Mostly Emily

Entry begun Thursday, January 29, 5:20 am

Since my return from New Bedford on January 4, this month has been full of preparation for our Emily Dickinson Arts Fest on Valentine’s weekend.  Emma Rose and I have met several times a week to finalize the Dickinson catalog (we took the fully edited file to the printer on January 9), to begin publication (and distribution) of the poster/flyer, to activate the website for the Fest (including the electronic sign-up sheet for the Marathon Reading), and to lay out a schedule for our final editing of the Moby-Dick catalog.  I had, of course, to bring Emma Rose from the Marathon in New Bedford something related to our Moby show in April, so I chose one of the new t-shirts for our Melville Society Cultural Project.

Emma Rose in new t-shirt from Moby Marathon in New Bedford

Emma Rose in new t-shirt from Moby Marathon in New Bedford

This has mostly been very enjoyable work, though it has had its challenges.  We wanted to have the major publicity materials done before January 12, the first day of the new semester, on which we were scheduled to meet with the representatives of the four student groups who will help run the Marathon.  But I did not realize that Allie Linkmeyer, our excellent work study student who has activated the web site for us, would not be in during the first week of January, but instead the first week of class.  Fortunately, Ryan Clark of University Relations created a  customized URL for the website, and got everything up and running.

We have four student groups who will help us with the Marathon: Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society; the Honors Council of the Honors Program; AEGS, the Association of English Graduate Students; and Loch Norse, the Creative Writing group with whom we gave a preview of our Dickinson Fest in December.  We had reps from all four groups at the January 12 meeting.  Emma Rose and I passed out a copy of the Complete Poems for each group to use in preparing its members for the Marathon; discussed the logistics of running the Marathon; and decided to divide the two-day Marathon into four four-hour shifts during which each group will be responsible for staffing the event.  We will have a master list of every person scheduled to read and each group will have two students for its shift—one to sign in the readers as they arrive and distribute catalogs to student artists who had not yet picked them up, the other facilitate the reading itself by keeping track of which of the 1775 poems is being read and when each ten-minute time period is up.

Emma Rose and I are very fortunate in that Matt Ruiz, one of the student artists in the Dickinson show, had volunteered to “do anything we need” to help us.  We  have made him the “trouble-shooter-in-chief” for the whole event, so he was at this Monday afternoon meeting too.

Poster for the Emily Dickinson Arts Fest, February 12-14, 2015

Poster for the Emily Dickinson Arts Fest, February 12-14, 2015

One of our generous sponsors is the Cold Spring branch of the Campbell County Public Library.  They have provided seven copies of the Johnson edition of the poems we will be using in the Marathon, and we loaned one to each of our student groups at the January 12.  In addition to providing the books, the Cold Spring library had offered their display cases to us for the month before the event, so the day after I met with the students I took some items out to install.  In the vertical case on the far right I placed a sample copy of the Dickinson catalog alongside a copy of the Complete Poems, accompanied by the poster for our Arts Fest.  On the left side I installed one of three enlargements, three feet by two, that John Campbell made from his artist book that will be in the exhibition.  In the central case I placed two more of John’s enlarged drawings on the upper and lower shelves, with images by Sarah Kellam and Matt Ruiz in the middle.

Dickinson Arts Fest in display case of Cold Spring library in mid-January 2015

Dickinson Arts Fest in display case of Cold Spring library in mid-January 2015

The Kellam photo in the left center of the case shows the “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” section of the public artwork Emily to the People that Sarah painted under the Twelfth Street Bridge in Covington as her final project in the course.  The Ruiz piece is a painting that Matt made after our course was over.  He could not get Dickinson’s image of a Buccaneer Bee out of his mind until he had painted it for himself.  Janet Arno and Pat Wade at the Cold Spring branch were generous in making so much space available to us, and I was delighted to see above the cases a quilt in the shape of a quail whose color and design complemented our display perfectly.

While attending to Emily matters we had one important Moby matter to attend to too.  Gateway Community College near the Kenton County Public Library in Covington had been very interested in hosting part of our Moby-Dick exhibition in April.  Their new “gallery” space in the recently renovated TIE building on Madison Avenue in Covington was perfectly suited for some of the larger pieces in the show.  Showing some of the work in their gallery would have also made possible a dramatic procession from the one venue to the other on the evening of Sunday, April 26, before the Marathon concluded with the three Chase chapters followed by the Epilogue.  Emma Rose and I met Rock Neely and Jack Keller in the Gateway space on Wednesday, January 14, to look at the gallery, discuss what installation methods would be allowed, and address such issues as security.  It was an excellent meeting in which we were pretty much in agreement, but our hopes for having Gateway as a venue were dashed when Jack explained that because their building was new, they were not yet able to insure any of the works in the show against theft or damage.  This was a big disappointment, but I dropped into the Kenton Country Public Library right after the meeting to see if Gary Pilkington, who is coordinating our Moby show with them, was in, and fortunately he was.  He and I discussed some of the spatial challenges of having the entire Moby show in his building, and it feels as if everything will work out.

