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2017 AWP Roundtable 4: Hybrid Practice: Poems in Space, Double Ekphrasis, and Art Outside the Silos

 

The following is the fourth in our series of outstanding AWP panels that were not selected for participation in the conference but deserve to be heard. Today, we’re featuring five multidisciplinary artists, Amaranth Borsuk, Genevieve Kaplan, Addoley Dzegede, Cole Lu, and Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer.

First, tell us a bit about your work and how you’d describe your practice. 

Amaranth Borsuk: I consider myself a poet working with text’s materiality, both on and off the page. My practice spans interactive media, installation, performance, and book arts—I make text-based art in whatever form the work seems to call for.

My interest in materiality comes through in an attention to sound, the use of found material in some cases, and particularly in my construction of artists’ books and ephemera that put the book’s form and content in dialogue. I’m especially interested in the intersection of print and digital media, and the materiality of the digital—something I began to explore in Between Page and Screen (Siglio, 2012; SpringGun, 2016), a book of augmented reality poems created with Brad Bouse. The pages do not contain text, but rather abstract shapes, that, when shown to your webcam, make poems pop up in 3-d space. The poems are written as a series of playful epistles between P and S, two lovers trying to make sense of their relationship, as well as concrete poems that use the language of their letters. We chose to use augmented reality because it requires the viewer to have both a print artifact and a digital one—enacting a dialogue between the two.

That book started as a limited-edition artists’ book and then became a trade edition, but I continue to have a book arts practice, creating small edition works that conceptually integrate form and content. I collaborated with the artist Carrie Bodle this spring on a sound art installation that reflects on the historically vexed relationship of poets and scientists with the moon, treating it as a passive reflector in the sky. In the gallery, visitors standing between two industrial megaphone-style speakers heard a sound poem passing back and forth between them—a call and response between Earth and the Moon in which we can feel their pull on one another.

We extended that project this summer in a limited-edition volvelle that uses our sound poem, a word ladder (one word per line, with only one letter changing in each line), to create a lunar calendar that doubles as a poetry generator. We gave these away at a couple of public participatory performances that were part of the Henry Art Gallery’s Untuning of the Sky, a series of events in relation to the night sky. There, the circular dial of the volvelle allows the reader to see a single word of the poem paired with a lunar phase for the month, and as the dial is turned, both the poem and the moon change incrementally. In the center of the dial, openings reveal words from a cento composed of lines from poems about the moon, with which one can create one’s own poems. In performance, the 31 or so participants seated inside the James Turrell Skyspace, Light Reign, became those 31 lunar phases—their faces in the dim light ringing the space.

Volvelle-Front

Lunar Volvelle

Genevieve Kaplan: I’m primarily a poet, but I have a background in letterpress printing, weaving, and book arts. For the most of my poetic career I’ve practiced a more traditional poetics of-the-page –specifically the 8 ½” x 11” printer page. Recently, in a bit of writer’s-block-funk, I found myself returning to some more hands-on book-arts techniques as a way to escape that funkiness: I used cut and folded book forms to jump-start my drafting process, I hand-set and hand-stamped a series of short poems, I created a group of miniature poem-books. In these works, my final intention wasn’t to write a poem or to make books, but to think about the creation of the book or poem object as an extension of and complement to my drafting and writing processes. As I worked, I became more interested in exploring the relationship between the act of writing and the act of creating objects, and in thinking more deeply about writing—and potentially reading—as a physical, visual, and tactile event.

All of which has led to my current project, a series of woven broadsides. I don’t have a letterpress, but I do have a loom. So, I took the printed broadside—the poem as art object, to be both read and displayed, to be hung on the wall—as inspiration, and I began. For this project, I sew the letters on a line of ribbon to form words and phrases, creating a poetic line, and then I weave the ribbons/lines together to create the poem. The final iteration will eventually be a tactile, inviting, mostly-legible series of sewn and woven one-of-a-kind poetic broadsides.

Addoley Dzegede: My work is project-based and idea-driven, investigating notions of home, belonging, hybrid identity, and existential migration, which I express through a multitude of forms—ranging from  interactive projects and videos to artist books and textiles.  I create works that are meant to entice viewers to pause, and to question commonly held ideas about what it means to belong. Using both personal and public archives, I contemplate the forces of history, experience, and location, and how they essentially work together to tell a story of longing as a state of being.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: I maintain a hybrid practice of poetry, critical writing, and visual work, which is sometimes collaborative (see below). I am primarily a poet, but I studied sculpture, photography, and writing, so I consider everything an act of making. Writing doesn’t give the same satisfaction as the physical labor of sculpture, but it scratches the same itch. I’m also working on a bunch of picture book manuscripts and a YA thriller.

 

How do you use language as material and/or material as language?

Amaranth Borsuk: While working on artists’ books and ephemera, I also continue to write poems for the eye and ear—my most recent book, Pomegranate Eater (Kore, 2016) is full of word play and etymological experiment (a recurring interest) as a means of getting personal material I otherwise wouldn’t say into a poem. In particular, the book opens with a series of poems addressed to different fruit in which I think of myself as being on both sides of the conversation—an approach to interrogating myself for my assumptions, privileges, and self-representation. I find I’m often trying to write into language as sonic texture, sometimes without worrying about meaning so much as feeling.

