Art that builds a bridge
“...where language and image and music combine to make an encounter possible.”
I’ve been teaching and reading with the Wick Poetry Center in Kent State University this week. It’s not my first time to Ohio, but it is my first time to this part. It was wonderful to meet some of you who came along to the workshops and readings — thank you.
I love giving workshops and readings. And I also love meeting people afterwards. Often someone says something nice about the work (which is lovely) but then they say something about their life, which is much more important. Folks say that they’ve listened to Poetry Unbound episodes while walking, while jogging, while drinking a morning coffee. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that they go to bed with Poetry Unbound — ha! nice to meet you — and I have also heard how, in certain friendships, you discuss the poems yourselves, meeting them with the stories of your lives.
These stories are so moving.
For me, whether I’m talking about my own poetry or someone else’s, most often I’m looking for some kind of bridge, some kind of connection, where language and image and music combine to make an encounter possible. Sometimes that encounter is between the past and the present. Or it’s between the living and the dead. Or it’s between myself and myself; or it’s between the bearable and the unbearable, or violence and its aftermath. Language makes a temporary bridge — made and unmade and remade and unmade again — that has creativity at its heart: making truth, making possibilities, making meaning, making connection.
The Wick Center was established by two brothers — Robert and Walter Wick — in 1984, in memory of their sons, Stan and Tom, both of whom had died tragically young. One of the center’s aims is “the loving mission to support young poets.” That adjective “loving” in a sentence about a university’s poetry center moved me when I heard it. That’s a bridge too; between young lives lost and young lives thriving; between sadness and commemoration; between art and art.
So that’s what I’m wondering this week:
What’s some art that’s been a bridge for you? And what has it been a bridge between?
One morning this week, I found myself reciting that Langston Hughes poem I mentioned the other week. That was a bridge: between a moment of sadness and the future when that sadness might be a memory in the body. This week I heard David Hassler, the director of the center at Kent, speak about a poem written by his beloved friend Maj Regain, a poem that’s been a bridge for him as he’s navigated the life and love and legacy of his friend who died in 2018. In a class, I saw a student’s eyes light up when she realised something she’d written was simply brilliant. A bridge between herself and her self.
I realised I’d never looked for the etymology of bridge. Before checking it out, I wondered what I’d guess, and I assumed it might have some connotation of a word for “over,” but I was wrong: the English word bridge has connotations of wooden flooring in its etymology; the Irish droichead is linked with words for wheel and path. The French word — pont — has etymologies of “path.” Interestingly, the word is less about what’s under the bridge, and more about the concrete materials that can support our transportation from one place to another. For me, this is the emotion, language, image, form, and music of words in poems. What’s done that for you? Where’s it taken you?
I’ll look forward to hearing about your bridges, friends. I’ll leave you with thanks for the time you take for these gorgeous conversations,
Poetry in the World
The Craft of Translation | Torn Page, NYC (435 W 22nd St)
On Sunday, March 5, in New York City, I’ll be joining the magnificent Patricio Ferrari for a multilingual poetry reading (English, Irish, Italian, Spanish) and a lively discussion on the craft of translation. You can register here, with a suggested donation of $10 in support of Tender Buttons Press. 5pm ET. I’d love to see you there — do come up and say hello.
Poetry and Prayer | St. Columba Conference Center, Memphis, TN
On Saturday, March 18, from 9am-2pm, I am giving a half-day retreat on Poetry and Prayer. This event is organised by Calvary Memphis congregation and is being held at St. Columba Conference Center. You can learn more and register here. This is an in-person event, with a cost of $75 (includes materials and lunch).
In Newfoundland the term for veranda or a wooden entrance to a house is called a “Bridge”. It is a nautical term. Like the bridge of a ship. It is often a gathering place in the summer. To gather on the bridge to look out to sea. To play music. To have a beer with friends. Or sometimes just to collect your thoughts.
The 4 short films made by 4 Autistic individuals facilitated by the BBC as the focus of their Inside our Autistic Minds programme. The films combined footage of the individuals, animation, graphics, sounds, spoken words, rap and music to provide a bridge between their private experience of the world and the people they share their lives with....and us the viewers. These short films have not only helped build a bridge of understanding between the individuals making them and the world but me as an Autistic person and hopefully my loved ones when I pluck up the courage to ask if they have watched them. I am finding myself wondering what form my short film would take if I could make one. I like to paint and draw. I am learning that all art is an attempt to communicate something, even if it is as simple as "please look at this" A bridge is the perfect metaphor for that. Sometimes the bridge connects parts of ourselves and sometimes it connects us with others.