Meet New Jasper Intern Christina Xan and Read About a Favorite Poet Cynthia Dewi Oka

"...language is not fixed and is always moving. We, as people, are continuously evolving, and our poetry does have to not stay stagnant." - Christina Xan

 Hi! I’m Christina Xan, and I’m a new intern here at Jasper for the 2018-2019 year. I’m currently a grad student at USC working on my MA in Lit. When I’m not busy taking and teaching classes, which is essentially never, I’m quickly grasping for time to scribble down plays and poetry or to make a ruckus banging on my keyboard in my apartment. My favorite activities include screaming over how perfect my cats are to the point of getting noise complaints, wearing the same pair of jeans to paint in because they were *so* expensive but got ruined on the first day, and eating so many cupcakes and tacos in one sitting that I slide into a comatose state for at least a week.

Hi! I’m Christina Xan, and I’m a new intern here at Jasper for the 2018-2019 year. I’m currently a grad student at USC working on my MA in Lit. When I’m not busy taking and teaching classes, which is essentially never, I’m quickly grasping for time to scribble down plays and poetry or to make a ruckus banging on my keyboard in my apartment. My favorite activities include screaming over how perfect my cats are to the point of getting noise complaints, wearing the same pair of jeans to paint in because they were *so* expensive but got ruined on the first day, and eating so many cupcakes and tacos in one sitting that I slide into a comatose state for at least a week.

Cynthia Dewi Oka

 

I’ve been reading and writing poetry since I was a little girl, and when I was in undergrad, I still had time to fit in reading poetry especially since I was a creative writing minor. However, once the first year of my MA rolled around, my time for any reading outside of class dwindled, and by the end of that first year, I realized I hadn’t read one new book of poetry in pretty much the entire time I’d been in grad school. So, I dedicated the beginning of this past summer to getting back to it. One of the first poets I stumbled across was Cynthia Dewi Oka when she was featured on Poets.org. I find poets through their site all the time, and I usually add them to my list of “Poets to Keep an Eye On,” but when I read Oka’s poem on that site (it kills me that I can’t remember which one), I became completely and wholly entranced. I basically flew to Amazon and bought both of her books of poetry, a decision I have not regretted once.

 

Oka’s work is far from unappreciated; she is a three time Pushcart Nominee who has two published books of poetry: Nomad of Salt and Hard Water and Salvage. Something that drew me to her right away was that her first work, Nomad of Salt and Hard Water, has come out in two editions, each of which are, to some degree, different from one another – I love this. While containing the same poems for the most part, Oka took the time between the publications of her first and second editions to reflect on what she felt the first publication lacked, editing poems for the second edition as well as adding new ones. While some people may criticize Oka for going back and changing her already published poems, for me this is just a demonstration that language is not fixed and is always moving. We, as people, are continuously evolving, and our poetry does have to not stay stagnant.

"Particularly, when Oka says at the end that “to wake will not mean betrayal, to be lost will not mean goodbye” I felt that she was speaking to all of us who have to lock part of ourselves away, that it is a call to all of us to not fear the light of our own suns."

Although Oka’s poems may be everchanging, for me, Oka’s poems pretty much boil down to one thing: identity. I suppose that if you break any piece of writing down to one thing you could say that it’s identity, that we’re always writing about ourselves in a way to understand ourselves. However, there’s something special about Oka, the way she writes about our struggle to take broken pieces of our identities to form something recognizable, something we can, as her aptly titled second book is called, salvage. What’s wonderful about Oka is that while her poems can be very specific in audience, I believe anyone can relate to them. Many times she writes to and about minorities, and her poems both speak to them and to others, partially by teaching those of us who are not minorities about their struggle. However, whether you’re a minority that has suffered a fracturing of your identity by a culture you’ve been unable to fight against or you’re just a human being whose biggest enemy against your identity is, well, you, there’s a poem for you in Oka’s work. One of my favorite poems from Nomad called “Soothsayer” is a perfect example of this. This poem is painfully relevant, a poem for those who look for refuge in a country that is not their own. However, even though I’m not an immigrant, this poem speaks to me in a personal way. Particularly, when Oka says at the end that “to wake will not mean betrayal, to be lost will not mean goodbye” I felt that she was speaking to all of us who have to lock part of ourselves away, that it is a call to all of us to not fear the light of our own suns.

 

While the content of the poem is obviously exceptionally important, the structure of a poem is equally so. I personally really appreciate people playing with form, trying something new, and speaking to an audience not just from the way a poem sounds but the way it looks. Oka has a perfect balance with form – she is able to break boundaries without alienating her reader. A poem in Salvage that I’ve particularly fallen in love with is “Winter Country,” and it’s mainly because of the form. Oka does something wonderfully unique with this poem. In her books, most of the poems are aligned to the left margin. “Winter Country” is split into two parts. One half contains the title and the poem, aligned to the right margin, while on the left margin appears a separate part of the poem in a different form, not under the title, and in different ink, only relating to the same subject. By putting half of the poem in a faded grey ink just behind the rest, Oka makes it appear almost as if the poem is haunting itself, something I personally haven’t seen done before.