In Abra (1913 Press, 2016), a collaboration with Kate Durbin, this comes about through a long and baroque poem that mutates as you progress through the book. As you turn the pages, the poem animates like a flip book, heaving itself open and shut in a way that is supposed to be erotic and grotesque at once. While the book’s themes—excess, mutation, fecundity, hybridity—are clear, the text doesn’t behave as though it wants to communicate something specific to the reader. It mostly wants to blossom and collapse in the reader’s hands. We collaborated with the poet and artist Ian Hatcher on a free app through a grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts that makes it possible for readers to mutate the text further, using their fingertips to prune the poem and graft new language into it. From a feminist standpoint, this seems to be what Abra was trying to do all along: push itself off the page and away from our authorial control over it. That’s what we started from—a sense that language is material and that it belongs to the reader.

Genevieve Kaplan: Johanna Drucker defines an artist’s book as a book “which is a record of its own making” (The Century 191), an idea I continually return to; I’m fascinated by the notion of presenting the poem as a record of its own making, which I think may also mean 1) allowing the audience to participate in the poem as it unfolds and 2) presenting the creation of the poem as a worthwhile labor-intensive pursuit. These goals are tangential, but potentially integral, to presenting the poem as a beautiful object to experience.

If what I’d like is the poem as a type of record, one question I’d like to answer is how best to record it. I think I’m getting there. In part because this sewing and weaving process is so time-consuming, and because I’m allowing myself to be consumed a bit by it, the sewing time becomes also a time to allow myself to think and reflect: on the letter, on the word, on the poem, on the project, on the process. I’m very interested here in making the poem as tactile as possible – not just for me, but for the reader as well. I want the space of the poem to be a physical space that can be entered, the fuzz of the yarn to be an invitation to experience.

Which is where I’m beginning to answer this question. Yes, the letterforms, the words, the lines—phrases that existed before only in the non-space of my head, or on the two-dimensional space of the page—when woven literally become material; they become three-dimensional, they become cloth, and they hold together.

nothing, to watch the weeds grow

I think the poem, for a non-poet or non-reader, can be a little daunting to enter. By creating the poem as a visual and tactile material, in contrast to creating the poem on a page or in a book, I’m inviting a different, softer type of interaction.

Addoley Dzegede: A lot of my work comes out of time I have spent abroad, nearly always merging these international experiences with materials that speak to both my identity (which I always bring with me) and the specificity of the location. I try to incorporate some aspect of the country’s language into my work, and by language, I also mean material as language. In Finland, the spongy, mosquito-filled forest was a kind of language that found its way into my work. But I was also interested in the way the Finnish language uses compound words to form new words…how kahden (the two of you) and kesken (between) marry to become kahdenkesken (in private). It seemed appropriate then to make a video (titled Failure to Communicate) where I cut up lines from a 1970’s Finnish book on romantic relationships. Given the length of Finnish compound words, the majority of lines in the book required a word wrap. My main criteria for selecting a line of text was that it was whole, which resulted in an absurd text which is read aloud by the computerized voice of Google Translate in English.

More recently, in Iceland I made ceramic versions of the historic wooden bread boards I saw in an Icelandic turf house museum. Text is carved backwards into the material to create a mirror image that imprints a proverb onto the bread dough. I can’t read Icelandic, especially when it’s backwards, so I chose an English proverb (the crow went traveling abroad and came back just as black) and a Ghanaian one (when the snail travels abroad it finds shelter with the tortoise), both referring to travel and ideas of home.

Crow_Jessica_800_1200

Breadboard with proverb carving

I often use hidden or double meanings when titling my work. “Duly Noted” becomes “Dually Noted,” referring to Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness,” and most recently, “Farewell” (the title of my most recent exhibition) became “Fare well,” opening the word up to more possibilities than “goodbye.”

Cole Lu: I have always been restless in my interest and realization in language. I am aware how I use language (collage or appropriate it) as a visual artist opposes to a person who writes art (poet). I see language functions several levels in my making— as it continually goes back and forth between meaningful and material. I started my visual art practice with photography after having completed a degree in linguistics. A photographer is someone who draws with light, writing and rewriting the world with illumination and shadow; a linguist is someone who scientifically studies language and its structure. I learned how visual meaning was constructed after I devoted myself to artmaking, realizing that perspective focuses everything on the eye of the beholder.

