes come down some organizations will choose to auction the poetry boxes like Tubac did. It is also the time when the journals are collected, archived, and sometimes a catalog is made- like St Louis was inspired to do, or book is made- it's on my list. Strewn across my desk is just some the latest harvest awaiting sorting and further attentions from this artist-farmer who always seems to be trying to keep up. These artifacts also remind me of the rich community engagement and relationships that I'm so fortunate to have and reminds me why I love to plant this project.

La Frontera

view from Tubac  towards Santa Rita mountains

view from Tubac towards Santa Rita mountains

I've just recently returned from the borderlands between Arizona and Mexico, a place of great drama, beauty, and epic history. The Tubac Center for the Arts is the sponsor but many partners are involved. I'm working with a remarkably talented and enthused community in Tubac and poets in Green Valley, Arizona. The Poetry of the Wild project will be installed along the Anza trail in SW Arizona, a historic trail first blazed by Juan de Anza to bring Spanish settlers up from Mexico to the West coast to what is now San Francisco California. The trail in this part of Arizona is also a great destination for birders since it parallels the Santa Cruz river. The energetic Anza Trail Coalition headed by Carol Butts will be managing the installation beginning on March 2. The project officially opens with a poetry walk to a number of the boxes on March 7th. IMG_0397As always I feel very fortunate to work with each community but this project is especially meaningful since its connected with the first project I did in 2003. That first project was at the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, the founders of that environmental group, Ed and Linda Wood, are now seasonal residents in the Tubac community. It is thanks to the Wood's enthusiasm and support that the project is now traveling into this fascinating landscape. I've always considered myself a coastal dweller but after this the recent immersion into the desert hosted by people who are so passionate about place the desert is becoming very alluring. I look forward to returning in March to install and to see the desert and the project beginning to bloom. Anza NPS magazine adAnother notable fact is that The Tubac project and the upcoming Block Island project will bookend each other. The Block Island project sponsored by the Block Island Poetry Project gets launched next week, its also the first time Poetry of the Wild has been back in the state since it began.  Field notes from Block Island very soon.  

The Act of Reading

 On May 3rd and 4th we had two poetry walks in St Louis, each marking a trail of poetry boxes that are installed in the city until August 2nd. The poetry walk became public performance as the poems were shared out loud, with the poets reading their own work and the audience responding and moving through each site. The audience became unintentional paraders, "culturizng" the streets as one listener told me.  I first saw the poetry walks in this perspective thanks to the essay by Dr Suzanne Macaulay, a folklorist and art historian who wrote on Poetry of the Wild in 2013. Through this interpretation, each of the boxes becomes a sculptural stage for the reading of the poems they contain; each an opportunity for public recitation or for reflective individual reading. During the walk, we as audience physically responded as we listened to poets read- positioning ourselves anew at each new site, whether it was indoors- in a bookstore or gallery– or out in the quiet of the UMSL university campus or amidst the bustle of Euclid Avenue in the Central West End. As participants we paused to reread the inscribed poems for ourselves. In our reading we bended, twisted, read text that floated in air, was burnt into wood, hid in a nest, or was contained in envelopes inside a mail box. Our act of reading became dancelike; bodies and minds responding to to a diversity of spaces, material and words.  

Behind the Scenes at Poetry of the Wild/St Louis

writer's block- Jane Birdsall-LanderThe idea of the poetry box is deceivingly simple, what could be so hard about bringing a poem and art together? Ah, you'd be surprised. Once the artist gets involved with a poem that has been carefully crafted, each word carefully chosen, it's a problem of artistic restraint and thoughtful design so that the poem and the art support each other.  This challenge is a mini version of the architectural problem of making a good museum for visual art where the architect is responsible for creating a platform for the best interpretation of the art, the building design must compliment not overpower the art. Right now, twenty artists and poets and a group of a talented high school students are at work on this problem. When they finally get installed throughout the city in early May in commercial and public spaces, as well as the  campus of University of Missouri/St Louis it will all look so simple- and so seductive for the public to join in and respond. The project opens May 2nd with a reception and a poetry walk in the Central West End neighborhood, Centro Furnishing, one of the cool sites, will host the reception at 6 p.m. and the walk starts from there at 6:45. Poets will read at their boxes and artists will talk about their collaboration. The image here is from artist/poet Jane Birdsall-Lander whose poetry boxes will be at the public library and Left Bank Bookstore in the Central West End. On May 3rd there'll be a second reception and poetry walk at the University of St Louis campus. Check back soon for news about all the artists and poets involved and a list of sites.