 

In the end, I’ve fallen in love with Oka. She has a way of touching me with her words that I don’t find easily these days. On the cover of Salvage, Joy Harjo writes, “We are in the thick of the sludge of salvage, in an age of greedy locusts…when visionaries are bound to emerge. Cynthia Dewi Oka is one of these visionaries, a word prophet,” and I think if you take a few moments to read any one of her poems, you’ll agree.

~~~~0~~~~

It's a great time to join or renew your membership in

The Jasper Guild!

We're raising money to pay for the publication of Jasper Magazine now!

Join today and get a free bottomless beer or wine cup at the Magazine Release Party on September 21st at Stormwater Studios!

And see your name in print in this issue of Jasper Magazine!

 

 

 

JasperProject72forWEB.jpg

Something like a review - Cassie Premo Steele's Tongues in Trees, poems 1994 - 2017

"... Coin by coin, drop your worth into the jar of your heart and feel the equity begin. You are not a commodity...."

from Trust, by Cassie Premo Steele

 

cassie tongues in trees.jpg

I’ve been enjoying spending some time the past week or so with Cassie Premo Steele’s newest collection of poetry, Tongues in Trees, poems 1994 – 2017, published by Unbound Content in 2017. I nabbed a copy from Cassie on First Thursday when Cassie, along with Randy Spencer, so generously read for Kathryn Van Aernum’s opening of Common Ground at Anastasia & Friends. Kathryn’s show will be up for the rest of August, by the way, if you missed this lovely look at the places where we put our feet on a daily basis.

Cassie’s collection is divided into three sections—1994-2004, 2006-2016, and 2017. I met Cassie during the second section of this book when she taught me two classes in the women’s and gender studies graduate certificate program at USC – theory and methods. It was an interesting experience to learn theory and methods from an instructor who was not a social scientist. My first two degrees were in sociology and sociologists live and die by theory and methods. The scientific method validates our work when novices want to compare our work to the findings of Oprah. I was all about the N.

But one of the things Cassie taught me was that there are other important ways to validate reality in addition to statistical significance. And her point was well taken. Just because a person’s reality does not reside within the safe neighborhood of the majority does not negate their reality. Of course, I knew this already but her way of reminding me this, after the fully immersive experience of being a survey research wonk, changed my world. And I thank her for that.

 

 Cassie Premo Steele (photo by Suzanne Kappler)   

Cassie Premo Steele (photo by Suzanne Kappler)

 

In reading Cassie’s collection, I’ve become aware of how much the author’s world has also changed in the time I’ve known her. Without going into personal details, Cassie’s paradigm shifted in several ways over the course of our friendship. And it shifted beautifully to a place of fulfillment and authenticity. Her collection of poems and their shifting persuasions are elegantly emblematic of her growth as a scholar, an artist, and a human being. The nature of this book continues to teach me (remind me) about the importance of fluidity, of being in the moment, of keeping my feet close to the ground but still floating gently enough above it that I can still move easily and purposefully, exploring places and realities from many perspectives, even the most lonely and quiet.

I don’t know how to thank this poet, this friend, for such an important and powerful lesson.

But I can share with you my favorite poem from this lovely collection which is, probably not coincidentally, the next to last poem in the book. This poem tells me that patience should not be so exalted that it becomes a bog of our best intentions, and it reminds me once again that constructs, when they are first born, are made of wishes and fumes. We add the bricks and mortar. And we can tear them down. - CB

 

World

By Cassie Premo Steele

 

I see your boots by the bed and I shed years of straightening

up not sitting till it was right the spoon out of the sink the towel

on the rack the peanut butter capped the coat in the closet the plants

watered and animals fed but none of this straightened me so I threw

spoons until a visitor came and it was you and we threw towels

on the floor ate everything with our fingers took boxes from the

closet and let a spring come up to feed and water the world.

 

~~O~~

www.cassiepremosteele.com

 

Cindi Boiter is the founder and executive director of The Jasper Project and the editor of Jasper Magazine.

 

The Jasper Project is a non-profit all-volunteer organization that provides collaborative arts engineering for all disciplines of arts and artists in the South Carolina Midlands and throughout the state. Please help us continue to meet our mission of validating the cultural contributions of all artists and growing community within the arts by becoming a member of the Jasper Guild .  We'll print your name in the magazine, thank you on social media, and love you forever!

www.JasperProject.org

 

 

CALL for Poetry

News from the North Carolina Poetry Society


Submissions are now open (May 1 – July 31) for the Susan Laughter Meyers Poetry Fellowshipat Weymouth. North and South Carolina poets (age 18 and over) are eligible to apply. Check the NCPS website for details and the link to Submittable: http://www.ncpoetrysociety.org/meyers-fellowship/

The merit-based fellowship, co-sponsored by the NC Poetry Society (NCPS) and Weymouth Center honors the life and work of Susan Laughter Meyers (1945-2017). The recipient will be awarded a one-week stay at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, North Carolina, a $500.00 stipend, publication of a poem in Pinesong (NCPS’s annual anthology of award-winning poems), and an opportunity to read or present a program at an NCPS meeting at Weymouth.

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Eric Bargeron

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today's poem comes to us from Eric Bargeron --

 

spring song 

 

the green of Jesus

is breaking the ground

and the sweet

smell of delicious Jesus

is opening the house and

the dance of Jesus music

has hold of the air and

the world is turning

in the body of Jesus and

the future is possible

 

Lucille Clifton, "spring song" from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright 

 Eric Bargeron

Eric Bargeron

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Aida Rogers

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today's poem comes to us from Aida Rogers and here's what she says about it -- 

Here's one my grandmother would read to us. I didn't quite understand it, but the part about Little Bridget under the lake would just freak me out. Plus, what could sound more delicious to your ear and shivery up your spine and more adventurous in life than traveling "up an airy mountain and down the rushy glen"?

 

 

William Allingham (1824-1889)

          The Fairies

    UP the airy mountain, 
        Down the rushy glen, 
    We daren't go a-hunting
        For fear of little men; 
    Wee folk, good folk, 
        Trooping all together; 
    Green jacket, red cap, 
        And a white owl's feather!

    Down along the rocky shore
        Some make their home, 
    They live on crispy pancakes
        Of yellow tide-foam; 
    Some in the reeds
        Of the black mountain lake, 
    With frogs for their watch-dogs, 
        All night awake.

    High on the hill-top
        The old King sits; 
    He is now so old and gray
        He's nigh lost his wits. 
    With a bridge of white mist
        Columbkill he crosses, 
    On his stately journeys
        From Slieveleague to Rosses; 
    Or going up with music
        On cold starry nights, 
    To sup with the Queen
        Of the gay Northern Lights.

    They stole little Bridget
        For seven years long; 
    When she came down again
        Her friends were all gone. 
    They took her lightly back, 
        Between the night and morrow, 
    They thought that she was fast asleep, 
        But she was dead with sorrow. 
    They have kept her ever since
        Deep within the lake, 
    On a bed of flag-leaves, 
        Watching till she wake.

    By the craggy hill-side, 
        Through the mosses bare, 
    They have planted thorn-trees
        For pleasure here and there. 
    Is any man so daring
        As dig them up in spite, 
    He shall find their sharpest thorns
        In his bed at night.

    Up the airy mountain, 
        Down the rushy glen, 
    We daren't go a-hunting
        For fear of little men; 
    Wee folk, good folk, 
        Trooping all together; 
    Green jacket, red cap, 
        And a white owl's feather!

 

 

Aïda Rogers is a writer in Columbia who unfashionably likes poems that rhyme. She is the editor of the anthology series State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love. Volume 3 will be released in August by USC Press.

 

 Aida Rogers

Aida Rogers

Columbia's Favorite Poetry, Today Featuring Ed Madden

"It’s about who you are inside, but also about how the good and authentic version of who you are helps you to live ethically in the world."  

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

Today, we feature Ed Madden.

 