The blindness of earlier social understanding is the result of my addiction to the language in the making. Before I understood language beyond gender; social status, physical ability and disability, and cultural and national borders, I was viewing language purely as a tool for communication. My earlier work parses communication and miscommunication through various mediums and gradually evolves into language that speaks of the identity of minorities, in racial, gender politics, and geographic marginalization.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: My poems are foremost concerned with sound—I can’t begin a poem if I don’t hear the musicality of it first. That said, I find that my ear grips onto often distinctly unmusical bits of language—the idiosyncratic cadence of the human utterance, especially if it’s something ordinary and idiomatic and plain. All of the poems in Cleavemark were prompted by the cadence of someone else’s language. Sometimes it was Bible verses, which my grandmother (who we called Nan or Nanny) was forever scribbling onto scraps of paper and napkins. Those can be crushingly musical or excruciatingly dull. Other times, it was from movie dialogue that I’d hear a hundred times. Like this scary live action thriller Disney made in the 80s called The Watcher in the Woods—the girl in it has visions and utters these simple little phrases: It hardly ever happens you know or It’s nearly too late. In all of the language, there’s an urgency and often a plangency to the sound—someone is going to die unless you stop it (and, BTW, you can’t stop it). I like to play with the frankness of speech and the baroqueness of sound. Language has to be a lure, whether it’s a warm handholding, or someone dragging you through fire.

 

Do you ever work collaboratively, especially with people outside your genre? Please describe. 

Amaranth Borsuk: As you can probably tell, I spend much of my time working collaboratively. Before Pomegranate Eater, I published As We Know (Subito, 2014), a book-length erasure collaboration with Andy Fitch, who writes more prose than I do—he has a couple of books published by Ugly Duckling Presse that involve narrated walks, which I love. For our project, I selectively erased portions of his redacted diary. The resulting voice is, we hope, a collaged speaker—a bit of both of us, but also neither. Given how popular erasure has become, we wanted to draw attention to its act of silencing, which to us seemed a useful way to intervene into the history of male editors heavily manipulating (and taking credit for) the work of female authors. We also wanted to create a work of non-fiction that points to how constructed even the most unmediated-seeming writing—a person’s daily journal—really is. Based on what we chose to leave in from the redacted passages, you get a sense of someone shaping themselves for a reader’s eyes, but also deeply neurotic about how they come across.

I am not a programmer myself, so my digital projects also draw on the expertise of others. In addition to enabling me to create work that I otherwise couldn’t, I’m drawn to these collaborations because they teach me to see the work from a different perspective and help circumvent some of my assumptions about what it is I do. I’m always highly aware of how my gender, race, class, sexuality, and other factors situate me, and I seek collaborators who help to keep me honest with myself. My other digital collaborations include an erasure bookmarklet, The Deletionistwith Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul, which generates erasure poems from websites; and Whispering Galleries, another work with Brad Bouse, which uses a gesture-based controller to sense reader’s hand movements, allowing them to manipulate the text of a historic diary and reveal whispers from the past.

Addoley Dzegede: I have worked collaboratively with three poets: Phillip B. Williams, Justin Reed, and Aaron Coleman, and with a PhD candidate in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, Cameron Evans. I also work collaboratively with Lyndon Barrois Jr. as LAB:D. These projects come out of conversations we have and the places where we find overlaps in our work. With Cameron, for example, we made a silent video, Misperception, on the subject of implicit bias, using clips from film and television, and providing duck-rabbit cards directing viewers towards Harvard’s Project Implicit. With Phillip, in Conversation: Tree and Cotton, we merged his poem with my animation of black hair, some of it his own and some of it mine.

Cole Lu: I work collaboratively with various artists, writers, designers and curators for curatorial aspect or as part of a program in predominately institutional-based project, which is very different from the collaboration that I had in my work. The desire to write in the English language is accompanied and nearly drowned by an opposite desire: the desire not to write in the English language. As a person who reads written text fanatically almost like a disease, the entropic tendency of both wanting and resisting to composing a piece regarding written text has always been a driven force for collaboration. It never happened easily, it almost always occurred as an accident, as stumble upon a piece of written text or a visual work and felt propelled to work with that particular person collaboratively.

Two of my collaborative works are composed in the distance and also with artists who are (mainly) outside of my genre. Palimpsest (2013) is a piece that I collaborate with Philadelphia-based fiction writer Dolly Laninga; the piece is essentially a fictional correspondence, through the erasure of the last two pages of “Love (Puberty)” by Andy Warhol in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975). Oops// All Ball Sad Bad (2016) is a composition of digitally printed photo, headline vinyl letters, and a 10 x14-inch Utility Mailer. The piece is made after Beth Caird, a Melbourne-based artist and writer, for a text piece she produced during “Common Characters,” a project by artist Heman Chong. It was a 24-hour workshop that took place at Artspace, Sydney as part of The Bureau of Writing by the 20th Biennale of Sydney. I am currently working on a new video piece for future collaboration.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: I often collaborate with visual artists. Sometimes it’s on expected projects, like illustrated books, which I’ve done with Jeff Pike (Strangers with a Lifeboat) and am hoping to do with this project I worked on with Jana Harper and her mother, Joie Bourisseau, that Yew was kind enough to publish online. Harper has worked with this cache of cloud images that her mother, who suffers from Bipolar I, and I wrote a series of ekphrastic poems inspired by those images and my discussions with Jana about her relationship with her mother. I write a lot of ekphrastic pieces, and I work that way visually, as well. The sculptural installation Cleavemark Drive that I collaborated with Cheryl Wassenaar on was based on the poems in Cleavemark, so that wound up being a kind of double-ekphrastic. I’m really eager to do more of that, but where I’d write the initial ekphrastic, and then hand it over to a visual artist to make a piece based on the poem based on the art. Like a game of operator. Except art operator. I love the back and forth between artists. When Cheryl and I were installing Cleavemark Drive, she had what I thought was an INSANE idea to paint one of the walls a bright, dark blue. Cheryl is a color genius, but I really couldn’t see it. Until she painted it. And then I was like, ohhhhhhhhhhh. Cheryl often works with text, so she took the text of my poems and visually reinterpreted them on the gallery walls in cut vinyl lettering, and I visually reinterpreted them in domestic objects and materials, like spools and soap and pickling salt. We also letterpressed some of the text into the sugar, and I’ve done another video (The Mouse in Me) with that technique in salt. We’re hoping to do a second iteration of this piece, but we need to find the right venue for it.

