Ever been intimidated by poetry? Then Adams House has you in mind as it hosts several events in celebration of National Poetry Month. Zachary C. Sifuentes ’97, Adams House poetry and humanities resident tutor and creative writing instructor, hopes to breach this problem by presenting poetry in a way that engages the audience. “The goal is to disseminate poetry in a way that people will want to listen to it, read it” he says.
Adams will celebrate poetry throughout the month through various events, including art shows, student poetry readings, and a talk given by Sifuentes on Emily Dickinson’s work. The celebration began last weekend with a student art show in the Adams Art Space. Each piece of visual art was paired with a well known poem that was posted on the wall next to it.
Sifuentes uses the visual art to make poetry less foreign and more accessible to students. He notes that the artwork was meant to provide a window into the message and style of the poetry accompanying it, not to depict the poem. “Sometimes people are reticent around poetry,” he says. “We are more visually literate. The artwork is meant to draw us into the poetry itself.”
The accessibility of the poetry was enhanced by using several pieces of art that examine aspects of our daily lives. “What I’m trying to demonstrate is that however much we fear poetry or don’t like reading it, we live with it everyday” Sifuentes says.
The poetry of daily life was shown in a slideshow of pictures taken by Omar M. Abdelsamad ’09, Kelly A. Evans ’10, Louisa R. Malkin ’09, and Steven Surachman ’09 that documented a 24-hour period of their lives. The poem that accompanied their exhibit was Robert Lowell’s confessional poem “History.” The pictures of seemingly ordinary events, such as walking through the Yard and eating in a dining hall, were infused with meaning when presented alongside Lowell’s poem. An explanatory note illuminates the correlation between the pictures and the poem, stating that as college students we must, in Lowell’s words, “live with what was here” before we can prepare ourselves for our lives after graduation.
One of the featured artists, Kathleen E. Breeden ’09, thought Sifuentes’ idea was brilliant. “Artists often inspire poets, and poetry inspires visual artists,” she says. “There’s a lot of back and forth.” The poetry of Wordsworth, one of her inspirations, was featured next to her watercolor representations of the countryside. She feels connected to Wordsworth’s poetry because, although Breeden uses a different medium, they both are inspired by the English countryside and convey it through their work.
Sifuentes’ concept opened up new doors of inspiration for Adams House government, religion, and race relations residential tutor Barrett-Osahar Berry, who is both a poet and a photographer. Berry’s photographs of his recent spring break trip to China, which explored the compressive qualities of poetry, were featured with a poem by 18th-century Japanese poet Buson. Berry had been searching for a way to put his pictures to poetry and thought the unification of the two in the exhibit was successful. “The adjectives of the creative word seem better when you have an object to look at,” he says. The exhibit has inspired him to organize an additional exhibit in which other students who went on international spring break trips will bring their pictures together and relate them to poetry.
This unification of visual and aural art forms creates a vivid look and sound to poetry that makes it accessible to a larger audience. Sifuentes’ innovative approach to poetry seeks to bring down the walls that can make poetry difficult to understand and relate to, encouraging us that there is nothing to fear when it comes to poetry.