You’re Invited, lang•widge, March 27, 2010, Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland.
Poetry is a lot like music. Music evokes visual images; visual art can stimulate poems. Read that backwards and it’s true that way, too.
Last March, while visiting a friend in DC, I had the opportunity to experience all three — music, my friend’s paintings, and a spontaneous poetry happening — mixed together for one entertaining evening. The event: lang•widge. The setting: Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland.
My friend, artist Freya Grand, paints landscapes. Not your ordinary landscapes. Landscapes filtered through Freya’s vision and open to interaction with the viewer. In Freya’s words, “Painting landscape begins as an internal process. As in abstraction, forms transmit a mysterious secret life, exert a presence.”
Presence was abundant on March 27 at Gallery Neptune, even before the rest of the evening’s events unfolded. I’ve always had my own strong responses to Freya’s work, partly because I’ve traveled with her to some of the locations she later painted. More because her work is emotional, full of motion and light. Like me, the lang•widge participants responded in their own unique ways.
So here’s how it went: A few weeks before lang•widge, Freya and gallery owner Elyse Harrison asked jazz musician Steven Rogers to preview the paintings and compose short pieces of music in response. Once everyone had had a chance to walk around and see all the paintings (munch on cheese and crackers, drink wine), we were asked to gather in front of a podium and listen to a short poetry reading by Charlie Jensen, poet and director of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the poet, Reb Livingston.
Works by Freya Grand, Rock at Low Tide, 48″ x 60″, 2008, Burning Fields, 30″ x 30″, 2009, Cotopaxi, 48″ x 60″, 2006, and Fog, Benbulben, 30″ x30″, 2010, paintings © 2006-2010 by Freya Grand. All rights reserved.
Suitably warmed-up, we were each given a clipboard, a few sheets of paper, and a pencil. As Steven Rogers’ techno-jazz music played, we looked at the paintings again and quickly jotted down short lines. Whatever came to mind.
I was surprised by how much I liked the music. I am not a big jazz fan, but looking at Freya’s work and listening to this weird contemporary music, I found myself enjoying the way the visual and musical bits blended together. Whatever it was I wrote in response — I didn’t preserve any of it — was full of the light and movement I’ve always seen in my friend’s work. Hope, change, powerful natural forces, awe, wonder.
When the four short pieces of music had finished, we reassembled in front of the podium. Volunteers did most of the reading, but first Charlie Jensen and Reb Livingston demonstrated the technique. They chose two from a diverse collection of colored dice. The number rolled determined the number of pieces of paper to be read together to create a spontaneous poem.
The results were surprising, to say the least. Where I had seen light and life, others had seen darkness and death, despair and violence. Sexuality. New life forms. Being lost, being found. Memories of blankets, clouds, and chaos.
During lang•widge, poets Charles Jensen and Reb Livingston explain the process, draw poem pieces, then read the resulting poetry, photos © 2010 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.
Here are some of my favorite lines:
smiley in foam, red glee
his daughter in a box, pushed out to sea
I’ve made a mistake coming here
I’ll never eat butter cream frosting again
When my husband, Chris, who loves to perform for an audience, volunteered, things got even stranger. He happened to pick a very long series of lines that were written in five different languages. Chris speaks nothing but English. His courageous attempts to pronounce Spanish, Italian, French, German, and, I think, Swedish, were sidesplitting.
Afterward Chris sought out the writer of those lines, and, yes, she did speak all those languages. She told Chris he’d done a pretty good job at guessing the pronunciations.
I sought out Freya. “Did you realize how much pain and despair was hiding in your paintings?” I asked. Freya is not prone to darkness or despair. She told me she was actually more surprised by the butter cream frosting than the pain. She said something like, “People project into my work whatever is up for them at the present moment.”
Not sure about that butter cream.
So here’s an idea: How about trying a little mini da-da poetry writing sans Steven Rogers’ music? Take a look at any of the Freya Grand paintings in this post (or visit her website). Pick out a piece of music you currently like a lot. While the music plays, quickly, without much thought, jot down five (or so) lines or phrases.
Email them to me at email@example.com. After two weeks or so (about August 9) I’ll randomly pick out lines, type them in the order I’ve picked, and post them here in the comments section. Let’s see what we come up with.
Here are two poems created during the lang•widge event; these are also posted on The Writer’s Center website.
this is reversal
clouds coming up through earth’s crust
all my orange drizzles around in dust
I fly over this, I needn’t touch down
Earth is melting
manna comes down
my wings are lifted by
heat from the ground
Earth Burnt and Fractured
greeny pastures of ooze
trudging uphill I see my shadow and a whale
I’m near a synthetic ocean
one that’s flat and even dry
cured epoxy cement
fake lily sky
but here’s where I swim
and here’s where I’ll die
your piano carries me anywhere
walk to the top edge
as above, so below
You and me
never the same
mountain ranges between us
air that we breathe
the only media
I lived there so long the ocean was like a person to me.
A giant meatball rolling towards its destiny.
East coast sunsets
are less brilliant
but the sand between my toes
feels more like home.
Scary golf course littered laced
and smoking with traps sandy
silken tofu nowhere is there a
flag or a hole to crawl into
Dark fog charcoal wall
surrounding me give me grass
but it wriggles this grass
maybe the rocks will protect me
marshmallow antlers and steamy pea soup
There’s a smiley
in the foam
misty canyon aerie wheat
volcanic atmosphere rock strewn beach
his daughter in a box, pushed out to sea
wash of creation
pure thin air
Moses parts a red and vanillas sea
A single, persistent surfer.
I’d made a mistake coming here.
Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min.