 

Schlaifer-Wassenaar from Cleavemark Drive

From Cleavemark Drive 

 

Who and what is influencing your work and your thinking the most right now? Where do you see your work going in the next five years? 

Amaranth Borsuk: My research into the history and future of the book will probably continue to trickle into my work over the next five years. I’m thinking a lot about sound lately, and working with it where I can.

What is perhaps most influencing me is the work of the contemporary poets and artists I am reading as I seek models of how to make work in this scary, bleak time. I’m most looking forward to a symposium my colleagues and I put together that will take place at the Simpson Center for the Humanities at UW Seattle this February—Affect and Audience: Activist Poetics. We began work on it last year, and it feels even more urgent to me now to hear our participants—Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Carmen Gimenez-Smith, C. Davida Ingram, Dawn Lundy Martin, Kai Green, and Layli Long Soldier—speak about their work. I’m grateful to and inspired by my collaborators in this event, micha cárdenas and Sarah Dowling.

Genevieve Kaplan: Certainly many poets and artists are influencing my current work: Johanna Drucker, Susan Howe, Cecilia Vicuña, Jen Bervin, Jen Hofer, Jill Magi, Emmelea Russo. My fellow panelists. In particular, the poets and artists who are exploring and questioning ideas of “work” and materiality – how to justify taking up the space in the world to write the poem, how to present the poem as something built and scaffolded and fought for, something simultaneously meaningful and inviting.

An artist friend of mine recently suggested “letters of the poem as big as a head,” which is an idea I’m intrigued by – beyond this current broadside project, I’m looking forward to thinking about the sewn/woven poem on a larger scale. More billboard than broadside, the poem as forcible—but soft, inviting, woven—encounter, a sort of (more or less) pleasant entrapment.

Addoley Dzegede: Right now, as always, my work is influenced simultaneously by my current circumstances and location in a constant conversation with my ever present past.  I’m thinking a lot about Ghana, and how long it has been since I have been there. As a place where so much of my identity and history is tied, I feel the strong need to stay connected to it materially, as time increasingly fades my memories of times spent there and people who are now lost to me.  Some of my newest work is coming out of West African traditions like kente weaving and adire, as well as the very hybridized history of wax prints.

In the next five years, I hope that I will get another opportunity to live and make work abroad, long term. While I have always felt a sense of foreignness about my identity in the US despite being an American all my life, I revel in truly being a foreigner and find that the work I can make in other countries has a sense of playfulness that I am unable to conjure while stateside. That may also have to do with just being away from the preoccupations of daily life, away from US-style bias and racism, and more, but I think there is definitely a feeling of freedom that I get from being overseas. In the next five years, my main goal would be to remain open, to continue to be responsive to place and conditions I find myself in, to live and make fearlessly.

Cole Lu: My new work always came from the residue of my old work, the work that is required as a point of departure, a place of contemplation. It mainly generates from my desires, and my desires generate from what I read, what I watch, what I listen, and who I talk to. Language has always been a persistent existence, as the form required its presence, visually or spatially. Lately, I had an installation debuted in June 2016 that contains my personal library, from a general point of view, books shapes, creates and participate our cultural mythologies, and can be used as an archive for a past incident, or a reminder of the memories being forgotten. I see the library as a self-portrait, and I am interested in the idea of copy, to create a library from a library as a fictional self-portrait out of the original. I am also working on an installation as a continuation of a project that I did which related to Asian culinary culture and philosophical absurdities, and a piece for a cartoon based on Finnish literature. It is almost impossible for me to predict my work even three months from now, though I had a concrete plan, it usually changes as it goes. I hope in the next five years my work can build a new vocabulary that explores the intersectionality, the richness, and the complexity of our culture, and hopefully the capable to generate the act of self-reflection.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: Obviously the current political climate is at the forefront of my brain, and it’s already making its way into my work. Those poems come out fast and urgently. I’ve never been a prolific writer or maker, but these are dangerous times. The kind that say sit your ass down and respond. I’m always influenced by whatever music I’m listening to, and I tend to listen obsessively. For a while it was The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, and I still listen to the albums my sister introduced me to when she was in art school—Peter Gabriel’s Passion, the soundtrack to Tout Les Matins Du Monde. And Bach. I played piano, so I’ve been pre-programmed to perk up to that. I’ll always have my go-to favorite dead writers—Moore, Bishop, Celan, Eliot, Rich, Plath—but the living writers whose voices really guide me, those push me in a different way (present company included)—Bridgette Lowe, Jessica Baran, Jeff Hamilton, Shane McCrae, Robyn Schiff, my thesis advisors from grad school, Claudia Rankine, Cole Swenson, and James Galvin, and many others. Claudia and John Lucas’ video work, too. That’s been hugely influential. And visual work—highbrow, lowbrow—everything. Everything tethered to acute observation. As for where my work is going: I want art to be bigger and more present. I want it to be important as a value. I want it to be un-cloistered and brave and more authentic. So I’m working for that.