Emma Rose as a measure of the human scale of the Gateway gallery space

Emma Rose as a measure of the human scale of the Gateway gallery space

While we were working on our catalogs, publicity, and venues, our artists were preparing for their parts in the Arts Fest.  Kimberly and I were disappointed to hear from Doug Pew that he would not be able to complete the three Dickinson songs he had planned to premiere because of commissions he had to fill, including the premiere of a new opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC on January 23.  We had good news, though, from Kurt Sander, who will be premiering three instrumental pieces inspired by Dickinson poems.  He had now selected the third of the three poems in his set—“A Burdock—clawed my Gown”—and is excited to write the music for it.  He and I had some email correspondence about this poem (J 229), and he showed an impressive eye for literary symbolism, seeing a strong sexual, as well as botanical, dynamic in the way the “Burdock” clawed the “Gown.”

I heard more of Kimberly’s exceptional vocalism when she performed songs by Ned Rorem, Maurice Faure, and Kurt Weill in a recital with two former colleagues from Eastern New Mexico University on Sunday, January 25.  I loved the sequence of the composers, with five Rorem songs inspired by Sylvia Plath, followed by five Faure songs inspired by a Greek wedding, followed by three bittersweet songs by Weill.  Kimberly’s voice was equally response to the lacerating angst of Rorem’s Plath, the sophisticated joy of Ravel’s Greek wedding, and the sardonic drama of Weill’s sung narratives.  She sang with score when accompanied by pianist Kayla Paulk and clarinetist Jennifer Laubenthal in the Rorem/Plath set, but stood alone on the stage without any score when singing the Faure and the Weil accompanied by Paulk at the piano.  I wrote her an email the next day in which I tried to express my sense of  “what a singer can express of her essential self when standing alone and singing so transparently, without even a score, the music and words of others.”  It will be so wonderful to hear her sing the Dickinson cycles by Copland and Heggie just two weeks from now.

Kimberly Gelbwasser accompanied by Kayla Paulk, Greaves Concert Hall, January 25, 2015

Kimberly Gelbwasser accompanied by Kayla Paulk, Greaves Concert Hall, January 25, 2015

While Kimberly was getting ready for one recital after another, Claire Illouz in Chérence, France, was completing her Dickinson artist book and sending her first announcement of Summer Boughs out into the world.  How wonderful to see the first announcement of an edition of 30 books, one of which will be acquired by our own library two weeks from now.  This announcement shows the cover of the book and two of the double pages inspired by “Of all the Sounds dispatched abroad,” the poem that contains the phrase “Summer Boughs” (J 321).  How exciting it will be to hold the whole book in one’s hands and turn page after page.

Claire Illouz’s announcement of Summer Boughs, 2015

Claire Illouz’s announcement of Summer Boughs, 2015

Two days after this, Claire sent me two double-page samples inspired by the second of her three poems, “Presentiment—is that long Shadow—on the Lawn—“ (J 764).  You can see from the sample posted here how her treatment of these two poems differs.  She said that her response to the third poem must remain “a secret” until she arrives to present the book itself, so I will try to have some kind of surprise for her, too.

Claire Illouz, one two-page opening from Summer Boughs, 2015

Claire Illouz, one two-page opening from Summer Boughs, 2015

While our artists and musicians have been preparing for our Arts Fest, so have our culinary artists.  At least five talented cooks are preparing special treats for the Emily Dickinson Tea Party on Valentine’s Day.  John Campbell is looking seriously into making a “black cake” from Emily’s recipe, an “over-the-top” Victorian concoction it would be a delight both to see and to eat.  Nicci Mechler is likely to bake a “coconut cake” from Emily’s recipe as she did for our class several years ago—unless she decides to do something entirely different.  Emma Rose’s father Thomas will be bringing his skills as a pastry chef at Panera to the world of Dickinson in some as yet unspecified way.  Kimberly’s parents will come to the concert from South Carolina, and her mother Rhonda will be baking her favorite “Mandel bread” for the tea party.

