Bosom Friends

Entry begun Sunday, March 22, 1:30 pm

This Friday was as stimulating, in its way, as Thursday had been.  David Shaerf is a filmmaker now at Oakland University outside Detroit.  I have met him several times at the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford, which he has visited as part of his project to create a major documentary film on the importance of Moby-Dick in twenty-first-century culture.  During this past summer, he visited New Bedford while the whale ship Charles W. Morgan was in town, and he recorded the gallery talk I gave on the exhibition I had curated on The Art of Seeing Whales.  David had hoped to interview me then, along with some of my other Melville colleagues there, but it turned out that he did not have time to sit down with us all.  I had mentioned that we would be having a Moby-Dick Marathon in Northern Kentucky in April 2105, concurrent with an exhibition of student artwork inspired by the novel, so he said he would try to come for that.  And now, on Friday, March 20, here he was, with this technical assistant Adam Gould, having driven down from Michigan the day before to scout the various venues at which he was to be be filming during our four-day Moby Fest in April.

Still by David Shaerf of gallery talk for The Art of Seeing Whales in New Bedford, July 201

Still by David Shaerf of gallery talk for The Art of Seeing Whales in New Bedford, July 2015

Here on Friday morning I met David and Adam at their hotel and drove them to our campus.  On this day they were traveling light, with no equipment other than David’s smart phone.  We went first to my office in Landrum Hall, which holds many of the Moby-Dick artworks that will be in the Covington exhibition.  I had sent David a catalog in advance, and as soon as he and Adam entered the office they began recognizing works on the wall.  David has been working on his Moby project for years, but I was very impressed that Adam was equally interested in the artwork and had an equally strong instrinct for it, something that is not always true of technical specialists.

We were soon joined by Emma Rose, whom they would be interviewing the next day about her work on our Moby project, and also by Aaron Zlatkin, a student from my 1996-97 Moby class who will be one of the panelists in the pedagogical session in the April 27 Symposium.  Aaron is very experienced in both video and audio recording, having recently completed his M. A. in our College of Informatics, where he is an equipment manager and an adjunct professor of audio.  He volunteered to meet up with David and Adam today to share his experience of the various recording venues on campus—as well as his experience as a freshman in one of my first classes in Moby and the Arts, now almost two decades ago.  Not surprisingly, we both look a little older than we did then.

David Shaerf speaking to Aaron Zlatkin (in the doorway), Emma Rose looking on

David Shaerf speaking to Aaron Zlatkin (in the doorway), Emma Rose looking on

After introductions and some discussion of the Moby project, Emma Rose stayed in the office to inscribe catalogs, while Aaron, David, Adam, and I walked over to Budig Theater in the University Center, which will house the April 27 Symposium.

Lee Renick's Stego sculpture

Patricia Renick’s Stego sculpture

After we examined that space, Aaron went back to work as we continued our tour of the campus, joining us again at noon for lunch.  From the Budig Theater we went to various sites that will be part of the Campus Tour of Moby-Dick art on the Symposium day.  We began on the third floor of Steely Library, where I knew David and Adam would enjoy Patricia Renick’s 1974 sculpture Stegowagenvolkssaurus.  Permanently installed next to it is Immortal in his Species, the suite of five photographs that Shay Derickson took in an auto graveyard as his final project in my Spring 2006 Moby class, two of which feature Volkswagens similar to the one that is physically incorporated in to Renick’s sculpture.

Two Volkswagens in Shay Derickson's auto graveyard

Two Volkswagens in Shay Derickson’s auto graveyard

After stopping at the cases displaying artworks in the current Dickinson exhibition on the third floor of Steely Library, we went down to the major Dickinson exhibition on the second floor, giving David and Adam background for the interview they would be doing with Emma Rose the next day.  Before leaving the library, we stopped in at the Archive on the first floor, where we will have a display of Moby-Dick art from the Archive itself that David and Adam will be filming on the Symposium day. They each loved this room, and said they would love to conduct some of their interviews with guest speakers and student artists in this room, if it could be arranged.

Moby-Dick art by Matt Kish and Robert Del Tedici in Steely Library Archive, November 2013

Moby-Dick art by Kish and Robert Del Tredici in Steely Library Archive, 2013

From the first floor of the library, it was a short walk across the plaza to the lobby of Greaves Concert Hall, where two of Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick prints have been permanently installed since the turn of the century.  The Whale as a Dish and The Hyena are two of thirteen Wave prints that Stella created between 1985 and 1989, the Wave prints themselves using 13 of the 138 titles that Stella used in the Moby-Dick series that he created between 1985 and 1997, one design for every chapter heading of the novel.  The Wave prints are often reproduced, but until you see one in person you can have no sense of its scale or of the intricacy with which diverse print media and image patterns are collaged together.  The scale of The Whale as a Dish is easily seen with David and Adam standing alongside it.

David Shaerf and Adam Gould with The Whale as a Dish

David Shaerf and Adam Gould with The Whale as a Dish

From the Greaves lobby we walked up to the Honors House to see the Moby-Dick artworks permanently on display in this building.  These include works by Frank Stella (one poster print), Mark Milloff (one giclee print), Matt Kish (one original drawing on found paper),Vali Myers (two giclee prints), Thanasis Christodoulou (three prints), Robert Del Tredici (one small print and five large screen prints), and three works by my NKU student artists that will be on loan to our Covington exhibition: Abby Schlachter’s Queequeg in her Coffin 2, Kathleen Piercefield’s map of The Voyage of the Pequod, and Danielle Kleymeyer’s double-sided metallic relief Shear.  Like most off-campus visitors, David and Adam were amazed that we had this much Moby-Dick artwork in one small house.

Moby-Dick art by Del Tredici, Kish, and Kleymeyer in Honors House

Moby-Dick art by Del Tredici, Kish, and Kleymeyer (near the ceiling) in Honors House

From the Honors House we walked back to my office, had lunch with Aaron, and drove across the Ohio River to the Cincinnati Art Museum, whose Fath Auditorium will be the site of our kick-off event on the evening of Friday, August 24.  After stopping for a close examination of Robert Duncanson’s 1851 painting Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami River (something I like to do with every visitor I bring to this museum), we went down to see whether the auditorium presented any unusual challenges for the samples from that event they planned to record.  We did not see any particular problems, so that gave us a little time to stop at Ohio River Overlook in Eden Park for its unparalleled view of the Northern Kentucky towns of Bellevue (where I live a few blocks from the river) and Dayton (whose floodwall I have been walking for recreation and poetic inspiration).  The Ohio River had been well over flood stage during the last week owing to the melting of heavy snow and the onset of heavy rains, so there was plenty to talk about as we scanned the expansive vista.  One of the views we got was the one David caught in the background of a three-way selfie.

David Shaerf’s three-way selfie on the Ohio River Overlook

David Shaerf’s three-way selfie on the Ohio River Overlook

I did not know until I saw it on Facebook that David had taken a photo of me and Adam as I was pointing out something across the river.  A friend who saw it on Facebook suggested that it would make a great author’s photo, which I think would be true if I could ever write the appropriate book.

David Shaerf’s stealth photo of Adam Gould and me

David Shaerf’s stealth photo of Adam Gould and me

From the overlook we drove back across the river to the Kenton Country Public Library on Scott Street in Covington.  David and Adam were interested in seeing the whole building since it would be the site of not only the Moby-Dick art exhibition but the Marathon Reading.  I love this building more and more the more I enter it, no matter the occasion.  There were lots of little details to share with David and Adam, especially since Emma Rose and I had been brainstorming for much of the day before.  They were impressed with both the design of the building and the thought that had gone into equipping it.  One professional concern that they would have on the Marathon weekend would be finding a dedicated room in which it might be possible to interview guest speakers and student artists while the Marathon is going on.  The staff on duty that day helped us find one on the first floor that would work very well if reserving it turned out to be possible.