~~~

 

When I think about a poet and a poem that has always spoken to me, always drawn me and haunted me, I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins and “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.” There’s something about Hopkins that feels uncannily personal to me and sometimes resistant to the ways I summarize and explicate and parse in the classroom. I don’t teach Hopkins often, and when I do I find myself getting effusive—about the quirky prayer of praise for the particular and the peculiar in “Pied Beauty,” orr about his desperately exuberant exploded sonnet of theology “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.“ Or the poem To what serves mortal beauty,” in which he insists that beauty draws us to the things of this world and thus to the divine, but beauty (he is especially troubled by the beauty of young men) can also become an end rather than a means, may distract rather than instruct. Or I get lost in all those haunting sonnets of melancholy, the writer desperate to be faithful but crushed by darkness and deep depression.

 

I love Hopkins. A quirky writer, driven by sound (sometimes at the expense of sense) and given to idiosyncratic rhythms and syntax. A closeted gay man, repressed and depressed in a religious culture to which he devoted his life. Later, stuck in Ireland as a college teacher and overwhelmed by all the exams he had to grade. Deeply religious, but also deeply in love with the natural world, which is, he thinks—which must be—a revelation of the divine. He wrote in a meditation, “All things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God, and, if we know how to touch them, give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him.” Several years ago, I participated in a spiritual development retreat at the Lutheran seminary, reading and discussing Hopkins with the seminarians. I felt both out of place and absolutely at home there. Like being in a Hopkins poem.

 

Of all of his poems, it is “As kingfishers catch fire” that I find myself returning to again and again. The syntax is quirky, and the poem is filled with the kind of sonic density I admire in his work (and try, sometimes, to emulate in my own). It is a poem about the beauty of the world, but even more about how the flame of the divine flares most when we embrace our particularity, our singularity, when we live what we were meant to be. Like a bell that sings out its self, its name, so each of us must live out our own authenticities. (The fact that the poem is hard to read aloud just further emphasizes for me the particularities of sound and self.)  Hopkins even makes up a verb: selves. “What I do is me:” he writes, “for that I came.”

 

This “what I do is me” is not the tolerant you-do-you we hear in contemporary culture, not “do what you think is best for you.” It’s about who you are inside, but also about how the good and authentic version of who you are helps you to live ethically in the world. “The just man justices,” Hopkins writes, again making up a verb, suggesting not that we are what we do, but that we do who we are. If we are just, we live justice. And who we are is both us and more than us. What I do is me.

 

That’s the octave, the first part of the sonnet where the writer sets the scene, makes a proposition, states the terms. Then the volta, the turn, and the shorter and tighter sestet draws conclusions, moves toward some resolution. For Hopkins, after his little idiosyncratic sermon about selving, he takes an almost-orthodox turn. The just man acts Christlike—or in Hopkins’s quirky phrasing, “Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is – / Christ.” But he pushes on: Christ may be the model for who we can be or what we can do, but Christ is already present in all of us, in lovely limbs and lovely eyes and in faces that aren’t his. It’s not piety or strict adherence to some doctrine or other; it’s not work, it’s play. Christ—whether you read that as the Christian deity or as a figure for our better selves—plays in ten thousand places, and shines through the features of men’s faces. I know, of course, he means the play of a flame, but a good poet can be a punster, and Hopkins wants to say that this is play, not work.

 

Or it should be play. “All things are charged with love,” as he writes elsewhere, charged with God. If only we knew how to touch, how to see and apprehend, they would take fire—like the blue flash of a kingfisher’s wing—flow through, ring out. So he wants to teach us how to see, a lesson found in the last word of the poem: faces. The rhyme places-faces locates the divine in the faces around us. In the other. There is something deeply human (and humanist) and deeply ethical about this theology, and every rhyme in this quirky little meditation confirms the poet’s argument. The flame of the divine—the good, the true, the authentic—is your name, it’s why you’re here. Justice may be what he is, but grace shines in places and faces not his (not His).

 

Though I left the strict church of my youth and now find myself among the unaffiliated Nones, I remain deeply compelled by this poem. It could be my daily meditation, my daily prayer: What I do is me, for this I came. Like the flash of a kingfisher’s iridescence, the divine (the good, the just, the true, the authentic, the ethical) may shine in all of us. Like the bell that rings out its own name, each of us can sing the song we were meant to be. And if only we could recognize the holiness of one another, this could be a world of grace and, yes, justice.