This Tuesday I had the pleasure of visiting the Fort Thomas home of Mary Vieth, a good friend of my good friend Elise Hyder, who loves to bake for special occasions.  Mary had volunteered to create something for the Tea Party as soon as she heard about it.  I had sent Mary the Dickinson recipe book and a couple of samples of the artwork in the show so she could begin to generate some ideas, and these ideas flowed fast and furious as we talked over the possibilities in her kitchen while sampling three of the best cupcakes she had found on a recent trip to St. Louis, accompanied by tea brewed freshly for my arrival.  Mary found a number of dishes in the recipe book she would like to make for the Tea Party; one of the possibilities would be to make some kind of culinary variation on the artwork by Brian Morris on the back of our Dickinson catalog, I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there.  It will be exciting to see, and to taste, whatever she brings from her kitchen.

Mary Vieth’s tea-party workshop, January 26, 2015

Mary Vieth’s tea-party workshop, January 26, 2015

Immediately after my informal tea party with Mary, I met for the second time with the representatives of my four student groups to refine the logistics for the Marathon weekend.  This time we met in the Farris Reading Room on the second floor of the Steely Library so they could see the exhibition space in which the Marathon will occur.  Emma Rose and I had previously met with Tracy Insko, who will coordinate our IT needs, so once we developed the ground rules for how we would handle the Marathon we went to the third floor and discussed how best to deploy the four display cases that will house our six artist books and a variety of 3-D objects.  Fortunately, Minadora Macheret, one of our Dickinson artists, was representing the Association of Graduate Students of English in our meeting, and she helped us come up with a plan for displaying her Emily Dickinson double letter box.

Empty cases waiting for Third Floor installation

Empty cases waiting for Third Floor installation

On Tuesday Emma Rose and I completed our final edit of pages 10-81 of the Moby-Dick catalog, and she found as many errors as I did.  It’s great to have an undergraduate student who is so good at proofreading and so committed to getting everything right.  Wednesday was the day the Dickinson catalogs were to be delivered at C. J. Krehbiel, our Cincinnati printer.  We had set an appointment for 2:30, as that was the only window in Emma Rose’s schedule that day.  On Tuesday, Chris Casey, our contact, did not yet know exactly when the book would arrive.  He still did not know on Wednesday morning.  But on Wednesday at 2 in the afternoon he texted to me that Fed Ex had finally delivered the books, leaving Emma Rose and me just enough time to arrive by 2:30 from our different directions.  The books are beautiful.  All the issues of color fidelity and binding seemed to be well addressed.  We now have 80 copies of an Emily Dickinon catalog, one for each of our forty student artists, the rest to be distributed to those who have helped us, and to be made available at the Marathon.   We are both extremely grateful to Chris for the care his has taken in getting everything right.  On February 6, the day the Dickinson exhibition opens in the Farris Reading Room, we are scheduled to bring him our final edit of the Moby-Dick catalog, ready for production.

Emma Rose with Chris Casey of CJK on the day we picked up our 80 copies of Dickinson catalog

Emma Rose with Chris Casey of CJK on the day we picked up our 80 copies of Dickinson catalog

Now that we are getting ready to begin installing the show today, and to begin distributing catalogs to the student artists, I’ve begun to try to catch up with those students who have not yet brought in their artworks or whom I have not yet been able to inform about the exhibition or the Marathon.  This has for the most part been a true pleasure, full of nice surprises.  Last night I had dinner with Melissa Gers, who has worked for many years at Proctor and Gamble.  She will be one of our panelists on February 14, discussing the website she created to showcase her 2001 Fall Semester classmates.  We had not seen each other for a long time, and she thought that someone in her family may have preserved her sculpture for that class, Blossom of a Brain, wrapped in plastic in an attic.  If she can find it, Emma Rose and I would both love to have it in the show.

Melissa’s spread in the catalog, showing her website and her Blossom of the Brain

Melissa’s spread in the catalog, showing her website and her Blossom of the Brain

Another pleasure was to track down Carol Scaringelli, who last I heard had been teaching on the West Side of Cincinnati.  None of the old emails I had for her brought a response, even though she is always a very responsive person.  With the help of Ann Harding in our departmental office, I got another email address to try and found out that Carol is living happily in San Diego, studying for a Master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, and for community development, work at which I expect she will excel.  She will not be able to make it here for the Arts Fest, but I hope to be able to see her next time she is back in town, and now we know where to send her copy of the catalog.