Aquatic mosaic mural near the staircase on the first floor of the Covington library

Aquatic mosaic mural near the staircase on the first floor of the Covington library

It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we stopped in at a Dairy Queen near the hotel at which they were staying.  We decided to meet at the entrance to Landrum Hall at 10 am the next morning.  This would give them enough time to set up my office for the interview with me that was to be followed by the one with Emma Rose in the Dickinson exhibition space.  When I arrived at 10 am, there were David and Adam, sitting comfortably on a bench in the morning sun outside the building.  It is wonderful to spend time with such bosom friends, so at ease with each other and with whomever they are with.

David and Adam waiting outside Landrum Hall on Saturday morning

David and Adam waiting outside Landrum Hall on Saturday morning

Because my office is small and narrow, with restricted sight lines, it took them quite a while to have everything they needed in place.  This interview turned out to be much more comprehensive than I had expected.  Before asking me about my classes in Moby-Dick or the upcoming exhibition, David asked me to speak about Melville’s life in the nineteenth century, his motives for going whaling, the early reception of Moby-Dick and its later neglect, the revival of interest in Melville decades after his death, and the process by which the book has since become a classic.  Before doing any of this, David asked me to say the words “Call me Ishmael,” as he is doing with each person he interviews.  Somewhere along the way, he asked me to give a quick synopsis of Moby-Dick the novel, which is impossible, but which I tried to do.

Along with all these generic questions, David asked me to speak about my first encounter with Moby-Dick, my subsequent encounters in college and graduate school, and my experience teaching it throughout my career here at NKU.  During all of this I kept thinking that he and Adam are going to end up with a lot on the cutting-room floor.  But of course that is how I approach my own research, learning all I can and then preserving it in such a way that I would be able to retrieve it later, should this or that detail become valuable.  Emma Rose arrived for her interview about the time I was being asked about those artistic interpreters who had done the most to further an appreciation of the novel, including those I had worked with personally (Stella, Del Tredici, Kish, the composer Jake Heggie).  I was not too impressed with my answers to all of these questions, but David was looking satisfied, and said afterwards that it had gone well.  I was very happy when I could finally get to the part of my career leading to the work that Emma Rose and I had been doing on the forthcoming exhibition and its accompanying catalog.

An interview like this could go on for a very long time, but my wife and I had an appointment at 2 pm with our tax advisor, so we had to wrap it up by about 1:20.  The four of us had planned to have lunch at Chipotle’s, but I had to move along, with just enough time to get a good photo of my three companions in the parking lot.

david and adam and emma rose

These were two great days, and I am so grateful to David and Adam for taking the time to come down and scout things out.  It will certainly be wonderful to see them again in April.  They will be staying at the same hotel as most of our guest speakers, so they should be able to get some good informal footage along with the events of the four-day Moby Fest.

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Looking Ahead

Entry begun Saturday, March 21, 9:30 pm

Spring Break this semester ran from Monday, March 9, through Saturday, March 14, so I had scheduled my second cataract surgery, this one on my “good” left eye, for Wednesday, March 11.  The surgery on my right eye, on February 19, had gone well, so I was hoping this one would be the same.  I knew what to expect this time, and my surgeon, Jean Noll, again did an excellent job.  This time I was used to the sound that in February had reminded me of Dickinson’s “I heard a fly buzz when I died.”  I had learned that this buzzing sound is made by the sound waves that break up the cataract before the new lens is slipped in.  I had a patch over my left eye for a day after the surgery, but after that I could resume my normal pattern of reading and writing, as long as I rested some.

That cataract surgery is quite an out-of-body experience.  They give you something that leaves you awake enough to talk but relaxed enough to “feel no pain.”  The anesthesiologist said it was the drug they gave to Michael Jackson but at a much lower dose.  Once you are alert in the operating room you can see, but you don’t know what you are seeing.  I saw a bright white field with irregularly spaced abstract marks that seem to float like lines in an etching.  You are visually in this alternate reality at the same time that you hear with your ears and speak with your tongue just as you normally might.  This experience reminded me of the unforgettable phrase with which Dickinson ends the poem that begins with the sound of the buzzing fly: “I could not see to see—” (J 465).  Did she experience something like this when being treated for an eye condition in Boston during a long residence in 1864?

I was brought back into my own body during this most recent surgery when I saw a beautiful, transparent disc slide into the undifferentiated white field.  This was my new lens, indicating that the operation was nearly over.  It entered my vision as “Soundless as dots—on a Disc of Snow” (J 216).  But its unmistakable shape broke a surreal spell that puts me in mind, now, of another Dickinson poem,one of Lesley Dill’s favorites,  “Banish Air from Air—Divide Light if you Dare” (J. 854).

Emma Rose had flown to Italy for an art-historical tour of Rome and Florence during Spring Break.  We had inscribed a few of the catalogs before she left, but we needed to inscribe all the rest soon after she returned.  So I spent quite a bit of my break writing my inscriptions to each of the 53 student artists in the show.  It was a pleasure to reconnect with each student in this way—especially in a catalog that was so beautifully designed and produced.  Because the entire catalog was printed on black paper (Chris Casey had taught Emma Rose the ideal proportion of black to blue in the mix of the ink), we wrote our inscriptions with silver Sharpies, filling the top and bottom of the page whose only printed text was “Twenty Years of Moby-Dick Art by NKU Students.”

Sample inscriptions in Moby catalog

Sample inscriptions in Moby catalog

The sample page seen here is to Caitlin Sparks from the Spring 2011 class.  She has agreed to be one of the panelists for our session on “Creating Moby-Dick Art” in the April 27 Symposium.  I met Caitlin and walked through the exhibition space in the Covington library last week.  She haed some excellent ideas about how we might exhibit her three photo projects from the course—the four Ahab photos in recycled window frames, the three Whiteness photos in a window transom, and the three White Whale photos in ndividual frames.

Two Ahab photos by Caitlin Sparks in one recycled window frame

Two Ahab photos by Caitlin Sparks in one recycled window frame

Just before Emma Rose left for Italy, we had decided which student artists to invite to join our guest speakers as panelists in the artistic and pedagogical sessions on April 27.  It was great to get in touch with each of them—as well as with those students who live so far away I will have to send them a catalog rather than giving it to them in person.  When Emma Rose got back it town, she wrote her inscriptions, in stages, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week.  Now we have the whole set ready to hand out or send out to each student artist.  With that done, I will now be able send a collective email to the whole group inviting them to the kick-off event at the Cincinnati Art Museum on April 24, the Marathon Reading in the exhibition space at the Covington Public Library on April 25 and 26, the Symposium at NKU on April 27, and the Reception that evening honoring the guest speakers and student artists, back in the exhibition space in Covington.

Doubly inscribed catalogs, ready to hand or to send to student artists

Doubly inscribed catalogs, ready to hand or to send to student artists

On Thursday of this week we scheduled the whole day at the Covington Public Library so we could begin to figure out how to actually install the exhibition.  We met with Gary Pilkington, who is coordinating the exhibition and the Marathon weekend for us, shortly after 9.  We confirmed with him that the exhibition will open on April 17 and close on May 15.  Emma Rose would like to begin the actual installation on Monday, March 30, which Gary said would be fine.  After discussing such issues as storage space, publicity, caterers, and logistics for the Marathon weekend, Gary took us to meet the supervisors on each of the three floors: local history on the third floor, the children’s space on the first floor, the main circulation area in between.  We will need the approval of each floor supervisor for our proposed installation in his or her area, with Gary overseeing our work in the three-story stairwell.

shadow on brick 3 9-20

This was exactly the meeting we needed at this point in our planning, and everyone we met was extremely accommodating.  We spent the rest of the day laying out our dream arrangement for where the hundred-plus artworks would ideally be placed.  I had typed out a six-page list of the entire range of works by relative size and media, and we had the exact dimensions of each work in the catalog, so we were now free to brainstorm,  After thinking through the ideal placements for the various 3-D and oversize works, we began to organize the medium-size 2-D works according to subject.  These grouped themselves into Ahab, the whale, Queequeg and other crew members, seascapes, and a very fluid category we called “personal responses” to the novel.

