Guest Post by Janalee Emmer, MOA Head of Education
There is an ancient Greek saying, variously attributed to the Greek biographer Plutarch or to the earlier Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, that says, ‚ÄúPainting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.‚ÄĚ I love this quote, particularly because it suggests that the pairing of poetry and the visual arts is nothing new. Over centuries, these arts have often been compared to each other. Additionally, there is a long tradition of writers and poets writing about artwork, and this form of poetry is technically referred to as ekphrastic poetry. At the MOA, we are enthusiastic supporters of all of the arts and we have long been imagining an evening of poetry with writers responding to artwork at the museum. On Thursday, April 6th, we were excited to have our inaugural live poetry night featuring 23 poets reading their poems in front of the artwork that inspired them.
Co-organized with the BYU Department of English, the Poetry Jam showcased original poems by BYU students, faculty, and local community members. The poems were juried and selected by members of the Department of English as well as MOA staff members. Among the final selections were poems responding to artwork in various current exhibitions, including Shaping America, A Visual Testimony: Minerva Teichert ís Book of Mormon Paintings, Embracing Diverse Voices: A Century of African-American Art, and To Magnify the Lord: Six Centuries of Art and Devotion. As we walked through the galleries and listened to poets reading their poems, I was impressed at the thoughtful nature of the poetry; many of the poems made me think about familiar artwork in different ways and with new perspectives. Poetry, like visual art, provides us with a unique opportunity see the world through another ís eyes and perhaps increase our empathy and our sense of connection to humanity. Both of them invite us to slow down, ponder, and experience intimate, personal moments that can transform us.
When Dr. Jeff Tucker, a visiting professor in the English dept., and I planned the event several months ago, we anticipated a fairly small group of attendees for the Poetry Jam, especially since we hadn ít done it before. We were delighted that over a hundred people were in attendance! The overall response was extremely positive and many visitors expressed interest in seeing the poems in print form and also commented that we should plan again in the future. We are already looking forward to a similar event next year, and hope to improve upon it. For those of you who were not able to attend or would like to revisit some of those poems again, we íve included the poems from the Poetry Jam in a PDF form. Our heartfelt congratulations to all of the writers who shared their poems with us. We hope this event encourages all of us to look more closely at the artwork around us.