 


Amaranth Borsuk is a poet, scholar, and book artist whose work encompasses print and digital media, performance and installation. Her books of poetry include Pomegranate Eater (Kore Press, 2016); As We Know (Subito, 2014), an erasure collaboration with Andy Fitch; Handiwork (Slope Editions, 2012); and, with Brad Bouse, Between Page and Screen (Siglio Press, 2012), a book of augmented-reality poems. Her intermedia project Abra (trade edition 1913 Press, 2016), created with Kate Durbin and Ian Hatcher, received an NEA-sponsored Expanded Artists’ Books grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts and was issued in 2015 as a limited edition hand-made book and free iPad / iPhone app. Her other digital collaborations include The Deletionist, an erasure bookmarklet created with Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul; and Whispering Galleries, a site-specific LeapMotion interactive textwork for the New Haven Free Public Library. Amaranth is currently an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell, where she also teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics.

Addoley Dzegede is a Ghanaian-American interdisciplinary artist based in St Louis. Her practice is idea-driven, mixed media, and through a combination of words and images, investigates notions of belonging, home, location, and identity. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, and she has been an artist-in-residence at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland, Foundation Obras in Portugal, and Nes Artist Residency in Iceland, as well as a post-graduate apprentice at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. She received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, and was awarded a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship at Washington University in St Louis, where she completed an MFA degree in Visual Art in 2015. Recent exhibitions and screenings include In Deep Ecology at Tenerife Espacio de las Artes in Spain; Now & After ‘16, at The State Darwin Museum in Moscow, Russia; 2015 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase Experimental program at the Tivoli Theater in St Louis, Missouri; Fare Well at Fort gondo  Compound for the Arts in St Louis; and the triennial Concept/Focus, at the Hardesty Art Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Recent awards include a grant from the John Anson Kittredge Fund; an honorarium from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition; a Creative Stimulus Award from Critical Mass for the Visual Arts; a St. Louis Regional Arts Commission Artist Support Grant; and a Graduate Student Grant for the Mellon Vertical Seminar: The Role of Arts Practice in the Research University at Washington University in St Louis.

Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation‘s poetry publication prize, and three chapbooks: In an aviary (Grey Book Press, 2016); travelogue (Dancing Girl, 2016); and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013), a chapbook of continual erasures. She lives in southern California and edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose.

Cole Lu is an artist and curator. She received her MFA from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. She holds a B.A. in linguistic from Ming Chuan University, Taipei Taiwan and A.A. in Japanese in Jinwen University in Taipei, Taiwan. Lu is known for her varied, multimedia practice, which articulates the subject of a contemporary, fragmented identity. She uses text, installation, sculpture, and video to explore the complex layers of what is lost in the era of digital communication. Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout the US, UK, Brazil, Greece, Mexico and Taiwan. Lu’s work has been exhibited at venues including the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (St. Louis, MO), Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, MO), Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI); The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), The Luminary (St. Louis, MO), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA), AHHA Tulsa (Tulsa, OK), Roman Susan (Chicago, IL), Westminster Press (St. Louis, MO), Fort Gondo compound for the arts (St. Louis, MO), CENTRAL BOOKING ARTSPACE (New York, NY), K-Gold Temporary Gallery (Lesvois Island, Greece) and Invisible Space (Taipei, Taiwan). Her videos and fine art books have been included in numerous national and international fairs and festivals including The 3rd New Digital Art Biennale – The Wrong (Again)FILE: Electronic Language International Festival (São Paulo, Brazil), I Never Read, Art Book Fair Basel (Basel, Switzerland) and Printed Matter’s New York & LA Art Book Fair (New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA). Additionally, she has been awarded the Concept/Focus Artist Award, and residencies at The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY) and Endless Editions (New York, NY). Her Risograph publication, “SMELLS LIKE CONTENT” is in the public collection of the MoMA Museum of Modern Art Library (New York, NY). Her latest endeavor in The Soothing Center at Satellite Art Show (Miami Beach, FL) opens December 1st, 2016. She is the Assistant Director at the 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts forum Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. Her debut collection of poems, Cleavemark, is just out from BOAAT Press. Schlaifer has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her poems have appeared in Georgia Review, AGNI, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Fence, and elsewhere. Schlaifer was a semi-finalist for the 2015 Discovery/Boston Review Prize, and she was selected for Best New Poets 2015. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Jeff Pike on the illustrated chapbook, Strangers with a Lifeboat, and with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation Cleavemark Drive. Schlaifer is a compulsive baker and also very handy with a pitchfork. Schlaifer’s work can be viewed at criticalbonnet.com

 

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Try It Yourself: Thai Poems of Transformation

This essay was adapted from a presentation given at the 4th Annual Midyear Conference for Fulbright Students and Scholars in Southeast Asia; March 2012 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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I want to introduce a type of poem from Thailand’s classical theater, give an example of one in translation, and then encourage the other writers and poets here to see what they can do with it.