Carol Scaringelli’s two-page spread in the Dickinson catalog

Carol Scaringelli’s two-page spread in the Dickinson catalog

While all of this Dickinson activity was going on, there was one Moby-Dick development too exciting to omit from this entry.  Monday, January 26, was the date on which Matt Kish was scheduled to drive down to Cincinnati after completing his work day at the Dayton Metro lilbrary to examine the exhibition space in the museum that was considering mounting an exhibition of Moby-Dick art by Kish and Robert Del Tredici in 2016.   Matt came down with his wife Ione, and our plan was to meet with the museum curator at 6:30 and then have a leisurely dinner before they would have to drive back to Dayton around 9.  The curator was Steven Matijcio and the museum was the Contemporary Art Center.

I can mention the names of both Steven and the CAC here because Steven announced in the course for our meeting—which was already a very stimulating exploration of the most likely area of the building for the show, should the show happen—that he has in fact decided to schedule the Kish-Del Tredici show as part of his 2015-16 season, to be announced officially in April of this year.  I had not expected a decision so soon, and neither had Matt or Ione, so we had, as you can imagine, a most enjoyable dinner at Arnold’s, a few blocks away, before they headed back to Dayton.  Steven has put on some wonderful shows at the CAC since arriving here a year and a half ago, and it is a real honor to have our Moby show accepted for his museum.  I had originally proposed the show because Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera was expected to be produced here in June 2016.  I am delighted that Steven has decided to do the show even though the opera production has been postponed to some subsequent season.

The author with Steven Matijcio and Matt Kish at the Contemporary Art Center, January 26, 2015

The author with Steven Matijcio and Matt Kish at the Contemporary Art Center, January 26, 2015

Advertisements

Moby-Dick Marathon Opens Year in New Bedford

Entry begun on plane from Atlanta, Sunday, January 4, 2015, 7:45 pm

I am flying back from the 19th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.  This was one of the best.  As a founding member of the Melville Society Cultural Project hosted by the Whaling Museum, I have attended the Marathon nearly every year since our affiliation began in 2001.  As our affiliation has grown, so has the Marathon and our involvement in it, providing our team of Melville scholars a wonderful opportunity to feel the pulse of the author we love far beyond our classrooms or publications.

Marathon in progress on January 3, 2015

Marathon in progress on January 3, 2015

The annual Marathon in New Bedford begins on the Saturday nearest January 3, the date on which Herman Melville sailed for the South Seas on the whale ship Acushnet in 1841.   To read the entire text of Moby-Dick out loud takes twenty-five hours right through the night, from noon on Saturday to 1 pm on Sunday.  We members of the MSCP do not get to attend the whole Marathon because we come every January to meet with the Whaling Museum staff to plan our activities for the coming year and carry out projects currently underway.   This year our meeting with the Museum staff focused on the massive construction project by which the Whaling Museum is expanding its main building in order to transfer its Research Library and our Melville Society Archive from their current building three blocks away.  The Library and Archive will enter the renovated building as part of a new Educational Center and Research Library that will also create new gallery space.  We were delighted to hear from James Russell, the museum President who has overseen five years of exceptional growth, that one of the galleries in the expanded museum will be designated the Herman Melville Room, making the nature of our affiliation more visible to the general public as well as to scholars using our Archive.  Construction has already begun and James currently expects to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Educational and Research Center on August 1, the date on which Herman Melville was born in 1819.

James Russell outside construction site on January 3, 2015

James Russell outside construction site on January 3, 2015

For the last five years the Marathon weekend has begun on Friday evening with a buffet dinner under the whale skeletons in the Jacobs Family Gallery followed by a lecture in the adjacent Theater.  This year the dinner attracted more than 50 people and the lecture more than 150, a stark contrast with last year–when the blizzard of 2014 closed the streets of New Bedford, cancelled our dinner and lecture, and converted our annual meeting with the Museum staff to a conference call.  This year’s Friday night speaker was Phillip Hoare, the British author who has not only written a book about his personal search for Moby-Dick, but created a film as well.  One of the highlights of the film, as well as the talk he gave in advance of showing it, was his personal encounter with a pod of sperm whales filmed underwater near the Azore islands.  Sperm whales do not encounter humans very often because they live so much of their lives in the deepest oceans of the world, but Hoare found them to be amazingly peaceful and graceful in every way, seeming to welcome him into their world to the extent that they were aware of his presence, certainly an odd looking creature in wet suit, mask, and fins.