We were at a table in the Local History section on the third floor as we did this planning, and it was exciting to see how many works in varying sizes and media this room alone would be able to accommodate, beginning with all three of Caitlin’s photographic sequences.  One of Emma Rose’s first suggestions was to display Caitlin’s four-photo Ahab sequence on either side of the large window facing north at the far end of the room (where the recycled window frames holding her photos would play off against the window frames in this room as well as those in the buildings across the street—and where the soft pink of Caitlin’s figurative shapes would play against the brick façades of the same buildings).

north window across to brick wall

We could have spent the whole afternoon assigning as many works as we could to each of the floors, but we still had a lot of catalogs to inscribe, so after we gave some good thought to what might best go where in the three-story stairwell, we left the rest of our specific exhibition planning until we would return on Thursday of next week.

Thursday was a very intense but satisfying day, leaving us both with the feeling that this building will be able to accommodate most if not all of the hundred-plus objects in our show.  In fact, we were both feeling now that having the whole show here will be better than if we had been allowed to install some of it in the “gallery” of the nearby Gateway building.  This public library does not have any of the white-walled rectangular exhibition spaces you normally find in a museum or a gallery.  But it does have a great variety of stack fronts, slatted walls, pillar mounts, cabinet tops, and stairwells fixtures that we can bring into play with plastic mounts, portable easels, table-top supports, and suspended fishlines to create a joyous kind of cetacean Easter-egg hunt throughout the building, with gems appearing in places where you might not expect them.

Some potential display spaces in Local History room

Some potential display spaces in Local History room

I think Melville would love that we are mounting this show in a public library.  Early in 1850 he began writing Moby-Dick in the New York Society Library, a long walk down Broadway from the overcrowded household in which he, his wife, their baby, and other members of their very extended family were living.  This library in Covington has been very heavily used every time we have visited, and some of its users appear to be as down on their luck as Melville had been when had signed onto a whale ship in 1840.  Moby-Dick has been widely taught in colleges and universities since the mid-twentieth century, but its deepest ethos is expressed in Ishmael’s declaration that “a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard” (chapter 24, “The Advocate”).   Two chapters later, Ishmael pledges himself to “that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself.”  For that reason Ishmael will “ascribe high qualities . . . to meanest mariners, and renegades, and castaways”‘ in the name of “thou just Spirit of Equality, which has spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind!”  (“Knights and Squires”).

Heavy usage on a sunny Sunday afternoon

Heavy usage on a sunny Sunday afternoon

It will be very interesting to see if Melville’s deepest layer of aspiration in writing Moby-Dick carries over in any significant way to the everyday patrons of the inner-city library that will be housing, for one month, art works by college kids who were inspired by the book to try to make it their—and our—own.

Part 4. Moby Comes to Covington and Greater Cincinnati in April 2015

Entry begun Tuesday, March 17, at 8:30 pm

As Ishmael sails out of the port of New Bedford on his first whaling voyage in Moby-Dick, he sees “huge hills and mountains of casks on casks . . . piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye” (“Wheelbarrow,” ch. 13).

Whale oil casks on the wharves of New Bedford, c. 1870.  New Bedford Whaling Museum

Whale oil casks on the wharves of New Bedford, c. 1870.  New Bedford Whaling Museum

So it is with our Dickinson and Moby-Dick projects in March 2015.  All of our works in the exhibition inspired by Dickinson are safely installed in the Steely Library, where they will silently repose until being removed from the walls in May, now no longer hearing the 90 successive voices that read out the 1775 poems that inspired their very creation, no longer hearing the lecture / presentations of new Dickinson art works; no longer hosting the student artists who over a fifteen-year-period had brought them into existence and were now expressing their pride during the Exhibition Walk and Panel Discussion; no longer savoring the buzz and the flavors of Emily Dickinson Tea Party that brought the Arts Fest to a close.  No, these works, from March into early May, will now provide a silent, stimulating, visual backdrop to those for whom this library was built, students at this university that has been growing from 3,000 students in 1972 to nearly 16,000 in 2015, a university moving from the extreme periphery of community awareness in its early years to a secure place among the influential institutions of the Greater Cincinnati region.

Aerial view from Northern Kentucky University to downtown Cincinnati

Aerial view from Northern Kentucky University to downtown Cincinnati

So, our major Dickinsonian labors behind us, we now turn to Moby.   A much larger exhibition in a much larger space inspiring four days of events in three different venues by a greater number of student artists seen by a much more varied audience and addressed by a greater number and variety of guest speakers.  Emma Rose and I will not have to worry about repeating ourselves or going on cruise control.  We will learn new things every step of the way, with everything hopefully coming together, in the end, as well as the Dickinson events did.  Every whaling voyage that sets out hopes to return home with all its casks full of quality oil, and all hands as safely on board as when they left port.

Emma Rose and I both felt our Moby-Dick voyage was actually under way on Wednesday, February 25, when we met at CJK publishers in Cincinnati to pick up the full run of our Moby catalog.  We had dropped off the final electronic file on Friday, February 6, and now we were receiving 105 published copies, each one 150 pages in full color and beautifully bound.  We had been hopeful that the printing would turn out well because of how well CJK had done with the Dickinson catalog, and we were not disappointed.  As the designer, and with a keener eye for color, Emma Rose was the “first responder,” and she was immediately satisfied, as was I.

Emma Rose Thompson examining the first published copy of our Moby catalog

Emma Rose Thompson examining the first published copy of our Moby catalog

Emma Rose and I are both extremely grateful to Chris Casey, who had guided the publishing process for us every step of the way, going all the way back to those early samples in October whose colors were untrue and whose pages fell out.  We have both learned a lot by working through this process with him, and we were both happy to learn that as a result of the work he has done for us, CJK has decided to acquire an Indigo printer of their own so they will no longer have to send jobs like this one out to California.  Our 105 copies came in three and a half boxes of 30 catalogs each, so we needed a dolly to roll them out to the trunk of my car.  I had to ask Chris to lift the boxes into the trunk for me, because I’d had cataract surgery a few days before and was not supposed to lift anything over ten pounds for a week.

Chris Casey rolling our catalogs out to my car

Chris Casey rolling our catalogs out to my car

The primary purpose of publishing the Moby catalog is to be able to present one to each of the 53 student artists in our show.  Emma Rose and I wanted to inscribe each catalog before making the presentation.  In this case we had much more time to do so than with the Dickinson catalog, which we had received only two weeks before the opening of the show.  Our first priority upon receiving the Moby catalog, therefore, was to inscribe and mail the ones we would be sending to our guest speakers who would be coming from out of town, to help them know the scope of the exhibition itself and have some idea of what they would be seeing when they arrive here in late April.  Their responses were immediate and very favorable, for they all admired the work Emma Rose had done in designing the catalog as much as I did.

From Elizabeth Schultz, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas, author of Unpainted to the Last and the scheduled keynoter for our April 27 symposium:  “My gorgeous new copy of Fast Fish & Loose Fish arrived in the mail early this week, and what a joy it is to behold.  You and Emma Rose—and all your students in the past 20 years—have created an extraordinary volume: a stunning record of academic achievement, but above all a record of astonishing creativity and knowledge.  It is beautiful and deeply moving, and I thank you and Emma Rose for including me in your wonderful symposium: another step in this process of creativity and knowledge.”

From Sam Otter, professor of English at University of California—Berkeley and editor of Leviathan:  “Congratulations to you and Emma Rose on the spectacular catalogue!  The images and artist statements and two bibliographies are vivid testimonies to the decades of mentorship you have provided for your students on Melville’s book and in support of their array of creative responses.  Thanks for the inscriptions.  I am proud to have a copy of the catalogue and look forward to seeing you next month.”