First of all, Thai classical theater is, like ballet, a dance-drama; for the most part, performers do not speak (in some forms of such theater, most are even masked), but rather enact myths and courtly romances through an intricate language of mime and gesture. The chui chai or transformation song is a set piece in these dramas, a demanding solo performance in which the actor portrays a character who has just changed his or her physical appearance, either cosmetically—into a superlative form of him or herself—or magically, into another figure altogether. The piece comes in two movements, first slow and then fast, and the accompanying lyrics, sung by a chorus offstage, describe the successful metamorphosis. 

My favorite chui chai comes from the Ramakien, the Thai adaptation of the Ramayana, that 2,500-year old bull elephant of South and Southeast Asian literature. In one of the Ramakien‘s most popular episodes,  the young Benyakai—her name suggests “of five forms”—is ordered by her uncle, the ten-headed ogre king, to assume the form of Sita, the most beautiful woman in the world. The uncle has abducted Sita from her rightful husband, the hero Rama, who is even then preparing an army to win her return. Benyakai, in the form of Sita, is to be found floating on the river that waters Rama’s camp, apparently dead, and thus fool Rama into quitting the siege.

The translator of a chui chai must solve several problems, not least of all how to start. Each transformation song begins with the words “chui chai,” which mean nothing on their own but serve only to announce that a chui chai is about to take place. Benyakai’s chui chai then goes on to make a declarative statement: “To go into audience with the King, you krid krai” (krid means “to cut” and refers to a graceful movement of the arm in which the hand is flat, fingers bent towards the wrist, and thus seems to “cut” the air. ) I was stumped how to render this until I decided to turn “Chui chai!” into a vocative—Oh, you who have transformed yourself—and the next line into a question. This was not a terrible stretch of my source material, for one of the most interesting features of the chui chai is that it allows the chorus, who otherwise have no part in the action of the drama, to directly address the character onstage, like a Greek chorus.  In this way, transformation songs are very conscious of their own artificiality; a performer has assumed a persona that is assuming a third persona, and everyone is in on the illusion.

From there, after allowing myself the use of rhyme and meter to suggest a songlike quality (even though I knew I was transforming a text meant to be performed into one that would be primarily read) and a touch of archaic language to lend the right mood to the piece, the chui chai of Benyakai almost translated itself:

Thus transfigured, where are you going?
To seek the king.—Your each movement flowing,
you have so disguised your body
that you’ve become, for all the world,
like Lady Sita, the great beauty.
If Prince Rama sees you, this form taking,
you will wring his heart into breaking.

Such loveliness is yours, such grace,
whoever sees the beauty of your face
will dream it sleeping, and desire awake
to glimpse it again (his longing to slake!):
keen as an arrowhead against the skin
that grazes without, then pierces within
to make the whole chest ache.

Splendid lady, born of royalty:
how you have transformed your body
into the splendid Lady Sita!
If you the ten-faced king espies
a frenzy in his heart will rise
until he pining for you lies,
oh, splendid lady.

 

[This and the following stanza are set to a melody called “splendid lady,” and the lyrics thus address her as such or a variation thereof. This is true in all chui chai where the transforming character is female; when the character is male, he is inevitably on his way to court a splendid lady. Notice, too, that the two latter stanzas are shorter-lined than the first; this is also a feature of the Thai.]

 

Maiden, oh maiden tender,
your waist, your legs, your arms as slender
as an angel’s in their grace.
So lithe of limb within
a figure not your own
to the jeweled palace you pace
and your uncle’s throne.

 

Unfortunately, this and other chui chai must be accompanied with rather copious contextual notes when introduced to an audience unfamiliar with the characters and stories they originate from. I don’t suppose I’ll ever publish the “Chui Chai of Benyakai” in any medium on its own; it will have to be contained in an essay of some sort.

However, transformation is part and parcel of fabulous tales from around the world; Thailand by no means has monopoly over them. Can you imagine the chui chai of Snow White’s stepmother into an old hag peddling apples? Or of Cinderella as she leaves her sooty fireplace for the ball? (This fairy tale, I’m glad to report, has been adapted into a bawdy, all-male dance-drama by some students at Thailand’s College of Dramatic Arts—complete with glass slippers.) Or of the little mermaid into a human girl who, we recall, not only has her tongue cut out, but feels as if each step she takes is on a knifesblade? Thai chui chai are almost one-dimensional in their praise of beautiful transformations, but there is no reason that an adapted chui chai cannot be dark, even subversive. And how about the chui chai of Daphne into a laurel tree? Transformations into inanimate objects have never before been treated in Thai theater. Or Rosalind into Ganymede? Hera, when she borrows Aphrodite’s girdle to seduce Zeus? Jekyll into Hyde? Frankenstein’s monster out of miscellaneous body parts?