 

Look around you, he says. The world is on fire with love. And God shines in the face of everyone you meet. If only we could learn how to see it.

 

That’s fucking beautiful.

 

 

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. 

 

I say móre: the just man justices; 

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces; 

Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is — 

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places, 

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his 

To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

 

Ed Madden is the author of several books of poetry. He is the poet laureate for the city of Columbia, the poetry editor for Jasper Magazine and Muddy Ford Press, and the director of the Women's and Gender Studies program at USC.
 
 Ed Madden

Ed Madden

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today featuring Susan Lenz

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

The reason I like Trees by Joyce Kilmer:
My second grade class presented a special, springtime play, The Wizard of Oz.  I was not selected for a speaking part. I was to stand in the background in a green pillowcase with green crepe paper attached to my arms (and the ink ran).  I was a tree, not even a tree that got to throw an apple at Dorothy, just a plain-old-boring-tree-standing-still.  I hated everything about it until the day of the performance.  My mother took me aside and recited Trees by Joyce Kilmer.  She then put me back in line to enter the stage and snapped a photo of me, smiling.  The poem saved the day. It was alright to be a tree.
PS  Since then, trees are pretty special too!   

 

Trees

 

I think that I shall never see 

A poem lovely as a tree. 

 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

 

A tree that looks at God all day, 

And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

 

A tree that may in Summer wear 

A nest of robins in her hair; 

 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 

Who intimately lives with rain. 

 

Poems are made by fools like me, 

But only God can make a tree.

Susan is an internationally renown fiber and installation artist based out of Columbia, SC.
 
 Susan Lenz in tree costume - center

Susan Lenz in tree costume - center

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Tony Tallent

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

 

Thanks to Tony Tallent for sharing a poem with us today.

One of my favorite poems is “Wild Birds” by Judy Goldman. To me, this poem conveys being in that place between anxiousness and hopefulness, ready to break free.

 

WILD BIRDS

 

I like to think that anything

is possible. Look at me,

a breath holder,

a person well-armored in forms

and channels, caught in the short orbit

of an orderly world. Surely

I can escape

 

with serious practice, of course,

 

to a time when I will begin to sing

an accidental song,

peel a tangerine

the color of my hair,

take scissors to the straps

of the sweet-smelling gown I wear,

 

open my door suddenly to wild birds.

 

-Judy Goldman

 

 

Tony Tallent loves words and loves sharing them in many ways. He is the chief program and innovation officer for Richland Library.
 
 
 Tony Tallent

Tony Tallent

And while we're on the topic of Tony, why not check out some of his original work at http://www.vestalreview.org/fallen-birds/ and give it your vote?

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, Featuring Nicola Waldron

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today we're featuring Nicola Waldron's favorite poem by Wendell Berry-

I think of this poem as the anti-panic. Berry reminds us that the natural world offers us confirmation of the constant existence of uncomplicated beauty and a model of the power of slowing down. When I feel overwhelmed, I can read this and feel as if I’ve actually been out in nature. If you read this aloud, it will actually help you breathe. Try it!

 

 The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

 

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Nicola Waldron is a writer-mother-teacher and would-be hermit, who tries to operate out in the human world as a bold truth-speaker, while maintaining an internal, prayerful kind of howling.
 
 Nicola Waldron

Nicola Waldron

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, Featuring Abstract Alexandra

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

~~

Today we feature a Columbia-based visual artist who goes by the moniker Abstract Alexandra.

 

One of my favorite poems by Dorothy Parker represents, to me, an understanding of pure sadness due to the walls of poverty that force creatives into a life of unhappiness. That was the pain I felt having to leave school. Alone in the world, with no one to care. Giving up dreams of creating wonderful beauty and expression due to poverty is heartbreakingly painful.

 

 

A dream lies dead here.

By Dorothy Parker

A dream lies dead here.

May you softly go 

Before this place, and turn away your eyes, 

Nor seek to know the look of that which dies 

Importuning Life for life. Walk not in woe, 

But, for a little, let your step be slow. 

And, of your mercy, be not sweetly wise 

With words of hope and Spring and tenderer skies. 

A dream lies dead; and this all mourners know: 

Whenever one drifted petal leaves the tree- 

Though white of bloom as it had been before 

And proudly waitful of fecundity- 

One little loveliness can be no more; 

And so must Beauty bow her imperfect head 

Because a dream has joined the wistful dead!

 

Abstract Alexandra is a visual artist.
 Abstract Alexandra

Abstract Alexandra

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, featuring Tim Conroy

curl your toes/ into the grass/

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

~~

Today, we're featuring poet Tim Conroy.

~~

 

My favorite poem is Thank You by Ross Gay.  I love poetry that reminds us of our frailty and insignificance and meanwhile calls us to be grateful. 

 

Thank You

BY ROSS GAY

 

If you find yourself half naked

and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,

again, the earth's great, sonorous moan that says

you are the air of the now and gone, that says

all you love will turn to dust,

and will meet you there, do not

raise your fist. Do not raise

your small voice against it. And do not

take cover. Instead, curl your toes

into the grass, watch the cloud

ascending from your lips. Walk

through the garden's dormant splendor.

Say only, thank you.

Thank you.

 

Tim Conroy is a Columbia-based poet, retired educator, and a founding board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center. He is the author of Theologies of Terrain published in 2017 by Muddy Ford Press.

 

 

 

 Tim Conroy

Tim Conroy

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, featuring Cassie Premo Steele

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Our fist poem is from poet and author Cassie Premo Steele.

 

Cassie Premo Steele

 

"My favorite poem is For Each of Us by Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde's poetry has been important to me throughout my life, so much so that I remember being in my twenties and feeling like life was worth living because I hadn't yet read everything she'd written. I love this poem especially because it is fierce and wise and supportive, but with the paradox of truth that makes Lorde a poet-philosopher. Power and pain exist together. Preparing a meal is essential, but there is more to life. The best politics come when we quiet down and do the work. Nothing is eternal, even the deepest love. And yet, we go on loving and nurturing in a spirit of pride and strength."

