I am from a crowded place where siren songs
blast holes in the steady drone of traffic.
I see tall buildings and blue water and
smell bread and flowers as I walk
and sometimes unpleasant perfume
on fashionable women who walk past me.
I would like to taste the lilacs and touch
the passing dogs and cats
But never come close to the lovely ladies.
I am rather pleased with this first attempt at poetry. It was inspired by a wonderful Osher class I took last month at Carnegie Mellon. It was called “Artists as Activists Choose Pittsburgh” and facilitated by Leslie Golomb, who presented ideas about activist art and in three subsequent weeks brought in other artists who created activist work. In the final class Amanda Gross, a fiber artist, asked us to tell her something about ourselves using the following:
I am from… sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch
This is only a small part of what I enjoyed in the class. To explain, I have to make a small digression. Some weeks ago I went to the Carnegie Museum of Art to a space they called “The Sandbox” filled with “photo books” that are actually for sale. I looked at all of the books and understood very little of what I was seeing. The curator/salesperson kept asking me if I had questions. I think slowly of late, and couldn’t even begin to frame my questions. The books contained photos that may or may not have been taken by their author/editor/curator and meant nothing to me. She showed me a book she had compiled, telling me the photos were “vernacular.” That meant they were taken from a collection, made by someone else, over a period of 25 years. She got permission from the owner to put them in “her book,” which was bound professionally. I told her I made books and she gave me a look that said ‘aren’t you a sweet, little old lady.’ So, I am an old lady, not necessarily sweet, and I was confused. All of this was absolutely meaningless to me.
Back to the class: four weeks of food for thought about meaningful art, often beautiful, certainly significant. My artist friends are not here in Pittsburgh and I don’t often have a chance to participate in this kind of stimulating conversation. In the first class, Leslie, who is a print maker, talked about artists as acivists and also about her own work, which has dealt with feminism and slavery amongst other themes and ideas.
In the second class, Ben Sota, the founder of the Zany Umbrella Circus, talked about his passion for circus and how his presentations in other countries have generated thoughts about freedom in his audience.
Bec Young, a printmaker and fiber artist, talked to us in the third class. In addition to doing volunteer work in her community her prints deal with activist themes. Quoting from her artist statement: “…seek to give voice to stories that remain unheard with work that is beautiful and powerful.”
Amanda Gross, who inspired my poetry, showed us her beautiful work and talked to us about her huge community organizing project called knit the bridge, which brought people together from all over Pittsburgh. This last class tied together all of the ideas about making meaningful, beautiful art and banished the despair I felt in the Sandbox.