And there is no reason that, taken out of the Thai language, an English chui chai has to follow Thai metrical conventions, since it won’t be set to music anyway (or will it?). How about a chui chai in free verse? As a sonnet? A villanelle? The possibilities are endless.

For me, the chui chai of Benyakai will remain a favorite, mostly because in her story I find a most compelling metaphor for the act of poetic translation. Benyakai is tasked with turning herself into the mirror image of Sita, whose beauty, like Helen’s, ignited a war. How does one body, one text, rise to reflect the proportions, the contours, and the nuances, of another? How does it stretch, compress, contort itself into another living body? Chui chai! The translator of poetry deserves a transformation song, too.

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Noh's Pic

Noh Anothai was a researcher with the Thailand-United States Education Foundation from 2011-12, during which he hosted cultural events for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. The winner of Lunch Ticket’s inaugural Gabo Prize for Translation and Multilingual Texts in 2014, Noh has work published or forthcoming in Structo, Pilgrimage, RHINO, Unsplendid, and others. He’d love to see your chui chai poems at akaewkaen@gmail.com.

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A Reading From Sandra Marchetti’s Confluence: “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear”

Hear Sandra Marchetti read “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear.”

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Confluence is now available for purchase at the Sundress Store.

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle’s 2014 Poetry Open and was a finalist for Gulf Coast’s Poetry Prize. Her poetry and prose appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Appalachian Heritage, Southwest Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Sandy is a teacher and freelance manuscript editor who lives and writes outside of Chicago.

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OUTSpoken Opens 2015 Workshop Registration for LGBTQ+ Writers

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OUTSpoken is a second-year program from the Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) that will take place in Summer 2015. Our goal is to create a platform for the LGBTQ+ community of Knoxville, Tennessee, and its surrounding areas to record and perform the experiences of sex- and gender-diverse individuals in the South.

Registration for the OUTSpoken workshop series is now open. On-site participants will be a part of three workshops over the course of three months in order to create, edit, and produce a piece of art to be performed during SAFTA’s OUTSpoken events in Summer 2015. Workshop attendees will work with professionals in performance, prose, and poetry to compose and tell their own stories.

Workshops will be held on January 17th, February 21st, and March 28th, 2015 and run from 1PM to 3PM at the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Cost for the workshop is $25 for one, $45 for two, or $60 for all three. (Participants who attend at least two on-site workshops will be eligible to perform their piece at the OUTSpoken events later in the year.) Scholarship applications are also available on our website.

As LGBTQ issues gain greater visibility, it is crucial that we explore the complexities of sex and gender diversity respectfully. That said, we realize that unity cannot and must not be silent, and that in order to create a meaningful dialogue, we must acknowledge and listen to the stories, experiences, grievances, arguments, and counterarguments of all sex- and gender-diverse persons.

Register today!

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Torsos and TaTas, This First Friday!

 

Torsos and Tatas
Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to announce that they are one of the sponsors for Paulk+Co’s “Torsos and TaTas” First Friday event. The event, which is also sponsored by Mighty Mud, Downtown Wine and Spirits and Gage Talent will take place on First Friday, November 7, 2014 between 6PM and 10PM at Paulk+Co’s located at 510 Williams Street, Downtown Knoxville, TN 37917.

A portion of all sales during the evening will be donated to BreastStrokes, an organization which provides financial support to female cancer patients through the creation of empowering art featuring the painted busts of women whose lives, in one way or another, have been affected by cancer.

In a unique mix of fashion, spoken word, and art, “Torsos and TaTas” will feature the spectacular Raku ceramic torsos created by John McRae, a Professor of Architecture at UT, and musical guest Cindi Alpert & the Corduroy Jazz Trio;

Gage Models wearing custom Couture Corsets created just for this event by special guest Royal Peasantry, from Asheville, NC, will circulate through the gallery, as SAFTA poets Erin Elizabeth Smith, Luci Brown, and Lyric Dunagan present “Pop-Up Poetry” throughout the evening.

The community is cordially invited to join us in this unique celebration of the female form benefiting Breaststrokes. Free, covered parking is available in City Parking, adjacent to Paulk+Co. In addition to being an artist studio specializing in Concrete, Stone and Metal Fabrications, Paulk+Co is a gallery that showcases local and regional artists (Find them online at Paulk+Co.com).

Additional participant information can be found at:

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SAFTA’S #PaintBucketChallenge Has Six Days Left!

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Before the Sundress Academy for the Arts can welcome new resident artists in October, we need to spruce up the farmhouse with a fresh coat of paint. In order to raise money for this project, we have initiated our own bucket challenge—a Paint Bucket Challenge!

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As comical as it might be, we are not asking you to dump a bucket of (potentially very toxic) paint over your head; we just need your financial support and time to make this happen! It will cost about $1,000 to buy the paint, primer, brushes, sandpaper, and volunteer refreshments, and we still need $500 with five days left to go.

Here are some ways you can help:

Please, if you are able, consider donating to our cause. Even a small amount puts us a little bit closer to a fresh and shiny farmhouse!