From Jeffrey Markham, English teacher from New Trier High School near Chicago, who will share Moby-Dick art projects by his students to lead off our pedagogical session:  “I just received the catalogue complete with inscriptions from you and Emma Rose.  I am deeply impressed by the breadth and depth of the material included. . . . I love the organization of the Moby catalog. The way you’ve labeled the page edges, set up each page, and included room for artist’s statements and reflections—all of it makes for a very enjoyable read.  It’s obvious that you’ve put an immense amount of work into this and it’s paid off.  The reproductions are quite clear and the overall feel is very rich.  Beautiful.  Congrats.”

From Don Dingledine, professor of English at University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh, who will share Moby artworks by his students as part of our pedagogical session:  “What a delight it was to open the package and marvel at the beauty of Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish.  You and Emma Rose have crafted a marvelous catalog!  It keeps drawing me back to it, and I’m eager to lose myself in its pages again and again as April’s conference approaches.  Thanks for getting this to me—with such lovely inscriptions no less—and thank you again for inviting me to participate.”

I received most of these comments while Emma Rose was away for Spring Break—on an art-historical field trip to Rome and Florence.  Before she got back, I had also received wonderful messages about this blog from two leading Dickinson scholars to whom I had sent a link after I had finally completed my entries on the Arts Fest.  Before the Arts Fest had started, Marta Werner and Martha Nell Smith had expressed some interest in possibility of posting some of the artistic projects from my Dickinson classes on the Dickinson Electronic Archive 2.  Now they were interested in doing something similar with the blog itself.

From Marta Werner, author of Gorgeous Nothings and co-editor of the Dickinson Electronic Archive:  “This is amazing — truly remarkable — and I’ve only read through about half of it! I can’t believe the breadth and depth of this project. . . . Of course, this document is already published in a sense through WordPress, but I wonder if you’d still be interested in giving it a second home on the DEA2?”

From Martha Nell Smith, co-author of Open me Carefully and co-editor of the Dickinson Electronic Archive:  “Just a cursory glance, and I’m SO excited! Would you consider giving this a second home on the Dickinson Electronic Archives? We would be honored, and this is the kind of project we want to host, sponsor. . . . All I’ll say before going into a meeting is WOW!”

For a teacher and a scholar, it does not get any better than this.  When you are proud of your students, there is nothing better than finding a wider audience for what they have created and achieved.  And, as I intimated in a previous post, none of this would have happened without Emma Rose.  If this blog devoted to Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015 does find a second home on the Dickinson Electronic Archives, it might also find a third home in Melville Electronic Library.  To be housed by the societies devoted to both authors would be a consummation devoutly to be wished.

The photo of whale oil casks on the wharves of New Bedford at the beginning of this entry is thought to have been taken around 1870, just a few years after Dickinson is thought to have written “I made slow Riches, but my Gain / Was steady as the sun.”  Back then no one would have expected Herman Melville, in New York City, or Emily Dickinson, in Amherst, to have the kind of literary afterlife each is now experiencing a century and a half later, not only here in their native country but as far away as Japan, where in June I will be attending an international Melville conference in Tokyo.

melville_tokyo_logomark-color-300

I made slow Riches but my Gain was steady as the Sun

Entry begun Thursday, March 5, at 8:00 pm

 I had never studied Emily Dickinson in graduate school.  When I entered the Master’s program at Columbia University in 1966, the guiding text in our American Literature proseminar was Eight American Authors, all of whom were male.   It is hard to believe it now, but Thomas Johnson’s pioneer edition of the Complete Poems was only eleven years old.  I have a vague memory of our being assigned a few Dickinson poems as a curiosity during that one-year M. A. program, but I have no memory of encountering Dickinson or her poetry during my doctoral studies in 19th-Century American Literature.

The way the field of American Literature was presented to me in graduate school in 1966

The way the field of American Literature was presented to me in graduate school in 1966

I began to really enjoy Dickinson when teaching as a young professor straight out of graduate school in the 1970s.  Northern Kentucky University was a brand-new university and we had very few upper-division literature classes.  Our four-course teaching load each semester consisted of three courses in Freshman Composition and either an Introduction to Literature or a survey course.  I began to love selected poems by Dickinson while teaching them to my Intro to Lit or American Lit Survey courses.

When we got more chances to teach upper-division English course in the 1980s, I considered teaching a course on Henry James, who had been one of my graduate school interests.  But I feared that his long, complex novels might be too much of a burden for our students, many of whom were commuters who worked 20-30 hours a week, over the course of a fifteen-week semester.  I had always felt that James and Dickinson were very similar in their psychological insights even though he wrote mammoth novels and she wrote tiny poems, so it struck me that a one-semester course alternating between these two authors might strike up a good rhythm for my students.  The fact that that each author never married, living a single life whose emotional affiliations and possible celibacy remained mysterious, seemed another reason to bring them together for at least one fifteen-week engagement.

441px-Henry_James_by_Sargent_1913

ED from ED museum

 

It was after Fred North in my 1994 class in Melville and the Arts asked if he could create a painting rather than write a research paper as his final project that I decided to open that option to students in my other literature courses.  Jill Schlarman in my American Literature Survey course in 1999 was my first student to use this option to create visual art inspired by Dickinson.  She presented four charcoal drawings as her final project at the end of the semester, and I liked one of them so much I asked if I could buy it from her as an inspiration for future students.  When I acquired that drawing in 1999 I never imagined that eighteen years later it would be on exhibition with 39 other works inspired by Dickinson in my literature classes.  Only now, can I say in retrospect, in the words of J. 843. “I made slow Richest but my Gain / Was steady as the Sun.”

Jill Schlarmans’s They shut me up in Prose (1997) next to Sarah Dewald’s Modern Deguerreotype (2014) in 2015 NKU student exhibition I took my Power in my Hand

Jill Schlarmans’s They shut me up in Prose (1999) next to Sarah Dewald’s Modern Deguerreotype (2014) in 2015 NKU student exhibition I took my Power in my Hand

During the first decade of the new century, I would occasionally acquire works from my students that I thought might be of interest to future students.  As soon as Camilla Asplen presented I took my Power in my Hand, and Ellen Bayer’s presented Emily, 2001, near the end of the 2001 Fall Semester, I knew that I wanted to show these to future classes.  I felt the same way when Brian Morris presented I cannot see my soul but I know ‘tis there, and Alan Johnston presented his Alaskan landscape The Sun went Down—no Man looked on, at the end of the 2005 Fall Semester.  Fortunately, all four students were willing to part with these works so future students could enjoy them.  But I never dreamed that these works by Camilla and Brian would one day adorn the front and back covers of a full-cover catalog.Dickinson cover_white with spine

Paging through our Dickinson catalog makes it easy to identify the other works I had acquired by the end of the first decade of our current century. From my Dickinson and James class during the 2008 Fall semester I acquired Julie Viltrakis’ riff on Dickinson’s Over the Fence and my first two Dickinson videos, Emily Grant’s film trailer inspired by a Joyce Carol Oates short story, and Ashley Theissen’s film trilogy inspired by poems 1173, 1632, and 630.  That was also the class that produced my first Dickinson quilt, Laura Beth Thrasher’s Henry and Emily.  When Emma Rose and I began creating our Dickinson catalog, I realized why I had been saving those classroom presentation photos and artist statements all these years.

08-09 Laura Beth Thrasher

Students in my 2010 Fall Semester course in Dickinson and James created another diverse set of works that I was able to acquire for the benefit of future students. These included Kimberly Estey’s photographic panorama of Dickinson’s Amherst home, Emily Christman’s fictional antique newspaper Dickinson News, and Carol Scaringelli’s mixed-media drawing of a Dickinsonian woman reaching out to grasp beauty.  I was happy to have all of these on hand when we began installing our current exhibition, with Kimberly’s photographic panorama fitting perfectly on the shelf above Emily’s antique newspaper, Julie Viltrakis’ Over the Fence, and Molly Blackburn’s Fame diptych from my most recent class.

