Students in Ami Irmen’s English 291 Creative Writing: Poetry class at Kishwaukee College were prepared to explore writing poetry in a variety of formats, but what they were not expecting was a collaboration with students in Miles Halpern’s Art classes to create a visual representation of their words. That is exactly what happened this spring at Kish College and the result was a mini-exhibition and an open mic poetry reading event in the Kishwaukee College Art Gallery on April 6.
The idea behind the collaboration across creative disciplines originated with Ami. “It was a crazy idea I thought up, and I threw it out to Miles - and he said sure.” She said. “I was hoping to bridge the gap between visual and written art. Plus, it just sounded like fun!” Miles Halpern agreed, “It sounded like fun. This is a great opportunity for poetry and art students to get their work out there, participate, collaborate, and build their résumés up in the process.”
Ami’s original idea was to have the poets and art students work together, but differing section times made that difficult. “The original hope had been to have them collaborate from day one - come up with a theme/idea together and go from there,” she explained. “But the class times didn't line up, so we had the poets write the poems and then I gave them all to Miles who handed them out to his students.”
Miles turned the collaborative process into a learning experience that was far reaching. “I spoke to them about the relationship between how a poet communicates ideas through allusion, metaphor, simile, personification, description, and how an artist might communicate ideas though symbolism, allegorical reference, personification, and description as well,” he said. “I also showed them examples of artists and poets who have responded to each other's works over the years, such as William Carlos Williams poem "The Great Figure" and Charles Demuth's painting "I Saw the Figure Five in Gold," and how Demuth went about interpreting the poet's work in an interesting manner.”
Spencer Siebeck, Sycamore is a poetry student whose poem, “Planetary Paint Chip,” was interpreted by art student Devon Buza, Oregon. “I took poetry because I wanted to challenge myself,” Spencer said. “I hate having to do rhyme so my poetry has always been free form, but in this class I learned to discipline my creativity. I wrote a sonnet and was forced to adhere to a form. I wasn’t used to it but I really liked it. It wasn’t restrictive, it just forced me to challenge myself.”
Devon looked over the poems that Miles had distributed to the class and immediately chose Spencer’s work. “It appealed to me because I had done some artwork with galaxies and that drew me in,” she said. “My original idea was a prism, but then that looked like Dark Side of the Moon (by Pink Floyd) so I just looked for colors and played around with it. It took me several tries to get the composition how I liked.”
When Spencer walked into the Gallery on April 6, she knew immediately which artwork was the one married to her poem. “The color just explodes and I just knew it had to be the piece that went with my poem,” she said. Devon added that she had simply felt a connection with the poet when she read the poem. The two students met for the first time at the Open Mic Reading at the installation of their collaborative work.
Ami would like to make the exercise in collaboration one that is repeated. “When I proposed the idea in class, I wasn't sure how well it would go over - if they would go for it or not,” she recalled. “But they were all super excited about it. This isn't a normal venue for showing written work, so I think they are enjoying the unique experience.”
Miles agreed, “I think one of the challenges and pleasures as an artist is to step out of your comfort zone, to get into someone else's mind and point of view, and to respond to it, to try something different. I think if we were to try this again, it could be interesting to do things in reverse, where the art student makes an artwork, and then the poet must respond to it.”
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Pictured are student poet Spencer Siebeck, Sycamore, who wrote a poem titled “Planetary Paint Chip,” and student artist Devon Buza, Oregon, who created a painting in response to the poem. Between them are their framed poem and painting.