After you donate, make a video to challenge your friends to do the same! All donations go directly to SAFTA, a non-profit organization, and help to promote art in East Tennessee.

If you are local and would like to donate your time, sign up to help paint on September 20th from 10 AM to 8 PM. Volunteers can sign up on our website or on our Facebook event!

Thanks for taking the challenge!

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SAFTA and the Knoxville Museum of Art Combine for Workshop Combining Poetry & Photography

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Poetry and photography intertwine as Sundress Academy for the Arts and the Knoxville Museum of Art present Not About But Through: Poems in Response to Photos, a poetry writing workshop open to writers of all experience. The workshop will focus on the museum’s exhibition “This World is Not My Home: Danny Lyon Photographs.” Poet Deborah Bernhardt will lead the workshop, which will take place 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24 at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Bernhardt will guide participants through the exhibition of photographs spanning Danny Lyon’s career, including his 1967 Knoxville photos. Discussion of traditional and alternative ways of seeing will be followed by a writing session at the museum. Participants will be encouraged to write not only about what they see but also elements and circumstances of their own invention. The workshop will conclude with an opportunity for participants to share their work and receive feedback.

The cost of the workshop is $45 per person and includes afternoon refreshments; however, a discounted rate of $35 per person is available for individuals who paid by July 31. A discounted rate of $75 is also available for two participants who register together. To purchase tickets, visit the Workshops section of the Sundress online store, here.

The Knoxville Museum of Art celebrates the art and artists of East Tennessee, presents new art and new ideas, serves and educates diverse audiences, and enhances Knoxville’s quality of life. For more information on the Knoxville Museum of Art, visit their website here, and for more on Danny Lyon’s exhibition and photographs, click here.

 

Deborah Bernhardt Spring 2007 by Christine Krikliwy

Deborah Bernhardt is the author of Echolalia, which was published by Four Way Books in 2006 and was the winner of the Intro Prize for Poetry. Her second collection, Driftology, won the 2013 New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM Chapbook Prize. She received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, an MFA from the University of Arizona, and fellowships and grants from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing (Jay C. and Ruth Halls Fellowship), the Wisconsin Arts Board (Literary Arts Grant), Penn State Altoona, Writers@Work, Fishtrap, Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Hessen Literary Society, Germany.

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First-ever Holler Salon planned for August 17 at Firefly Farms!

Introducing a creative extension to our award-winning reading series!

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The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present poet Laura Madeline Wiseman and local artist Chris Johnson in “Art, Myth, and Martians,” the first installment of Holler Salon, an extension of the award winning SAFTA reading series. The event will be held at Firefly Farms in Knoxville at 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 17th.  Holler Salon is an occasional salon series featuring local and national writers and artists. Hosted at Firefly Farms in Knoxville, each salon will provide an intimate setting conducive to discussing and developing the ideas and inspirations of creative individuals from a variety of disciplines.

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). She holds a doctorate from the University of Nebraska and has received an Academy of American Poets award and the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship. Her work is imaginative and provocative and has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Margie, and Feminist Studies.

For Holler Salon, Wiseman will discuss her playful sci-fi book, American Galactic, as well as selections from Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience, her unique, romantic take on the classic Bluebeard myth.

Chris Johnson is a local, self-taught visual artist with Gallery 133. His work is edgy and engaging and hangs in both public galleries and private collections. For Holler Salon, Johnson will feature his paintings “A Study on Berserk”—an homage to his favorite graffiti artist, Berserk—and “The Madness Vase”—based on the Andrea Gibson chapbook The Nutritionist.

 

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RSVP for this event on the Facebook page!

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SAFTA Announces OUTSpoken A Program for LGBTQ Writers, Artists, Filmmakers, & Performers

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Knoxville, TN — OUTSpoken is a new program from the Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA). The goal of this program is to create a platform for the LGBTQ community in Knoxville and surrounding areas to record and perform the experiences of sex- and gender-diverse individuals in the South.

OUTSpoken will begin with a series of writing workshops, where community members will develop their experiences into poems, monologues, narratives, or other literary forms. These pieces will then be revised and eventually performed in a staged reading. Artists from all over can also submit poetry or prose submissions, as well as video submissions of a monologue or film, online.

The workshops, which will run monthly from February through April, will be held at the organization’s headquarters, Firefly Farms, in Knoxville. These workshops will culminate in a staged reading in June 2014, showcasing the works of a wide range of individuals, including those whose experiences demonstrate intersectional issues. Participants will have the option of working with actors to bring their writing to life or performing their writing themselves.

As LGBTQ issues gain greater visibility, it is crucial that we explore the complexities of sex and gender diversity respectfully. In order to create a meaningful dialogue, we must acknowledge and listen to the stories, experiences, grievances, arguments, and counterarguments of all sex- and gender-diverse persons. It is our sincerest hope that this project will illuminate the struggles of Southern LGBTQ persons and celebrate sex and gender diversity in East Tennessee and beyond.

For more information on how to participate or to sponsor an artists, visit: www.sundresspublications.com/outspoken

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