Kimberly Estey’s photo panorama of the Dickinson homestead above Mollile Blackburn’s Fame diptych, Julie Viltrakis’s Over the Fence, and Emily Christman’s antique Dickinson News

Kimberly Estey’s photo panorama of the Dickinson homestead above Molly Blackburn’s Fame diptych, Julie Viltrakis’ Over the Fence, and Emily Christman’s antique Dickinson News

I did not yet realize in 2010 that my sporadic collection of Dickinson artwork was already reaching the condition of those “Riches” in the second stanza of J. 843:

All days I did not earn the same

But my perceiveless Gain

Inferred the less by Growing than

The Sum that it had grow.

I did already sense that the whole was becoming more than the sum of its parts, but I had not yet envisioned what those parts might add up to.

The magnitude of my “Gain” remained “perceiveless” until I taught my first graduate class in Dickinson and James during the 2011 Fall Semester.  Although many of these students responded well to James, the intensity of their response to Dickinson was evident as soon as we began reading and discussing her poetry.   When this semester ended with Nicci Mechler presenting her life-size painting Susie’s Girl, and Heather Braley her Emily Dickinson Quilt, and Carola Bell her artist book Only Safe in Ashes, and Tom Clark his multi-media, multi-disciplinary evocation of Emily’s Civil War, and Lauren Magee her time-travel podcast of Emily at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, I knew a new “solstice” had been “passed” in my teaching of Dickinson.  It was time to give Henry a rest and teach my first all-Emily course : Dickinson and the Arts.

Lauren Magee, Nicci Mechler, Carola Bell, and Heather Braley presenting their final projects from the Fall 2011 Semester at NKU’s 2012 Celebration of Student Research and Creativity

Lauren Magee, Nicci Mechler, Carola Bell, and Heather Braley presenting their final projects from the Fall 2011 Semester at NKU’s 2012 Celebration of Student Research and Creativity

One year later, my first course in Dickinson and the Arts was everything I hoped it would be.  It was wonderful to teach songs by Aaron Copland, Jake Heggie, and others along with visual art by Lesley Dill, Joseph Cornell, and others, while also making the artwork created by my previous NKU students more integral to the course than ever before.  I was delighted when this entire class took the creative option at the end of the semester in a variety of projects that included an original song inspired by “I could not stop for death” and a live performance adapted from the Belle of Amherst in addition to the vast variety of visual art by Molly Blackburn, Stacey Barnes, Hilda Weaver, Minadora Macheret, Keianna Troxell, Caitlin Neely, Rachel Harpe, and Jordan D’Addario that has found a place in the current exhibition.  I was also delighted when Shawn Rehkamp, like Melissa Gers before him, devoted the next semester to an Independent Study project in which he made a website featuring the creative work of all of his classmates.  His Blossoms of the Brain website is posted alongside Melissa’s website on the computer in our current exhibition.  You can see it right here with this link: http://www.nku.edu/~blossoms/index.html

By the time Shawn and several of his Fall 2012 classmates presented their Emily Dickinson projects at the Celebration of Student Research and Creativity in April 2013, Emma Rose Thompson was building the scale model for a hypothetical exhibition that she would presenting two weeks later as her final project in my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  Emma Rose and I had already decided that we would like to collaborate in finding a venue for a full-scale exhibition that we could co-curate in Moby-Dick art created by NKU students.  I realized by then that I had already accumulated enough excellent student work inspired by Dickinson to make a very interesting, if considerably smaller, companion exhibition.  Our ideal venue would be the Fine Arts galleries at NKU.  Because Emma Rose would be proposing that the work she would do on the Moby-Dick exhibition would serve as her Senior Show as a BFA Art History major, we thought our Moby proposal had a good chance of being accepted for the Main Gallery.  We also proposed a concurrent exhibition of Emily Dickinson art in the much smaller Third Floor Gallery just across the hall.

We very disappointed when these proposals were both rejected, but we had enjoyed the process of envisioning these exhibitions, so we decided to search for other venues.  This actually worked out well in terms of the Dickinson exhibition, because it made available the exceptional range of quality visual art that students presented as final projects in my 2014 Spring Semester course in Dickinson and the Arts.  Of these, the ones that are displayed on the walls and display cases of our current exhibition include the artist books by Jack Campbell, Megan Beckerich, and Austin Alley; the poem dress by Lindsay Alley; the portrait pieces by Rachel Harpe and Sarah Dewald; the landscape and nature pieces by Zack Ghaderi, Shannon Adcock, and Jovana Vidojevic; the human figure pieces by Kelsea Miskell, Matt Ruiz, and John Campbell; and Emily to the People, Sarah Kellam’s YouTube version of the public artwork she painted under the Twelfth Street Bridge in Covington.  Within  nine months of the end-of-the-semester photograph of his class out on the lawn of the Honors House in early May 2014, our exhibition was opening in the Farris Reading Room and Third Floor Entrance of the Steely library in early February 2015.

spring 2014 grouip photo 1

2014 class in Dickinson and the Arts outside NKU Honors House at end of semester

None of these Dickinson events would have happened—not the exhibition, not the catalog, not Marathon Reading, not the new art works by Piercefield and Illouz, not the song recital by Gelbwasser and Keller, not the Exhibition Walk or the Panel Discussion or the Tea Party—had not Emma Rose Thompson, during the 2013 Spring Semester, agreed to take on the idea of an Emily Dickinson student art exhibition as well as a Moby-Dick one.  The work we have  done together since then would not have been possible without the support of a great number of individuals and offices who have been mentioned appreciatively in the course of this blog.  The one person who most made it all possible is Michael Providenti, who liked the idea of the Dickinson exhibition as soon as we proposed it, and then secured the approval of the exhibitions committee of the Steely Library.  I am glad I got a photo of him and Emma Rose together during a quiet moment in the Arts Fest, as a visible reminder of how he has been there to help us address any challenges or suprises along the way.

Michael Providenti and Emma Rose Thompson soon after John Campbell's Dickinson screen had been installed in the Farris Reading Room

Michael Providenti and Emma Rose Thompson soon after John Campbell’s Dickinson screen had been installed in the Farris Reading Room

Michael, in addition to being quite photogenic himself, is a fine photographer.  He was here for much of the Arts Fest to document the event for the library, and occasionally I would be taking a photo of a scene in which he was present with his camera taking a photo in the direction of me, as in the image immediately below from the second day of the Marathon:

Michael Providenti taking a photograph frm behind the Marathon reader

Michael Providenti taking a photograph from behind the Marathon reader

Among the many “Riches” I received immediately after the Arts Fest was the link Michael sent to the one hundred plus photos of our events he had uploaded to a Flicker account.  Most of the photos he took are much better than those I took of the same subject, so I invite you to cruise through them with this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/steelylibrary/sets/72157650955336776/with/16430885307/

Another form of Riches care from The Northerner, our student newspaper.  In the online issue published a few days after the Arts Fest, Kiana Berry published an excellent overview of the whole range of activities, interviewing an impressive number of student artists and alums:  http://www.thenortherner.com/arts-and-life/campus-arts/2015/02/18/three-day-arts-fest-sparked-by-a-collaboration-of-passion/ 

Yet another form came from Lindsey Rudd, the videographer from The Northerer who with Kiana had interviewed Emma Rose and Matt Ruiz right after the Piercefield / Illouz presentation while the rest of us were going downstairs to the Archive.

Kiana Berry interview, and Lindsey Rudd recording, Emma Rose

Kiana Berry interviewing, and Lindsey Rudd recording, Emma Rose

I had seen the interview in process as I was leaving the Reading Room, but I did not know the content until Lindsey sent me this YouTube link:

I love especially the way the short video interview ends, with Emma Rose saying she was “really happy things turned out the way they did,” because “if someone had told me how to do it, I wouldn’t have made those mistakes that helped me learn things,” a dynamic she then compared to the process of many of the students whose work was in our show. .