Audience in the Theater for Saturday morning “Stump the Scholar” quiz show

Audience in the Theater for Saturday morning “Stump the Scholar” quiz show

The next morning Phillip returned to the Theater as a guest contestant in our annual “Stump the Scholar” quiz show, moderated with great panache by the Museum’s marine historian Mike Dyer.   The contestants usually consist of the six members of our Melville Society Cultural Project, divided in to groups of three who compete in fielding questions from audience members, many of whom are returnees who have spent the intervening year thinking up questions they hope are unanswerable.  This year two of our members could not make the trip, so Phillip joined Wyn Kelley and me on the “Cod” team, balanced by guest contestant Bradley King, who joined Chris Sten and Mary K. Bercaw Edwards on the “Clams.”  Brad is this year’s Bezanson Fellow in residence for two weeks of research in our Archive.  The questions were tough enough this year that Dyer awarded coveted pins to three audience members who “stumped” the panel. The contest was tied going into the final question, to which Mary K. gave such a brilliant answer that the Clams were declared the winner.

Archive scholar Brad King reading at Moby-Dick Marathon on Saturday, January 3

Archive scholar Brad King reading at Moby-Dick Marathon on Saturday, January 3

Brad King is a post-doc scholar from the University of Texas at Austin who is already well into a study of the major scholars who were responsible for the Melville revival that began to be institutionalized in the mid-twentieth century.  We have unique materials for his project in our Archive, relating not only to the founding members of the Melville Society but also to some of the critics and artists who were active as Cold War public intellectuals.  Every time we met with Brad over the weekend, he had more gems from our collection to share, often material we have not yet had an opportunity to study in depth ourselves.  We love it when our Archive fellows (many of whom have been from overseas) can schedule the residency while we are in town for the Marathon.  In Brad’s case we also had the pleasure of meeting his partner Sara, a Spencerian scholar who also partnered with us in the Marathon Reading.  In whatever free time our MSCP group had on Friday and Saturday, we were over at the Archive preparing our collection for the upcoming move—as well as packing a shipment of books for the University library of Jaime Campomar, last year’s Archive fellow from Argentina.

Audience listening to readings from Extracts before Call me Ishmael

Audience listening to readings from “Extracts” before “Call me Ishmael”

On Saturday at 11:30 our MSCP members provided the prelude to the Marathon itself by reading from the “Extracts” section of Moby-Dick in front of the half-scale model of the whale ship Lagoda before Phillip Hoare officially began the Marathon with “Call me Ishmael” at noon.  Later in the afternoon our MSCP team, augmented by Brad and Sara, read from the “Knights and Squires” and “Ahab” chapters.  We also had two “Chat with the Scholar” sessions with Marathon participants.  On Saturday afternoon Wyn and I chatted with about a dozen companions while Mary K. and Chris worked in the Archive.  On Sunday morning the four of us, plus Brad, were chatting with at least twenty companions when it was time to leave for the airport.  These are wonderful opportunities to share our interest in Moby-Dick with members of the general public, and to learn what interests them in the book.

Marathon audience intently listening and reading along

Marathon audience intently listening and reading along

Every year there are new phrases from the novel that speak to us in new ways, even if heard in short snatches while walking from one meeting to another.  This year a young woman read from “The Advocate” chapter in Russian as we were waiting our turn.  On Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Branco, who returned this year to read from the novel in Braile.  He was kind enough to give me a private reading of the “Bosom Friend” chapter as his hands scanned the open page.  Throughout the day the ramp above the Jacobs Family Gallery was occupied by young participants camping out with sleeping bags that would help them through the night.

Bob Branco reading from “Bosom Friend” in Braile

Bob Branco reading from “Bosom Friend” in Braile

I enjoyed the opportunity to return for one last look at the exhibition The Art of Seeing Whales in the museum’s Center Street Gallery.  The exhibition combines paintings and objects from the Whaling Museum’s historical collection with 20th– and 21st-century Moby-Dick art from the Elizabeth Schultz Collection and the Melville Society Archive.  I had curated this show with the help of the Museum’s curator-in-chief Christina Connett and maritime historian Mike Dyer, and back in July we had an excellent audience for the gallery talk that opened the show while the whale ship Charles W. Morgan was in town.  Quite a few people were looking at the exhibition during the Marathon weekend, but it was also enjoyable when the room was almost empty to give the whole installation another good look and see which parts had held up best over time.  I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to put together a show with such rich and diverse materials.  (I devote several entries to the conception, installation, and opening of this show in my blog Sailing with Charles W. Morgan in June 2014 at mobyart.wordpress.com.)

