Making poetry tangible: GVSU holds interactive exhibit in library atrium space

GVL / Emily Frye   
Poetry exhibit in the library on Sunday January 21, 2018.

GVL / Emily Frye Poetry exhibit in the library on Sunday January 21, 2018.

Olivia Conaty

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Sometimes, Grand Valley State University offers the community an opportunity to see the talent of its professors or colleagues on display. Three writers from GVSU’s Writers Series—Ander Monson, Patricia Clark and Maggie Smith—have their poetry featured in the exhibit “Arranged Objects: A Few Good Bones,” which opened this month in the Mary Idema Pew Library Exhibition Space.

This interactive display puts a twist on the typical poetry exhibit: Clark, a writing professor at GVSU, has supplies provided for viewers to take rubbings of the 3-D poems. With the poems in 3-D form, guests are able to take a piece of paper, trace over the poetry and keep it as a souvenir. 

“Rather than just reading a poem, this way you can feel the poem, move a pencil over the poem and make a rubbing, and it makes it a lot more of a felt experience,” Clark said. “We wanted to get people out of just sitting there or hearing a poem or reading a poem, but actually interacting with it.”

Clark’s poem “Fragrant Cigar Boxes” is one of the three poems featured in the exhibit. She mentioned that poetry is more about experiences than words of wisdom. 

“I think what people miss sometimes about poetry is that we don’t write a poem to convey a meaning or a nugget of wisdom,” Clark said. “A poem is more (about) an experience than you would think, rather than something about meaning or wisdom.” 

Clark’s poem features memories involving specific situations she cherishes from her childhood, and she hopes her poem will remind others of the memories they hold onto as well.  

Morgan Hayden, a library research scholar and visual studies major at GVSU, said the exhibit is much more than what meets the eye.

“All of the poems deal with ideas because poetry is always really image-driven, and images come from the world and are usually (centered on objects),” Hayden said. “Each of these poems talk about objects in ways that show they can be vehicles for memory, grief or loss.” 

The idea behind the exhibit is that people usually associate memories with an object, or “a few good bones.” 

“I think art is the most important thing ever, and poetry is a part of that, so these are ‘a few good bones’—or objects—that both provide hope for this place to be made beautiful and have some of that residence of memory or grief or that connection you have,” Hayden said. “’A Few Good Bones’ is suggesting the correlation of the poems and the objects the poems are talking about.” 

Hayden would also like to remind the public that art is not as intimidating as it may seem.

“I know poetry is often sort of frightening, and we come in with preconceived ideas of what we’re supposed to understand and not understand,” she said. “The hope is that we can make the art more accessible by taking your own object or memory from the engraved poem. It takes on whatever you bring to it while also being a physical and tangible memory.”

To celebrate the work of the authors, there is a reception planned in the library for Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 5 p.m., which will include refreshments and a reading from Clark. The poems, along with the art supplies to make rubbings, will be set up in the library Exhibition Space until Wednesday, Jan. 31.