I was amazed that Emma Rose had learned so much about Dickinson, and intuited so much about Dickinson’s poetry, without having studied Dickinson herself, but only from what she had picked up second-hand, so to speak, from the works of visual art students in my successive classes had created in response to that poetry.  On the day that John Campbell’s screen came over from Greaves Concert Hall, we found a spot for the picture of us together we’d always wanted to have taken while working on this project.

bob and emma rose 6

I think we chose this part of the screen because we liked it visually as a background.  I also like the fact that these three panels represent (a) the writing implements Dickinson used, (b) the fascisles into which she stitched the poems she write, and (c) the “gorgeous nothings” that had tumbled out of some folders in a library archive early in our own century, miscellaneous scraps, receipts, and shaped envelopes on which Dickinson, in her daily life, had scribbled down poetic fragments on the run, as it were. Those are only the most recent of the “slow Riches” she left for us to savor and treasure.

Emily Dickinson Tea Party

Entry continued on Thursday, March 5

I am guessing it was at 6 pm sharp, or maybe a few minutes earlier, when I called the Tea Party to order and thanked our signature chefs.  Mary and Lexie had laid out a wonderful spread for us.

mp of tea party opening

Thanking the signature chefs at the beginning of the Tea Party. Photo Michael Providenti

One table featured Kitty Beckerich’s version of Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake, Nicci Mechler’s version of her Coconut Cake, Thomas Thompson’s versions of her Corn Cakes and her Rice Cakes,  Mary Vieth’s version of her Ox-Blood Cake and Mary’s original Portrait Cake, and two signature dishes by Rhonda Gelbwasser, Mandel Bread and White Chocolate Chip Macademia Cookies.

tea party from emma 2

The other table of the Tea Party included Dickinson’s Federal Bread and Brown Bread by Thomas Thompson, her Ginger Bread by Kitty Beckerich and her Coconut Bread by John Campbell, and one store-bought concoction, the famous Opera Cream Cake that John had brought from Bonbonnerie in Cincinnati.

tea party from emma 3

 

Certainly one of the most unique creations was the Portrait Cake that Mary Vieth made in homage to Brain Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there.  Mary liked the challenge of trying to replicate the way in which Brian had recreated the appearance of Dickinson’s youthful daguerreotype portrait by the way he spaced the words of her poetry that he wrote with colored pencils on paper.  As the physical base of her Portrait Cake, Mary baked 48 Hummingbird and Honey cupcakes from Dickinson’s recipes.  Her equivalent of Brian’s colored pencils was the icing in black and read she “wrote” over a layer of white.  Look into the three rows of cupcakes on the left and you will see the distinctive features of young Emily’s daguerreotyped face slowly take shape.

Mary Vieth’s Portrait Cake, inspired by Brian Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there

Mary Vieth’s Portrait Cake, inspired by Brian Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there

At Mary’s suggestion, I had provided Dickinsonian quotes for each of the signature dishes, which she identified with ornate labels, of which here are a few samples I salvaged from the end of the feast:

signature cards

We did our best to consume these treats before the Tea Party ended at 7, but given the sumptuous extravagance with which our signature chefs had answered the call, there were plenty of goodies to be taken home for private enjoyment and more than one church coffee hour the next morning.   Somewhere in the midst of the Tea Party, I thought to ask Mary and her assistant Lexie if they would pose for a photo together.

Mary Vieth and Lexie Dressman-Dowling, Tea Party Grand Marshals

Mary Vieth and Lexie Dressman-Dowling, Tea Party Grand Marshals

Emily Dickinson began poem 791 with these words:  “God gave a Loaf to every Bird— / But just a Crumb—to Me—.”  Throughout her life she made loaves of bread and plates of cake for everyone she knew while keeping her poetic gifts mostly to herself, somehow confident that in the ultimate economy of the spiritual world, “It might be Famine—all around,” yet “I with but a Crumb / Am Sovereign of them all.”  Dickinson the baker / poet ultimately did find a way to have her cake, and eat it too.

Any of us who heard the artists lecture or the musicians perform on Thursday or Friday night, who participated in the Marathon Reading on Friday or Saturday, or who attended the Exhibition Walk on Friday or the Panel Discussion on Saturday, are the richer for it.  The same can be said for those who savored the student art exhibition or its catalog over the weekend, or who indulged in the Reception for Student Artists on Friday or the Tea Party on Saturday.  One can only wonder what Dickinson herself would have made of this three-day Fest in celebration of her life and art.

As we were packing up the remains of the Tea Party feast on Saturday evening, Emma Rose and I remembered that we had one more thing to do before leaving.  Tonight was the end of the Dickinson Arts Fest, but our exhibition would be up through early May.  In anticipation of that, we had ordered a large poster for the exhibition itself, designed by David Bushle in the NKU print shop.  We had provided the text, but we left it to him to create the design and to chose the art from the exhibition that would enhance it the most.  Since Emma Rose had designed the catalog and installed the exhibition, she had the honor of turning the next big page of our Spring Semester.

emma rose turning the page

Emma Rose replacing the Arts Fest poster with the Exhibition poster before we leave the Tea Party

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Panel Discussion by Student Artists

Entry begun Thursday, March 5, at 12:30 PM

It was difficult to choose student artists for the Panel Discussion because so many would have been so good to hear.  We would have liked to include the artists whose work we chose for the front and back covers of the catalog, but Camilla Asplen and Brian Morris had only been able attend on Friday, not Saturday, night.  We were more fortunate with Melissa Gers and Nicci Mechler, who had each co-authored essays with me about our classroom work published by the Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin in 2003 and 2012, respectively.  With Melissa and Nicci as the anchors, we also invited Minadora Macheret and Keianna Troxell from my Spring 2012 class, and Megan Beckerich and John Campbell from Spring 2014.

edis cover 2012

Issue of Bulletin including essay co-authored with Nicci Mechler

The furniture for our Panel Discussion consisted to two adjacent tables at which the panelists faced several rows of chairs for the audience, plus a podium with a microphone for each successive speaker.  Our plan was for each panelist to speak for 8 – 10 minutes, after which we would have 30 minutes for questions and discussion.  After introducing each speaker, I sat down to the right of the podium, Emma Rose sitting to the left of the panelists on the other side.  The Northerner, our student newspaper, showed the full width of the room in the photo published in its online story about the Arts Fest.

kiann picture sharp panel

Photo from the online issue of The Northerner, February 18, 2015

My perch at the far right was perfect for listening, although it was almost too “up close and personal” for taking getting a good camera angle.  It was such a pleasure to hear each of these student artists speak about her or his learning process in Dickinson and the Arts.  We went chronologically from the earliest Dickinson class to the most recent, so Melissa Gers, from the Fall Semester 2001, went first.

Melissa Gers (Baker) opening the panel discussion

Melissa Gers (Baker) opening the panel discussion

Melissa got a Master’s degree in Professional Writing from the University of Cincinnati after completing her English major here.  She has since had an excellent job in marketing at Proctor and Gamble.  In addition to creating her sculpture This is a Blossom of the Brain in the Fall 2001 class, and creating a sophisticated website showcasing the work of all of her classmates, Melissa had leapt at the opportunity to co-author the essay we called “Dickinson’s Power in Student Hands” for the EDIS Bulletin.  In all of these endeavors Melissa had been extremely articulate about the liberating power of creative freedom at the heart of the learning process.  To hear her revisit that theme today from her position as a young professional, surrounded by the artworks that her classmates Camilla Asplen and Ellen Bayer and three dozen subsequent Dickinson students had produced, was deeply satisfying.