 

FOR EACH OF YOU

By Audre Lorde

 

Be who you are and will be

learn to cherish

that boisterous Black Angel that drives you

up one day and down another

protecting the place where your power rises

running like hot blood

from the same source 

as your pain.

 

When you are hungry

learn to eat

whatever sustains you

until morning

but do not be misled by details

simply because you live them.

 

Do not let your head deny

your hands

any memory of what passes through them

nor your eyes

nor your heart

everything can be used

except what is wasteful

(you will need

to remember this when you are accused of destruction.) 

Even when they are dangerous examine the heart of those machines you hate

before you discard them

and never mourn the lack of their power

lest you be condemned

to relive them.

If you do not learn to hate

you will never be lonely

enough

to love easily

nor will you always be brave

although it does not grow any easier

 

Do not pretend to convenient beliefs

even when they are righteous

you will never be able to defend your city

while shouting.

 

Remember whatever pain you bring back 

from your dreaming

but do not look for new gods

in the sea

nor in any part of a rainbow

Each time you love

love as deeply as if were

forever

only nothing is

eternal.

 

Speak proudly to your children

where ever you may find them

tell them

you are offspring of slaves

and your mother was

a princess

in darkness. 

 

 

Cassie Premo Steele is the author of fifteen books, including six books of poetry, and her new novel, The ReSisters, will be out later this year.

 

 Cassie Premo Steele

Cassie Premo Steele

Horizontal Hold

Last month when Jasper Magazine conducted its First Annual Pint and Poem Walk, a few folks asked for a copy of this poem, so here it is for those who asked (and those who didn't.) It's an amusing, odd piece I wrote under the influence of pain medicine after my eardrum ruptured. I was deaf in that ear for nearly a month. Anyway, here goes: horizontal hold

narcotics kill the pain

my mind a barren pool rusty ladder descends into earth and weeds

three lesbians gather wood together they build a Frank Lloyd Wright doghouse

monogamy -- monotony one of them is cheating on her husband

i have weird dreams of my dead father a fire engine Leonard Nimoy and a 19 percent raise

my carpet is the state fair for roaches city pigeons die quietly on my windowsill heads folded neatly into wings

loose audio tape lies in a tangled pile at my feet

i am openly seduced glistening nude in hues of violet by a body without a face

amplified pounding in my head clock ticking blood pumping machine-driven raucous vacuum

find me, bring me down where I can feel again

my antenna flails in the wind please slide on a tennis ball and help ride me of all this static

-- Kristine Hartvigsen

 

May Evans Kirby & Stepson, Staff Sergeant Richard Kirby, Share Poetry on This Veterans' Day

Through the magic of social media, Jasper had the opportunity to read a lovely poem this morning, written by a loyal and loving member of the Columbia's arts community, May Evans Kirby. May Weatherwax Evans married local musician, attorney and ne'er-do-well Bentz Kirby on December 12, 2009 when Bentz's son Richard was 24 years old.

She and Richard have been getting to know one another ever since.

She writes, "This morning, my stepson and Bentz's son, Richard Kirby, Jr., posted a poem on his wall. He is a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force and is currently serving in Afghanistan. The poem took my breath away. We chatted on Facebook, and we talked about how much work can go into writing a poem. I told him Worthy [Evans -- May's brother] told me his pieces are always in the works, which made me feel better."

May continues, "I got to know Richard a little better this morning. Thank God for Facebook, Bentz Kirby (for the making of Richard and the marrying of me) and all the amazing gifts each of us has, and what a blessing it is when they are shared."

Here is the poem May shared with Richard this Veteran's Day morning, and below that, the poem Richard wrote which inspired her to share her own.

 

The Wall

"Let tyrants shake their iron rods..." I became my fifth-grade self when I heard the band playing ... the hymn I once loved.

Blue eyes stare at me from under a cap of blond curls, A reminder of the wall names as young children who also once stood wondering.

As his parents lift their beloved's name from the cold black stone, they boy and I watch each other- I think he wonders why he is there. The shame of knowing makes me look away.

Carnations weep from the granite base, A sad irony, this beautiful statuary and the ravenous war which engulfed young men and spat out undending casualties.

I cry because I know, and the little boy does not, of the many lists (not nearly as beautiful) already made, and the others yet to come.

I cry again when the music stops, and the lone last band member walks away, instrument and chair in hand. ~May Kirby, 2006

 

A Fleeting Dream...

I sit upon a string unwinding And remember times that are behind me Of love, of hate, and wasted days Of the straight and narrow, of wandered ways Times of cheer and times of woe And forward to the times unknown On I move, seeking my Eleanor My dream to hold forever more

Still I wait, my thoughts roam free I've consider long, how things could be If everyone could see as I Keep those close they push aside Yet only thine-self one can control Even that bears a heavy toll For the pain that resides in ones own heart Can tear a man's world apart

Though time may heal your mortal coil The demons left inside will kill your soul Of this I pray that all will see And know how true friends should be Still it matters not the feeling felt You can only play what cards are dealt.

~ Richard Kirby

 

(May Evans Kirby is originally from Alexandria Virginia. When she is not writing poetry she is a customer support rep at a local educational software company.)

Creating Columbia: An Artistic Experience -- A Guest Blog from Sumner Bender

 

I have been involved with theatre in Columbia almost all of my life. It is an outlet, which from an early age, has given me more encouragement and excitement than almost any other activity in which I have engaged. After moving away to another country, I was without my theatre for an entire year. That was enough of that I knew. I decided that I would never live my life without the theatre again. One of the main things that I missed while in that foreign land, where I did not speak the native language, was a community. I had other foreigners, like myself, to joke and talk with and on a certain level connect. There is a bond built when you share an interesting situation like living abroad. But there is no community that I have ever felt more alive and involved then that of the theatre community. Upon my arrival back to the States I dove back into my old passion. I was barely in the country a week when I had signed on to do my next theatrical production, Reasons to be Pretty, at Trustus Theatre. And voila, I was back.