Visitors to The Art of Seeing Whales on January 2, 2014

Visitors to The Art of Seeing Whales on January 2, 2014

I hated to leave the Marathon Reading before we got to the Third Day of the Chase, but I had to catch a plane from Boston, and Wyn kindly drove me to the airport on her way home to Cambridge.  We were accompanied by Mika Sakuma, one of the organizers of the upcoming International Melville Conference in Tokyo in June.  Mika had just flown in from Tokyo to do some research at the Houghton Library at Harvard, and she had taken a bus to New Bedford from Logan Airport to experience the Marathon.  It was wonderful to be with her at the Whaling Museum—and also to get her advice about travel in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan.  Japanese scholars have been a major presence at every International Conference beginning with the first one in Volos, Greece, in 1997, and it is wonderful that they will be able to host one at home after all of that international travel themselves.

Mika’s selfie with Wyn and me at Logan Airport on Sunday, January 4

Mika’s selfie with Wyn and me at Logan Airport on Sunday, January 4

I was scheduled to fly from Boston to Cincinnati via Detroit, but when the departure time from Logan Airport to Detroit was delayed, I lost any chanceof making my Cincinnati connection.  The only way to get home from Boston was through Atlanta.  We had bumpy air both to and from Atlanta, but we did arrive at the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport at 8 30 pm, only two hours later than my scheduled arrival through Detroit.  It’s funny how aggravating travel glitches sometimes turn out well.  My seatmate from Logan to Atlanta was a young man from Boston working in IT who was flying to Atlanta for a three-week training session.  He works for Apple and has been selected for training at the “genius” level.  The has done this without a traditional college degree.  He grew up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where Melville wrote Moby-Dick, but without having visited Melville’s house at Arrowhead.  He had planned to be a carpenter and never expected to go to college.  After working for several years on a ground crew for Jet Blue, he had taken an associate’s degree in audio technology, after which he managed a restaurant for a few years.  One of his favorite customers ran an Apple store, and one day he asked her what it would take to get started there.  She hired him in at the entry level and now he has already worked himself up to ‘genius” status.

Melville, of course, did not go to college.  For him, as for Ishmael, “the whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”  I imagine Herman would have enjoyed speaking with this young adventurer from Pittsfield as much as I did.

Brad King walking near Marathon campers on upper ramp

Brad King walking near Marathon campers on upper ramp

Moby Dickinson

Entry begun Sunday, December 21, 7:15 am

For the last several weeks our Moby and Dickinson initiatives have been demanding equal attention, hence the title for this entry.

The newest challenge and pleasure has been laying out and editing the Dickinson catalog now that the Moby catalog is ready to print once we find the printer who can give us the quality we need at the price we can afford.  We have finally finalized the Moby cover spread, front and back, with only two tiny tweaks remaining:

Moby cover with NKU logo

The Dickinson catalog is smaller than the Moby one, 110 rather than 150 pages.  Emma Rose says designing this one has been easier because of the experience she now has with InDesign.  Again, we have both been impressed with the artwork these students have created and the artist statements in which they have expressed their intentions.  The structure of this catalog has held up well as we have laid out its successive sections.  Beginning with Quilts & Fabric Art, we move on to Portraits and the Human Subject, Landscape & Nature Scenes, Antique Assemblages, and Artist Books before concluding with Video, Public Art, Blogs, and Websites.  To give a sense of the variety of the artwork and the continuity of Emma Rose’s design, here are the current versions of the two-page spreads for Lindsay Alley’s white poem dress (inspired by “Unable are the loved to die” and other poems) and Emma Clixby’s ceramic sunset bird figure (inspired by “The sunset retired to a cloud” and “Blazing in Gold and Quenching in Purple”):

14-15 Lindsay Alley

 

44-45 Emma Clixby

After we had all of the artist spreads and sections blocked out and filled in, we designed the title page, wrote our two introductory essays, edited our appendices, and wrote our acknowledgments.  After all the pages were in place, we were ready to design the front and back covers and order two sample copies of the bound catalog from Blurb.  This time when Emma Rose entered her online order at the end of one of our editorial meetings, she got the message “No problems encountered,” showing how much she had learned in the short time since we ordered our first Moby samples.  We were both thrilled when the order came to her house only a day and a half later, just in time for the public preview we were to give of the Dickinson Fest at the Bow Tie Café on Mount Adams on Friday, December 12.

cover spread dickinson catalog

The December 12 meeting of Loch Norse at Bow Tie began with Kelly Moffett reading her powerful new essay about encountering Black Madonnas in a rural American monastery and in French cathedrals and catacombs.  After a break, I summarized the three-day menu of events for our Dickinson Fest on Valentine’s weekend 2015, with special emphasis on how the creative writers in the room will be able to sign up for our Marathon Reading of Dickinson’s poems.  Emma Rose then showed the crowd her sample copy of the Dickinson catalog and gave a preview of the exhibition of student art we will be installing in the Farris Reading Room of the Steely Library in advance of the Festival weekend.  I was happy to see three of our Dickinson artsts at the Bow-Tie this evening, including Caitlin Neely visiting after her first semester in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Virginia.