Nicci Mechler as our second Dickinson panelist

Nicci Mechler as our second Dickinson panelist

Nicci Mechler is the kind of student for whom interdisciplinary is not enough.  I first met her as an undergraduate Art major who won a prize in a contest we had for students responding to themes of the Underground Railroad.  After pursuing graduate study at the Savannah School of the Arts in Georgia, she returned to NKU to earn a Master’s in English, in the course of which she took my class in Dickinson and James.  The intensity of her interest in Dickinson over the course of the semester extended from the poetry itself, to Dickinson’s emotional life (especially with Sue), and to her culinary talent (which Nicci researched by baking Emily’s coconut cake for the entire class).  We called our joint essay for the EDIS Bulletin “’Getting Creative in the Kitchen’: Dickinson Inspires Student Art.”

Nicci Mechler, Open me Carefully, 2013.

Nicci Mechler, Open me Carefully, 2013.

Nicci did not want to sell the exceptional painting Susie’s Girl she presented as her final project in the course, so I had been keeping it on extended loan in my office until it went up in the current exhibition.  I will get to keep Open Me Carefully, one several small, exquisite works that Nicci created and exhibited after the class was over.  Among Nicci’s Fall 2011 classmates who have work in our exhibition or who read in the Marathon are Carola Bell, Heather Braley, Tom Clark, Lauren Magee, Sarah Moore (Wagner), and Amy Fugazzi.

minadora panel 1

Minadora Macheret as our third Dickinson speaker

Minadora Macheret, like Nicci Mechler, shows the strength of our Master’s program in English, which is still quite new.  Minadora was an undergraduate in my 2012 Spring Semester class in Dickinson and the Arts; now in 2015 she is presenting a very ambitious portfolio of poems for the M. A. degree and is applying to doctoral programs.  She is the kind of student whose restless mind is always looking for new imaginative experience and finding fresh ways to express it.  The idea behind her double-sided Dickinson letter box was exceptional  Since we do not know now to whom Emily Dickinson wrote the famous “Master letters” expressing unrequited love, why not try to imagine who those people were and what they might have written back to Emily after receiving what she wrote?

Minadora Macheret’s double-sided letter box on the right; Keianna Troxell’s Gib’s Room on the left

Minadora Macheret’s double-sided letter box on the right; Keianna Troxell’s Gib’s Room on the left

As part of her panel presentation, Minadora chose to read the second of the return letters she wrote in the imagined voice of an imagined recipient.  This is the one Minadora wrote in a female voice, reflecting the strong interest many of my students have shown in Dickinson’s strong emotional ties to women.   To compose and write out the three imagined letters in an antique style would itself have made an impressive end-of-the-semester undergraduate project, but then to write out the three corresponding letters from Dickinson too, staining and baking all six of the letters so they looked antique, and then arranging the imagined correspondence in a box as if found in an attic—well, this whole project epitomizes why I love to give students the creative option, because they think of wonderful things to make that I could never have thought to make myself.

Keianna Troxell (Gregory) as our fourth Dickinson panelist

Keianna Troxell (Gregory) as our fourth Dickinson panelist

Keianna Troxell was a classmate of Minadora in my Spring 2012 class.  She also burrowed back into Dickinson’s actual life in an evocative and revealing way.  As she emphasized in her presentation, she had no idea what she wanted to do for her final project.  She liked the idea of creating something artistic, since she had already written so many research papers as an English major.  But she had no experience as an artist, and was floundering for a subject as the deadline for submitting a proposal approached.  Then she saw what she needed: Jerome Liebling’s recent photo of the back of the door that led into the former bedroom of Emily’s beloved nephew Gib, who had died at the age of eight.  Seeing Leibling’s photograph of the images Gib himself had pasted on the back of his bedroom door more than a century ago immediately gave Keianna the idea for the project in which she would clothe an image of Gib with the images he had loved, in the process unlocking her own feeling for a nephew who had died much too young, memorializing each of them by writing the words of Emily’s “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” (J 341) across the black surface of her Gib’s Room (seen next to Minadora’s double letter box in the exhibition photo above).

During Keianna’s talk I finally got up from my perch against the wall to get a photo of our panelists.  Melissa, Nicci, and Minadora are intent on Keianna herself, while Megan and John are looking at the reproduction of Gib’s Room in our exhibition catalog.

Keianna presenting as panel members look and listen

Keianna presenting as panel members look and listen

Throughout the presentations attention was intense from the audience as well, as you can see from the photo immediately below.  My only regret about the panel presentations is that I did not think to film or record them.

Audience listening to panel discussion

Audience listening to panel discussion

Megan Beckerich is the youngest in age of our six panelists, currently a junior International Studies major after entering NKU as a home-schooled freshman.  I had the pleasure of teaching her and her twin brother Matthew in my 2012 Fall Semester class in Honors Freshman Composition.  Megan had been extremely shy–while doing outstanding work in that class.  She was still somewhat shy—while also making extremely perceptive comments throughout the semester—as a sophomore in my upper-division course in Dickinson and the Arts.  The artist book she did for the Dickinson course, now up on the third floor of our exhibition, is a tour de force of artistic versatility and poetic apprehension.  I had a feeling that Megan might enjoy speaking about the making of this book in our panel.  When I finally got a chance to put the question to her (at one of our Loch Norse events at Bow Tie on Mount Adams), I was delighted when she quite fiercely said, “Yes.”

Megan Beckerich as our fifth Dickinson panelist

Megan Beckerich as our fifth Dickinson panelist

John Campbell was the oldest of our six speakers, as he had been among Megan’s Spring 2014 classmates, each of them adding so much to the class in entirely contrasting ways.  When I had asked John if he would consider being a part of a future Dickinson class after meeting him during Claire Illouz’s first visit in February 2011, I had no idea that so much would come from it, either during the Spring 2014 semester or in all the ways that John has contributed to the success of this Arts Fest that was now nearing its end as he stepped forward as our last speaker.  The artist book in the classroom and in our current exhibition, the enlargements from that book in the Cold Spring library and now in the exhibition itself, the Claire Illouz broadside, and the Emily Dickinson screen—this man is an absolute dymano of thought, feeling, and action.

John Campbell as the last of our six Dickinson panelists

John Campbell as the last of our six Dickinson panelists

I had not been sure whether John could make this Saturday afternoon speaking assignment.  He was coordinating a Claire Illouz printmaking workshop here at NKU during this same day. He was also transporting the Emily Dickinson screen from Greaves Concert Hall and installing it in our Reading Room.  And he had pledged to contribute some signature dishes to the Tea Party that would immediately follow the Panel Discussion.  But here he was, taking his spot with some students young enough to be his grandchildren, in sharing his own story of the creative urge from Dickinson’s poetry that had led him into multifarious artistic adventures of which he’d had no glimmer when had entered this class with those youngsters one calendar year ago.  It is just another of those many crazy coincidences that he and Megan were sharing their experiences from the same class one after another while their two artist books from that same class were sharing the same display case one floor up from where we were now sitting.

Megan Beckerich and John Campbell together in the exhibition space.  Photograph Michael Providenti

Megan Beckerich and John Campbell together in the exhibition space. Photograph Michael Providenti

After the six presentations, we had a very spirited discussion session with questions from the audience.  Emma Rose posed the question that provoked the most varied responses, asking how writing the artist statement for their work in this class differed from other kinds of writing each had previously done.

Emma Rose asking panelists about writing the artist statements

Emma Rose asking panelists about writing the artist statements

The questions and answers were very good, but as it got closer to 6 pm, more and more of us were sneaking glances to the other end of the room, where Mary Vieth and her assistant Lexie Dressman-Dowling were dressing the two tables for the Tea Party and setting out some of the signature dishes, Rebecca in the meantime having been to Starbuck’s and back with fresh coffee and hot water for tea.

 

Running a Dickinson Marathon, Part 2

Entry begun Tuesday, March 3, at 11:25 am

We were back to a clean start for the second day of the Marathon, the Reading Room empty but ready to go, since we had gotten everything in place the day before.  At the beginning of the day the biggest question mark was whether we would make it through to the end of Dickinson’s Complete Poems by the end of the Marathon at 4:30 in the afternoon.

saturday morning empty

I had signed up well in advance to read at 9 am on Saturday morning, figuring this spot might be one of the hardest to fill.  Emma Rose, Megan, Matt, and Minadora had signed up right behind me, so we did not have any worries about filling the first fifty minutes.

