Finding Beauty in the Buildings

Ever thought the International Graduate and Affairs Building was poetic? Thought of a sonnet in the Visual Arts Centre? Felt melodious in Weldon library?

Western’s 2016/17 Canada Council Writer in Residence is fusing our campus world with the multiverse of poetry, and she’s looking for undergraduate and graduate student writers to help. Margaret Christakos, an award-winning poet, author of fiction, critic, creative-writing professor, literary alchemist, and sonic superstar has initiated a series of four events under the name of Poetry Crossover, with the co-facilitation of Western’s Student Writer in Residence Victoria Wiebe.

“I think of Poetry Crossover as a set of literary excursions into various spaces on campus, where I help student writers explore some writing and presenting opportunities,” Christakos said.

Each event calls for a quick assembly of writers who will work together with different elements of poetry, space, and art forms to discuss creative work and develop public performances.

Christakos, through the Poetry Crossover series, focuses on drawing together creative communities for a fleeting moment in time, but one that is impactful. “Over my thirty-plus years of being a writer, I have found that one of the most interesting aspect of being an active writer happens off the page, in projects and reading events that allow writers and other artists to influence and inspire each other,” she says, “Everybody is surprised by what they learn, and often we gain new approaches to craft and vision.”

The first event, Kickoff: A Literary Sonic Social, took place in the IGAB atrium in the middle of January. The event used the open acoustic air of the campus venue to explore the oral, sonic, and alphabetic space of voices, and invited students to “Come be kickoff-onous.”

The second event just recently took place on February 9th: Boomerang. This event brought writers in conversation with the work of undergraduate visual arts students whose paintings are celebrated in this year’s Annual Juried Exhibition in Western’s Artlab Gallery. Students, professors, and community members got involved and met 3-4 times to respond to the works of  art through words, in the poetic tradition of ekphrasis. The writers enjoyed a guided tour of the exhibition led by Susan Edelstein, and Christakos prompted them to explore the different avenues into a piece of art, whether that is by focusing on form, style, content, concept, backstory, colour, or tone—and how they curve back into their perception—or by using instinctive and associative nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives to pull their impressions or responses out of themselves.

Christakos’ Poetry Crossover challenges the seemingly fixed borders and codes of language and space. Putting the English department in partnership with the Visual Art department challenged the borders between disciplines, and in doing so exposed many English students to a part of campus they didn’t know existed. All the writers, artists, and audience members involved in the event experienced a sort of marriage of true minds, and the work produced for the reading was so rich with differing responses and interpretations—an exercise in perspective which also destabilises the feeling of ownership that occurs after creating a work of art.

“The world is a network of webs and fields, and the more we understand the resonances of one web and field within and upon others, the more we recognize the interrelatedness of our resources, our ideas, our aspirations and potentials,” Christakos says.

Christakos herself is a fabulous example of breaking down fixed language codes by playing with syntax and switching out vowels in words for new ones. Her poem “hard to say” was performed at Boomerang and featured four voices bouncing back and forth as they moved through a walking choreography in response to a video art installation. Poetry does not have to be read with a stern face, monotone voice, or still body, and it doesn’t even have to be understood semantically. It can be sonic, instinctive, feral, and it can deviate from “normal” performances.

The idea behind Boomerang, and an idea that spans across all the Poetry Crossover events, is to create a conversation between poetry as public address and several spaces, art forms, and communities on campus. “Performing literary work in different spaces makes us more aware of the potency of our own bodies and voices in those spaces, both as individuals and as groups,” Christakos says. Her next event is called Whissper and writers are invited to discuss and disrupt the concept of silence and the communication codes of quietude, culminating in a performance in Weldon library.

Margaret Christakos’ poetry, and her development of this series, reveals a world of potential untouched to writers who craft in a deeply personal or private space; the performance is the second half of a poem’s life and Christakos invites you to embrace it with the same vigour.

 

For more information about participating in Poetry Crossover, contact Writer in Residence Margaret Christakos at mchris63@uwo.ca

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