To top off our presentation, Kimberly Gelbwasser, without any accompaniment, sang one of the songs she will be singing at her all-Dickinson recital on February 13.  “Good night” is one of the five new songs by Jake Heggie she will be singing that night.   It is a setting of the poem “Some say goodnight—at night— / I say goodnight by day—“ (J 1739).  Her voice is so expressive, her pitch to pure, and her understanding of the text and its implications so complete, that this rendition was entirely satisfying even without the piano accompanimen (which, however, I am eager to hear when Ingrid Keller returns from Oregon to accompany her in February).

Kimberly Gelbwasser, Emma Rose Thompson, adn Bob Wallace with Brian Morris' pencil drawing I cannot see my soul bur know 'tis there

Kimberly Gelbwasser, Emma Rose Thompson, and Bob Wallace with Brian Morris’ pencil drawing I cannot see my soul but know ’tis there

During the second break in the Bow Tie program, John Campbell, one of our Dickinson artists, gave a preview of the Tea Party that will conclude our February Fest by distributing throughout the café pieces of a freshly baked coconut cake from Emily Dickinson’s recipe.  His coconut cake was especially savored by Emma Rose’s father Thomas, a pastry chef from Panera who had come to see his daughter’s presentation this evening–who will contribute some of his own creations to the Tea Party.

While all of this advance work for the Dickinson Fest was going on, Emma Rose and I were making multiple visits to the local printer from whom we hope to be able to order the Moby catalog and, if that works out, the Dickinson one too.  This printer has given us a quote much lower than the price from Blurb, which would allow us to provide one copy for each student artist and have some left over for visitors to the exhibition, the Marathon, and the Symposium in April.  To get the quality he needs in reproducing the art work in our catalog, our salesperson has had to send our project to a site in California with a high quality toner printer. The cover looked very nice on the first sample that came back from there, but the color throughout the catalog was problematic, especially the blues, too heavy to the purple side.  Equally problematic was the fact that four pages fell out of this sample, bound copy before I could finish proofing the first twenty-four pages.  Emma Rose and I have returned several times to discuss binding solutions and learn the intricacies involved in making color adjustments, and we remain hopeful that a newly printed and bound sample, due on December 30, will give us what we need.  December 30 is also the due date for our first local sample of the Dickinson catalog, which we had proofed and edited thoroughly from the Blurb sample we had received just before the Bow Tie event, taking our newly revised file to the local printer on Friday, December 19.

moby catalog and loose pages

Sample Moby catalog whose pages fell out

Although the catalogs have necessarily been our top priority, we have also had to begin designing the poster, press release, website, and other publicity materials that we will need to finalize and distribute as soon as we return for the new semester that begins on January 13. We met last week with Michael Providenti, who will be overseeing our installation of the Dickinson exhibition in the Steely Library, and I met with Rock Neely, our contact at Gateway Community College who is setting up meetings in January to determine whether we will be able to use their new gallery space for part of our Moby show in April.  I also had an encouraging meeting with a curator here in the region who had been actively interested in mounting a show of Moby-Dick artists to coincide with the Cincinnati Opera production of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick in June 2016.  He is still interested even though the opera production has been postponed, and on December 9 he came out to our campus to take a close look at original artworks by Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici in the Honors House and the Steely Library Archive.  It was an excellent visit, and a show featuring these two artists is still a possibility even in the absence of the opera.  In January Matt Kish will be driving down from Dayton to see the exhibition space and plan some of the ways he would be able to fill it should the show come about.