Minadora, Emma Rose, Matt, and Megan in the readings chairs, with Lauren Magee awaiting her turn

Minadora, Emma Rose, Matt, and Megan in the readings chairs, with Lauren Magee awaiting her turn

Students from Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honors Society, were on the morning shift today.  Rebecca Hudgins did more than keep track of the readers and the poems.  While our early readers were completing the 700s and moving through the 800s of the Johnson edition, Rebecca was bringing in large containers of coffee and hot water from Starbuck’s with which she would keep us alert and irrigated during the rest of the day.  By the time she was reading alongside my English department colleague John Alberti at 10 am, she looked as if she had been in that comfortable chair all morning.

John Alberti and Rebecca Hudgins reading early on Saturday morning

John Alberti and Rebecca Hudgins reading early on Saturday morning

It was certainly nice to have coffee handy throughout the morning, and it was also nice to have Kimberly Gelbwasser, who had sung the recital last night, come to take her ten minutes in the Marathon reading.  She read right before Diane Gabbard, one of many readers who came from Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington.  Kimberly, after studying Dickinson intensively in preparation for her concert, obviously enjoyed hearing the poetry being read aloud, as she stayed long after her own reading was over.

Kimberly Gelbwasser reading as Diane Gabbard listens

Kimberly Gelbwasser reading as Diane Gabbard listens

Before we knew it, lunch time was upon us.  The Einstein’s in the library is not open on Saturdays, so today I had to make a run up the hill to Chipotle’s to buy lunch for our student helpers.  We were now in the transition period between Loch Norse and Sigma Tau Delta, and Megan Beckerich and her twin brother Matthew had also augmented the morning shift.  Nine orders were a lot to handle, so Emma Rose’s friend Andrew came along to help.  We got all the right orders for all the right people, but forgot two important things: forks and napkins.  As we have no food service in the Student Union on weekends, I had to search the campus quite a while before I could find plastic forks for those who took their Burrito in a bowl.

 Lunch break (clockwise from left) for Matthew, Matt, Minadora, Emma Rose, Andrew. Megan, and Rebecca

Lunch break (clockwise from left) for Matthew, Matt, Minadora, Emma Rose, Andrew. Megan, and Rebecca

A lot began to happen after our impromptu lunch.  Tom Clark came in to read with two of his students form Conner High School, Kylie Gross and Soula Wells.  And Matt and John Campbell brought the ten-panels of the Emily Dickinson screen over from the storage at the concert hall.  We found a perfect spot for the screen in front of the window to the right of the Figurative works and the Piercefield dress.  Now visitors to the Reading Room will be able to examine the details of this amazing story-telling riff on Emily’s life and thought up through early May.

Emily Dickinson interpretive screen moves to the Farris Reading Room

Emily Dickinson interpretive screen moves to the Farris Reading Room

By 2:10 in the afternoon, we realized that we were cruising through those Collected Poems more smoothly than we had expected.  We were in the mid-1550s already and we had more than two hours to go, with many of the very shortest poems yet to come.  Now we had to begin to think about what we would do with the last readers if we ran out of poems.  When our student helpers had entertained this possibility in a very hypothetical way a few days earlier, Rebecca had really liked the idea of moving backward from the end in the opposite direction.  So that was one option we had in play today.

As the afternoon readers kept coming in, the reception table became more and more of a place to chat.  Some of our later readers, Aaron Zlatkin and Rachel Workman, arrived early and stayed the rest of the afternoon, as did our very last reader, Melissa Gers.

Afternoon readers Rachel, Aaron, and Melissa joining student helpers Megan, Minadora, Emma Rose, and Andrew

Afternoon readers Rachel, Aaron, and Melissa joining student helpers Minadora, Emma Rose, Andrew, and Megan

Minadora Macheret was anchoring the afternoon shift for the Associated Graduate Students of English, and she mostly stayed at the registration table.  Matt, our trouble-shooter-in-chief, after helping John Campbell transport and re-install the Dickinson screen, kept track of the poems and the readers at the other end of the room.  Minadora filled in for a missing reader after my English colleague Jon Cullick and his wife Cheryl had read.

Jon Cullick and Minadora Macheret

Jon Cullick and Minadora Macheret

Artist Kevin Muente and curator Tammy Muente took us up to 3 pm, with Aaron, Rachel, and Melissa waiting their turns (Kevin and Tammy are on the far right in the photo below).

kevin and tammy 5

At about 3:25 it fell the lot of Rachel to turn us around in the opposite direction after reading poem no. 1775.  This is not one of Dickinson’s best-known poems, but its opening line is a single sentence that applied beautifully to the song recital we had heard the night before: “The earth has many keys.”

sat afternoon group

Kevin, Tammy, Rachel, and Aaron in the reading chairs

One of the last readers in the afternoon was Hilda Weaver, whose artist book was up on the third floor.  She was now able to take an Exhibition Walk with Nicci Mechler, who had not been able to come last night, but who was now here in advance of the Panel Discussion.  Nicci and Hilda were in two different Dickinson classes of mine, but you can see from the photo below, next to Nicci’s Susie’s Girl and Open me Carefully, that they are fast friends.

nicci and hilda 1Melissa Gers was our last reader, and when she hit the end of the Marathon at 4:30 she was on poem 1552.  We had read two hundred thirty two poems in the opposite direction since Rachel had taken us to the end of the Complete Poems.

Melissa ending the Marathon in the 1550s

Melissa ending the Marathon in the 1550s

The phrase that ended Melissa’s last poem echoed the ending of Kimberly’s recital the night before:

 Within thy Grave!

Oh, no, but on some other flight—

Thou only camest to mankind

To rend it with Good night—

Like Dickinson in the last song of Newer Every Day, Melissa was now saying “goodnight by day.”

In writing this entry, I was surprised by the wide range of ways in which the last of the Collected Poems, J. 1775, applies to our Arts Fest activities.  Its opening line, “The earth has many keys,” applies in obvious ways to the songs Kimberly and Ingrid had performed by Copland and Heggie.  The next two lines apply not only to the concert but to the “summer boughs” of Illouz’s Dickinsonian book:  “Where melody is not / Is the unknown peninsula.”  The fourth line of J. 1775 is another single compact sentence: “Beauty is nature’s fact.”  This applies not only to the song recital and to Claire’s artist book but to the artwork by the students on the walls of our exhibition.  The most explicit presentation of that idea is in the lower left corner of Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is here, where she wrote in her own beautiful hand, “Beauty is not caused.  It is” (J 516).

The lower left corner of Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is here.

The lower left corner of Jordan D’Addario’s Heaven is here

Dickinson packs three complete sentences into the four-line opening stanza of “The earth has many keys.”  The poem concludes in a second stanza of one sentence only:

 But witness for her land,

And witness for her sea,

The cricket is her utmost

Of elegy to me.

The most literal equivalent of the elegiac sound of the cricket in this poem was the sound of the “minutest cricket . . . when the sun goes down” in Kimberly’s singing Copland’s “Nature, the gentlest mother.”

The most metaphorical equivalent of that elegiac sound is the “fleshless Chant” that “Rise[s]—solemn—on the Tree” in Claire’s pictorial depiction “Of all the Sounds dispatched abroad.”

The most continuous equivalent of that elegaic sound throughout the two-day Marathon came from the ninety human voices that uttered their “utmost of elegy” to Dickinson herself by reading her complete poems from beginning to end, and part way back again, the “key” of that communal melody modulating with each new voice that entered.

amy in the afternoon

Amy Fugazzi, the next to the last of our Marathon readers

Melissa’s “Good night” ended the Marathon itself, but not yet our second Marathon Day.  After shifting some of the furniture around, we moved right into the Panel Discussion by Student Artists that would in turn lead to the Emily Dickinson Tea Party.