Sunday, October 2, 2011

One more Saturday for "Poetry in Place: The Platforms"

On Saturday I was part of something new, for me certainly, and maybe for anyone anywhere. Dana Turkovic, curator of exhibitions at the mighty Laumeier Sculpture Park, put it together. It was titled Poetry in Place: The Platforms. "The Platforms" were six constructed sites to read poetry (or, for that matter, to spout rants). Five poets were then invited to read poetry on these platforms and encourage others read or speak. I was one of the five invited poets.

I liked the idea very much, once I fully grasped it, which didn't happen until we were actually doing it. I do not fault Dana for this. In fact, I liked very much the way she organized the event. It was all very familiar to me, from my own efforts with Poetry Scores -- coming up with a group project that no one had ever quite thought of before, and then pulling together the group to pull it off knowing full well they can't imagine it in advance because it's a totally new thing.

The good news -- and another clever part of the design -- is we are going to do it again, next Saturday, October 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. I'll do my best to get more people out to Laumeier this time to experience this unique approach to public poetry and sculpture.

Here is how it works. There is a circular trail of platforms crafted around a small section of the vast sculpture park. (Signs point the way.) If you follow the trail, you come upon platforms with poets.

Coming down from the parking lots, you first encounter Douglis Beck's platform. Its main features are a wheel you spin and a cone that acts as a megaphone, like a carnival barker.

Next you see Daniel McGrath's platform, a faux stone, like something an ancient philosopher would stand upon to declaim.

Then you see Sarrita Hunn's platform, a glittery box that also has a multimedia component that was described to me. Since my phone is a dumb phone, I didn't quite get it, but if your phone is smart your phone can play with this platform too.

Then you come upon Noah Kirby's platform, which is more like a rusted old phone booth, since you step into rather than up on it. You can kind of hide in this one, while projecting your voice out of another megaphone-type construction.

From there you take a turn into the woods, where you soon come across the platform designed by Axi: Ome (Sung Ho Kim and Heather Woofter). This one is basically a bridge.

Finally, at the end of the woodlands trail is B.J. Vogt's piece, kind of a simulated forest of white trees with stepping stones.
It's an enormous park, there were six platforms for simultaneous poetry, poetry is a tough draw in any event, and (as I've said) this event was intrinsically difficult to promote in advance. So even with six local artists and five local poets -- I was joined by Julie Dill, Chris Parr, Stefene Russell and Buzz Spector -- the turnout, or walk-by traffic, wasn't quite equal to the ambition of the project or the quality of the work.

Still, it was a magical experience for those of us who did experience it. My favorite moment as a performer was hiding Noah Kirby's rusted metal structure and reading almost my entire chapbook of painful lost love poetry, A heart I carved for a girl I knew. It was the perfect environment for that poetry.

As a listener, my favorite experience was watching Buzz Spector read in B.J. Vogt's faux forest nestled in the actual woods. The poetry Buzz read was full of artifice and contrivance, very self-consciously so, and it was neat to see him read these poems while standing in a little artificial forest.

Now that we have a better sense of what to expect, I think all of the artists and poets involved will be able to bring more people out next Saturday. I certainly hope so. A lot of working artists in St. Louis (me included) tend to grouse that our major arts institutions don't do enough to partner with and co-promote with local working artists. I know we all enjoyed the rush of collaborating with a major international institution like Laumeier, but I feel we owe the institution a better return on its investment in us -- namely, local visitors who would not be at the park that particular day were there not these particular local artists included in the day's exhibitions.

Of course, this being St. Louis, that depends entirely on the St. Louis Cardinals being knocked out of the post-season between now and then.

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