As I became more aware of my surroundings, and the reverse culture shock began to wear off I noticed that something had changed in Columbia. Well something had changed, but so had I. My eyes were opened wider than they had been before my departure and noticed this little city, that I had known all my life, opening up for me. All of a sudden there were artists of all variations wherever I went. I found myself traveling in packs of people I had never met before, but who spoke and looked liked the ones I had always known only slightly different.  Somehow this college town that seemed monotonous and trite and something to complain about had become a flourishing venue for the arts and a breeding ground for new experience. Where had they come from, had they been here all along? I don’t know and I don’t care, all I know is that it is here and it is now and it is all happening.

Working as a legal assistant most of my college career I spent plenty of time on Main Street hustling court documents and vying for stamps and certified signatures. Now I stroll down the street dipping in and out of various buildings hoping to see some inspiring work of art, whether an instillation at Anastasia’s or the ever changing scenes at Tapp’s. The first few times at gallery openings around town I noticed a large audience of my peers, people whom I barely recognized as someone who may or may not hangout at that bar I like to go to. In general there just seemed to be a thriving scene of interesting and interested people feeding off this new cultural frenzy taking place in our small southern city. Everywhere you look people are building and creating. It is vibrant and exhilarating to watch and feel.

Having been a part of the creative class of theatre folk that has been pounding on the door to this city for decades, I couldn’t help but want to combine the two. What separates the arts from one another? The genres of course, the performer, the visual artist, the sculptor, the musician…director etc. at the heart of each of these individuals lies the same bit of truth. Creation. Where there once was nothing now there is something, from a blank page, a blank wall or a blank stage each of these creators adds life to the lifeless. So why is it that we keep them all separate, one thing here another there and very little mixed in between. Arts in this climate, political and economical, are something that have to be continuously fought for, but one of the most important things in a community worth the fight.

To begin we must evolve these communities into one. Separately theatre, film and galleries have thriving followers. The would be regulars at the local bars, the ones we can count on to support us no matter what, but how much can we ask of the ones who already give us so much. We need to share with each other. Open our doors to collaboration between the arts. Introduce each other to the enriching beauty this city has to offer. Make it our mission as creators to build a bridge for our supporters to support each other creating a solid base for this city’s artistic class to not only stand on but rely on as well.

This is the 27th season at Trustus Theatre. We have been pushing the creative envelope since the doors opened in 1985. Yet as I stroll down Main Street I will meet many a people who have never set foot in the doors of the theatre, or any theatre in town for that matter. That has to change. Selfishly of course, I would do anything to keep our doors open because I believe in what we do, but at the same time I think we could offer those people a new experience one that they can keep coming back to and counting on. Just as I say that there are plenty of Trustus regulars who have never set foot in a gallery in this town. It would almost never occur to them to do so. It isn’t there style, it isn’t their interest. But isn’t it, really?

Think about it, we are all after the same thing even if we go about it in completely different ways. We are a family and right now we are estranged. That makes for pretty lonely Thanksgiving dinner. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to bring all the quirkiness together, all the eccentricities supporting one another like one big dysfunctional family? I mean it doesn’t get much more dysfunctional than trying to consistently create in a state that thinks the arts should be thrown out with yesterday’s trash. Well one governor’s trash can be one community’s absolute treasure. But it has to be one that we all share. No finder’s keepers, but finder’s givers. Tell us what is working for you and share your successes with everyone else out there trying to keep this cultural class in Columbia on the rise.

