Local poets to enliven an art gallery opening

MIDDLEBURY — Few words in the English language look and feel as diametrically opposed to their definitions as ekphrasis. It derives from Greek and sounds very much as if it belongs among the terminology that that language has shaped for the medical profession. What ekphrasis describes, however, is a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a work of art.
Poets love this stuff. So do artists.
Which is why Theresa Harris, director of Middlebury’s Edgewater Galleries, has brought together poets and visual artists for a new show. “The Language of Art” opens April 5 at both of Edgewater’s Middlebury locations: 1 Mill St. and 6 Merchants Row. Among the paintings and photographs of six accomplished artists, Harris will intersperse original work from the Spring Street Poets, a local writing group organized by David Weinstock. The opening reception, which starts at 5 p.m. next Friday, will also feature poets reading aloud from their work.
“To sell art you have to be more and more creative,” Harris said. “This blending of two arts — poetry and painting — could be really interesting. It provides gallery visitors with an opportunity to stop and pay attention in a different way.”
One of the show’s painters, Holly Harrison, is a poet herself. “Her work is horizontal, linear and could almost be read as a poem,” gallery director Harris said.
Harrison agrees.
“My work is definitely affected by my training as a poet,” she told the Independent. “I became interested in bird imagery through my love of Wallace Stevens, in particular the poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.’ A lot of the linear bird paintings in this show are from this series. These paintings are less obviously striped, and they focus more on a single image, but I think the poetry comes in through the rhythms of the horizontal lines and the way the disparate materials come together to create an integrated visual whole.”
POET RAY HUDSON poses by a Liz Hoag painting.
Independent photo/Steve James
Spring Street poet Ray Hudson wrote about Harrison’s painting “Soft Landing.” His “View from the Bus” captures the flight of birds and words alike: “They pause in midflight, proof / of what the unencumbered eye can do, can break free, / rest in mid air, on the thin wire that carries / the voices of parents and lovers, those pre-recorded / solicitations. Soft landings are still landings.”
“I saw my job as writing what sparked inside when I looked at the painting or photograph,” Hudson explained. “It’s going to be interesting for me to read these poems in the presence of the paintings. I may wonder, ‘What in the world does my poem have to do with this painting?’”
Fellow poet Mary Pratt described a moment when a poem appeared suddenly. “I often think about poetry as something that happens at the intersection between the outer world and my inner world, and one of my poems for this exhibit really happened that way,” she said. “I was sitting in the river window seat at the Daily Grind thinking about (Victoria Blewer’s) photo “Night Birds,” about how blue I’ve been lately and about the owl that’s been hanging out in our yard — and a poem just came and landed in my notebook.”
That poem, “Night Birds,” captures something of the mood of Blewer’s piece.
“The crows / don’t ask. They / do not care. // In the trees, bare / or not, under the sky, / starred or not, / they sit while my world / sleeps. Or not.”
KARI HANSEN WAS inspired to write poetry by the light and clouds in paintings by Margaret Gerding. She wrote a poem called “Soft Air.”
Independent photo/Steve James
Montreal-based painter Holly Friesen is no stranger to ekphrasis. “I’ve had poets come up to me and ask my permission to write poems about my work,” she said. Her answer is always, “Of course!”
Friesen loves the idea of integrating the two arts for the upcoming show. “It’s really beautiful when people read the poem, look at the work, then read the poem again. It broadens and deepens both the poetry and the painting,” she said. “It’s really lovely to watch.”
As much as she loves poetry, Friesen said, it’s never really influenced her work as a painter. “When I go into the studio, the paintings take over and I’ve learned not to get in the way. It comes from a wiser place than me.”

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