This past Thursday evening, I attended a social gathering at the Malden Access Television Studio. The purpose of this gathering was to bring into the light, the exhibit that is currently there until Tuesday of next week: Lines Connecting Lines.
This exhibit was put together late last year, when local artists and members of the Malden Cultural Council decided to run a contest, where local Malden poets were invited to submit poetry for selection by local area artists to use as inspiration and to be interpreted as visual art through their own applied and chosen methods.
When I first learned of this opportunity from my friend Lady J at The Malden Writers’ Collaborative. I was dismissive of it. I figured my poems wouldn’t be selected, so why go to the bother of submitting. I lollygagged and procrastinated for a few weeks. Courting the possibility of submission, but yet reserved in my decision to do so. Finally, in mid-December, when the deadline for submission approached, I got a bit bolder, and subdued my doubts. I relented and submitted three of my poems to the selection committee. I even got bold enough and submitted some of my poetry to a writer’s trade magazine that was also having a year-end poetry contest.
As December passed into January, I heard back from the trade magazine. They didn’t want my poems. Not yet anyways 🙂 So, I just assumed that it would follow the Malden folks would not be needing any of my offerings either. However, just when I gave up. I saw an email in my inbox from-Lines Connecting Lines. They liked two of my selections and two different artists in the community decided to use my poems as inspiration for creating new art.
I was elated, as my poetry was now inspiring other artists. This had never happened for me before: to work across artistic mediums. Sure, I’ve worked with other writers before, but this was different. Now, as the submissions were selected, all I could do was wait for the tangible parts to follow.
Last Thursday night was where the lines got connected. I got to see for the first time, how my poems were viewed and realized tangibly through the visual arts.
My first poem that was selected for the project, “Cockroaches Are Precocious”, is one I have shared on this blog in the past. It is an irreverent take on glorifying something which a majority of folks would rather not talk about. It also challenges the conventions of expectation and reality.
I was lucky enough to have a local artist connect with the piece. I turns out that year ago when she lived in Manhattan, she also found Cockroaches to be quite Precocious. When she saw my poem, she remembered a piece that she had done almost 34 years ago. Mind you, I’m 41. I enjoy the notion that a poem I created, reminded an artist of a portrait she created in 1981.
When I met Cambia Davis for the first time, she delighted me with her story of how her portrait came to be, and how my poem had reminded me of that time in her life. We were connecting, my lines, her lines, lines all the way back to 1981. This made me feel gracious for the opportunity to participate in this contest, this exhibit, this sharing of artistic expression.
Below is the portrait she created, and beside it are the lines of my poem.
You can see the scene is under a kitchen sink, where some Manhattan Roaches are dining and washing some dishes. Cambia tells me that that is a paella dish in the sink, along with some wine glasses. Her Roaches were very cosmopolitan. This seemed to fall right in line with my insistence of their precociousness.
It was a true delight to have my poem matched up with Cambia’s artwork, and to learn about Cambia’s story, as well as her process.
I was fortunate to have another artist select another of my poems. Lisa L. Sears, not only an artist participating, but also my point of contact throughout the process. She was kind, and always kept me in the loop about the happenings related to the project.
When I met Lisa, she was as wonderful in person as in email (a rarity) and her voice completely fit the cyber image of who she was in my mind’s eye. She encouraged me to read to the folks coming out of the show.
I decided to read my poem “Sojourn” to the present audience. I was the sacrificial lamb, belting out my lines first (a spot no one wanted)
I couldn’t see the audience because of the lights, but I could hear their mutterings and whispers and breath. I talked about a metaphorical journey, my journey, their journey perhaps.
Other poets followed, and then the artists that interpreted our poems visually took time to tell us all why they selected our poems and how they inspired them to do what they did.
This was accompanied by a looped video of all of the poets reading their poems playing in the background, while the crowd gathered, mingled, and learned of each other.
For me, this was the best part of the night, getting to meet other local artists, and finding out what made them tick. There were many great personalities among us, and of course, what crowd of creative people would be complete without some really interesting folks with interesting stories and yet more interesting characteristics. These were my people. I felt connected. The lines blurred.
We enjoyed each others company, and then returned to hear more readings by poets and then their respective artists’ interpretations of their poetry.
This culminated in many announcements detailing how this show got put together, the who’s, the what’s, the how’s, and lastly the announcement of the events winners.
Lisa got up and started to explain that the event was in part funded by a grant from the Malden Cultural Council; and that part of that was to award prizes to participants in the show.
There were a lot of great poems and art shared that night, and I awaited to hear which of my fellow contributors would be honored.
Before I knew it, Lisa was talking about awarding a poem, and she called my name. I was stunned, and humbled, and got up to walk to the stage and shake her hand and accept the award. Lisa handed me and sealed envelope and gave me a big smile saying “Congratulations Chris.”
I went and sat back down and they announced the winner of the best in show, as applied to the art interpreted.
I was truly humbled, and didn’t believe that such a small thing could make me feel pretty damn good. It was (is) an honor to be selected for my work. This is the first such recognition. I was apprehensive about heralding it, but my wife, who is my most ardent supporter, convinced me to enjoy the honor and to share it with my friends and audience.
In my mind, everyone in the show, who helped to make the show possible, who participated and exposed a bit of themselves in the hopes of lines being connected, we all won something. We learned how rich our community is in diversity of person, diversity of experience, and diversity of life. We all gathered a communion of artists, and perhaps extended the promise of connecting our lines with others we have yet to meet, but can soon learn something from.
I look forward to sharing more, and in being less apprehensive to just take a chance and bet a little bit more on myself and what I have to offer.
Perhaps, cockroaches aren’t the only things that are precocious. Maybe, just maybe…