We have started off simply, by asking some of these visual artists to hang their work in our theatre. Help us turn our space where we sometimes hang art into The Gallery @ Trustus. So far we have bemet with overwhelming excitement from those involved. Next we are asking the writers who fill notebooks whilst sitting in small coffee shops to write a poem and enter it in our Spring Awakening Poetry Contest. We want you to enhance our audiences with your words, like our actors enhance them from the stage. Our goal is to make Trustus an artistic experience, but it takes you to make that possible. Enter your poetry, hang your art, come see our shows. Tell your friends. In return you can expect them same from us. We will go to your shows and look at, maybe even buy your art. We will listen to you sing and watch you mesmerize us with your dance. But all in all we have to do this together, let’s make Columbia an Artistic Experience.

~~~

The Spring Awakening Poetry Contest

 Trustus Theatre, in conjunction with this December’s production of the Tony award-winning Broadway hit musical Spring Awakening and Jasper Magazine, announces The Spring Awakening Poetry Contest. Share your own experiences, your own version of the coming of age experience through poetry. The winning poems will be published and winners will receive tickets to Trustus Theatre’s production of this award-winning play.

Winner of 8 Tony awards, including Best Musical, Spring Awakening celebrates the unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood with power, poignancy, and passion. Although our own experiences are individual, the coming of age theme resonates with all of us.  Whether it was tragic or transformative, the loss of innocence of the power of self-discovery, we all experience coming of age as a kind of awakening.  What did you learn (or not learn), and what can we learn from you?  What does it mean to you to come of age, to awaken, to discover who you are, to become an adult?

The Spring Awakening Poetry Contest will have 3 winners, one each in Adult and High School categories, and a third winner to be chosen as a Fan Favorite on Facebook.  The top 10 finalists will be posted on the Trustus Facebook page and the Fan Favorite selected through Facebook feedback.

Each winner will receive 2 tickets to Spring Awakening at Trustus and will have their poems published in the shows program AS WELL AS being published in the January edition of Jasper Magazine. Besides Fan Favorite the winners will be chosen by Ed Madden, literary editor for Jasper.

Effective IMMEDIATELY the entries are to be submitted online to thegallerytrustus@gmail.com as a Word document ATTACHMENT with the subject POETRY CONTEST. The deadline for entries is November 18 at 5 p.m. On Monday November 21 the Top 10 submissions will be posted on the Trustus Facebook page where voting will open for Fan Favorite. Voting will end at midnight on November 26. The winners will be announced online on Wednesday November 30.

Submission Guidelines: Work can be any form or style of poetry, but the poem should focus on the Spring Awakening coming of age theme.  Poems should not have been previously published in print or online, including personal blogs and internet web pages.  Only one entry per person. If you are entering the High School portion please tell us what school you attend!

 

 

Jasper asks, Do you remember what it was like to discover love and sex and who you are?

Jasper is working with Trustus Theatre to present:

The Spring Awakening Poetry Contest

Trustus Theatre announces, in conjunction with this December’s production of the Tony award-winning Broadway hit musical Spring Awakening, The Spring Awakening Poetry Contest. Share your own experiences, your own version of the coming of age experience through poetry. The winning poems will be published and winners will receive tickets to Trustus Theatre’s production of this award-winning play.

Winner of 8 Tony awards, including Best Musical, Spring Awakening celebrates the unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood with power, poignancy, and passion. Although our own experiences are individual, the coming of age theme resonates with all of us. Whether it was tragic or transformative, the loss of innocence or the power of self-discovery, we all experience coming of age as a kind of awakening. What did you learn (or not learn), and what can we learn from you? What does it mean to you to come of age, to awaken, to discover who you are, to become an adult?

The Spring Awakening Poetry Contest will have 3 winners, one each in Adult and High School categories, and a third winner to be chosen as a Fan Favorite on Facebook. The top 10 finalists will be posted on the Trustus Facebook page and the Fan Favorite selected through Facebook feedback.

Each winner will receive 2 tickets to Spring Awakening at Trustus and will have their poems published in the shows program as well as being published in the January edition of JASPER Magazine! Besides Fan Favorite the winners will be chosen by Ed Madden, poetry editor for JASPER.

Effective IMMEDIATELY the entries are to be submitted online to thegallerytrustus@gmail.com as a Word document ATTACHMENT with the subject POETRY CONTEST. The deadline for entries is November 18 at 5 p.m. On Monday November 21 the Top 10 submissions will be posted on the Trustus Facebook page where voting will open for Fan Favorite. Voting will end at midnight on November 26. The winners will be announced online on Wednesday November 30.

Submission Guidelines: Work can be any form or style of poetry, but the poem should focus on the Spring Awakening coming of age theme. Poems should not have been previously published in print or online, including personal blogs and internet web pages. Only one entry per person.

My father, dying

In this month’s Poetry magazine, a poem by Kevin Young, one of my favorite poets, caught me by surprise. Sometimes that happens, that twist, that leap, that chill of meaning that is both of the work and not of the work. I’m not sure how to write about this.

You can read the poem, “Pietà” by Kevin Young online here where a blogger has posted the poem. (Note: The poem is not centered in the published version. Subject for another day: centered poetry, pet peeve.)

Who is this “I” in the poem, and who is this “him”? I wondered. The title, Pietà—pity—suggests all those images of Mary cradling the body of her dead son. Whoever the sought-for “him” is, he can’t be found in heaven (“too uppity” and “not enough // music, or dark dirt”), nor in the earth. Death appears in the poem, a boy bounces a ball, and the speaker notices the delay of sound reaching him. Then Young ends: “Father, // find me when / you want. I’ll wait.” Prayer? Elegy? Father or father or both?

Last spring as my father was dying of cancer, I was reading poems, writing poems, drawn to poetry as a form of understanding, a way to process my conflicts and my grief. Poems I’d always loved and taught, from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” (his long elegiac sequence about the death of his dear friend) to Li-Young Lee’s stunning first book Rose, had new resonance for me. New pain, new forms of consolation.

Yes, sometimes this is what art does: offers consolation.

I’m not sure how to write about this. It feels, maybe, too personal.

I know I’m seeing dead fathers everywhere. My own keeps showing up in my dreams. I picked up a thin collection of new Scottish poetry when I was in Dublin in July, Intimate Expanses, and the first poem was Alastair Reid’s “My Father, Dying.” “The whole household is pending,” he writes. “I am not ready.” (I remember when the hospice nurse told us my father was on “the imminent list.”) The end of his father’s life, writes Reid, seems the beginning of something else: a “hesitant conversation / going on and on and on.”

In the July/August issue of Poetry, a poem by another favorite poet, Spencer Reece, “The Manhattan Project," a poem that ends, stunningly: “The quietness inside my father was building and would come to define him. I was wrong to judge it. Speak, Father, and I will listen. And if you do not speak, then I will listen to that.”

So I'm thinking about my father, I’m writing about my father. Here’s a draft:

Last Night

Last night, bright moon, dark trees lining each horizon,

armadillo digging up the flowerbed. The yucca’s last buds glow white.

Last night, a nightmare, lame as nightmares come, but

for all that, I woke up calling out for my father’s help. My mother

woke, her soft feet at the door.

Last night, she says, she heard voices, in the house, outside the window,

someone calling her name. It’s like that now.

Last night my dad asked how I got there,

sitting beside his bed, his head against the rail,

his soft focus stare. He says something else

I can’t quite hear, his quiet voice receding, as if

he’s elsewhere, another room. My mom says sometimes he waves

at someone, but no one’s there.

So I’m writing about and to my father. Not pleased with many of them, but writing. Maybe it’s a way to keep that “hesitant conversation” going. I am thinking about all the conversations I never had with him. I am listening to the silence. As I sit here at my desk, the dark shadow of a large hawk keeps crossing the backyard.

-----

For those of you who are writing or have written about illness, USC Sumter is hosting a writing contest (essay and poetry). Download the information here. Deadline is September 16.

Shame On You

I’ve been thinking a lot about shame lately. If this blog had a soundtrack it would be Evelyn Champagne King, 1978, “Shame.” (Yeah, I'm listening to it again while I write. Listen along!)

You can see him, can’t you? That skinny gay kid with bad Barry Manilow hair, dancing in front of his mirror to the eight-track tape….

Maybe I’m thinking about shame because I spent some time in my childhood home earlier this year, sleeping in that bedroom. (The mirror and the eight-track player and the Barry Manilow hairdo are gone now.  It gets better.)

Maybe it’s also because this is Gay Pride week in Columbia—rainbow banners on every street.  Pride is supposed to be the opposite of shame, a way of reclaiming as good an identity that has been, in the past, pathologized, demonized, stigmatized. (I do love those rainbow banners. I remember how excited we were, when I was on the Pride planning committee years ago, and that first gay pride street banner went up. We kept driving by it, smiling.) Pride is shame turned inside out. (A list of Pride events can be found here.)

Mostly, though, it’s because I’ve been working with the Sebastian art show, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. The beauty of the vilified.

Shame is a fundamental emotion of our childhoods—I think that it is amplified for some gay and lesbian kids. Therapists like to draw a distinction between shame and guilt: guilt is what we feel for something we’ve done or haven’t done, but shame is what we feel for who we are. It’s connected to our identities.

Shame can’t be erased or excised or purged. Nope, the residue of it sticks to us, no matter how much we try to wash it away, pretend it's not there. All we can do is transfigure it in some way, use it, understand it, recognize it, learn from it.

And write about it.

So in my poems about Sebastian, I was thinking about how and why we learn from shame, from the ways we’re shamed and the feelings of shame and the ongoing effects of shame. I don’t have answers; I was thinking of my poems as gestures, provocations, explorations, attempts. I was thinking about Sebastian and John O'Hara and Pinhead and Debussy and archery books and ampallangs and the Cowardly Lion. (Dorothy yells at him, “Shame on you,” before he breaks into his song: “It’s sad believe me, missy, when you’re born to be a sissy….”)

I wrote a series of poems or prayers for Sebastian. Here’s the last one of the series:

For Saint Sebastian

Arms, be bound. Legs bound, rope wound.

The rope that binds is shame. The arrow is shame, the bow.

Shame is a wound, shame is a caul. That we may learn the eloquence of shame.

That we may learn that the arrows do not kill you.

The tree stiffens the spine. The arrows do not kill us.

 

I’m still listening to Evelyn Champagne King. I know she’s singing about something else, but still, those lyrics sing for me. “Gonna love you just the same. Mama just don’t understand….”

- Ed Madden

 

Jasper Magazine - the Word on Columbia Arts debuts in print in

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Jasper says, "Arms be bound with rope and shame"

One thing about Jasper, he gets his hands dirty. Sometimes he comments about the art he sees and hears, but sometimes he’s got his hands down in it, making something. So sometimes we’ll write about what we’re doing.

So: I’ve been cutting up Jesus. Will I go to hell for this?

I’m working with a collaborative of artists –visual artists, filmmakers, performance artists—on a show called Saint Sebastian: From Martyr to Gay Starlet. The one-night-only gallery show will be Sept. 1 at Friday Cottage Artspace downtown (1830 Henderson). (Yes, we know, we know: same night as First Thursday.) The event was planned in conjunction with SC Gay Pride on Sept 3; the idea was to add an art element to the week of events.

 

 

The show, conceived by Alejandro García-Lemos and Leslie Pierce, explores the quirky iconography of Saint Sebastian, martyred twice (the first time didn’t work—Saint Irene pulled all the arrows out), his eyes always raised to heaven but his body writhing across this history of Western art in masochistic ecstasy. How does a Christian martyr become a gay icon? What is it about his story, his image, the representations of his martyred body? (The publicity art—which juxtaposes a male pin-up with stained glass, by Leslie Pierce—captures, I think, some of the weirdness of this icon.)

There’s a great image of Sebastian in the Columbia Museum of Art. The Virgin and Child are pure Byzantine, blue and gold and flat, but Sebastian is looking over the Virgin’s shoulder like the Renaissance, naturalistic, a real body, the cords of his strong neck.

The Sebastian show will include visual art, performance art, photography, film, a small souvenir chapbook of original art and poetry, a DJ, a cash bar, and a couple of boys standing around with arrows.

I’ve been writing poems about Sebastian—some about the image and history, some responding to specific works by the other artists. The interactions and collaborations have been rich and rewarding. (Note to self: there should be more interdisciplinary artist collaborations. Such a great way to generate new work.) A film visually responds to a poem which responds to a print, the film incorporating a voiceover of the poem and the imagery of the print. A photo documents a performance art piece which uses a poem which responds to a print (the poem projected—performance art into film—onto a male body).

I was asked to turn a small room into a poetry chapel. I’ve got icons, prayer cards (with a prayer to Sebastian.) Among other things, I wanted some prayer banners. My partner found some huge folk religious art canvases at a local auction—interesting because the artist was painting traditional Christian images, but clearly had a special interest in the textures of men’s bodies—the veins on arms, the carefully painted chest hair on an apostle. (And that carefully draped loincloth across the fisher of men, looking so like a wardrobe malfunction about to happen, the hand of Jesus so carefully positioned there, as if he’s about to rip it off.)

So for the banners I cut up bodies—Jesus, apostles, thieves on crosses. Something wicked and vaguely erotic about it. Disembodied arms. An arrow (real arrow) in the side. Wrists bound with golden rope. A prayer. “Arms be bound with rope and shame.”

-- Ed Madden