For local readers of this Blog who want to learn more about Matt Kish, there is a wonderful feature about him and his work in the December 2014 issue of Cincinnati Magazine.  It includes a full-page illustration of his alter-ego as the Lone Harpooner.  If we are able to get the Gateway space for part of our Moby show in April, Matt has already arranged for the Lone Harpooner to lead our procession from one venue to the other on the afternoon of Sunday, April 26.

kish as lonely harpoooner

Photo by Jeremy Kramer posted here with permission

 

In advance of the December 9 visit by the local curator, I had to sort out and gather together the 45 new “metallic” Moby-Dick prints that Robert Del Tredici has created, and sent to my Bellevue home in groups of 13, 17, and 15 since visiting our campus one year ago.  When we examined them in the Archive, the visiting curator was impressed. So was our NKU archivist Lois Hamill.  Within a week of that meeting she and Del Tradici, who lives in Montreal, had reached an agreement by which he would donate all 45 of these new Moby prints on Fuji Pearl paper to the NKU Archive—to which I delivered them Thursday, December 18.  So, even though the opera is not coming to Cincinnati in 2016, the expectation that it was to come has already had some positive results.  We are planning to have an exhibition of Moby-Dick art from from the Archive collection in conjunction with the Moby exhibition, marathon, and symposium in April 2015, and now will have even more to choose from..

rdt to archive 12-18-14 3

45 metallic Moby-Dick prints by Robert Del Tredici on their way to the NKU Archive

The last sentence above would have concluded this entry had I not made an exciting discovery this afternoon during a return visit to the site of a house overlooking the city of Cincnnati that Frederick Douglass had visited in 1850.  Armed this time with an 1857 blueprint I had found of the site in the Cincinnati Historical Society Library two weeks ago, I was able to confirm that this substantial building I had seen once before, currently occupied by four different families, had been the actual home of two anti-slavery activists who had entertained Frederick Douglass in this very dwelling in 1850.  The current occupants of one quadrant of the structure immediately identified the house in which they are now living as the one in the blueprint.  When they generously invited me to explore an attic space up some narrow stairs behind a kitchen wall, I climbed up into in enclosed space illuminated only by a skylight invisible from the outside of the house.  Its thick brick walls, dark wood-slat ceiling, attached storage rooom, and primitive sink with antique plumbing would have been well-suited for hiding fugitive slaves or housing domestic servants.  I am grateful to the current residents for allowing me to post a sample photo in this blog, and I hope to learn more about this site before the book I am writing on Douglass in Cincinnati is published.

attic sink and skylight 12-21-14

Here, Now, and in the Future

Entry begun Wednesday, December 3, 7:45 am

Jake’s visit turned out great.  I got to go to a private rehearsal of the Great Scott opera on Sunday, November 23, two days before highlights were presented at the public conclusion of the Opera Fusion workshop.  On Sunday night I got to follow a copy of the libretto as the roles were being performed consecutively for the first time.  This private rehearsal was an off-the-record event, so I cannot write much about it here other than to say that the eight singers performed beautifully accompanied by two pianos and conducted by Evan Rogister in the presence of composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, as each heard the current version of their newest creation sung through for the first time, each at a table right in front of the singers, stage director Jack O’Brian sharing McNally’s table.  (Heggie and McNally had previously collaborated on the opera Dead Man Walking.)

Jake Heggie at front table at Sunday night rehearsal

Jake Heggie at front table at Sunday night rehearsal

It was a rainy night as I walked to the rehearsal space in Music Hall, and I was glad to meet in the elevator Keith Cerny and other executives from the Dallas Opera who are commissioning Great Scott for its Dallas premiere next October, with Joyce DiDonato in the leading role. I had gotten to know Keith and some of his colleagues when attending the Dallas premiere of Jake’s Moby-Dick opera in 2010, followed by a visit to Denton in 2013 to celebrate the publication of my book on the opera by the University of North Texas Press.  That book featured over two hundred photos by Dallas Opera photographer Karen Almond, including some she had taken at the Moby-Dick workshop in San Francisco in 2009.  I had been delighted to hear that Karen was coming to Cincinnati to photograph the Great Scott! workshop, and I had a wonderful reunion with her on Saturday night, bringing her over to the Kentucky side of the river to have dinner and meet my wife Joan for the first time.

With Karen Almond at book release party in Denton, Texas, in April 2013

With Karen Almond at book release party in Denton, Texas, in April 2013

The public performance of highlights from Great Scott! at Memorial Hall on Tuesday, November 25, was a delight.  The public venue and the energy from the audience made for a very stimulating evening.  I loved Renée Rapier in the role of Arden Scott that Joyce DiDonato will premiere in Dallas.  Jake hosted the evening and graciously showcased two current College Conservatory of Music students from a master class earlier in the week before introducing the night’s highlights from Great Scott!  I came to the event with Kimberly Gelbwasser, the NKU soprano who will be singing Jake’s five most recent Dickinson songs at our concert in February, and Douglass Pew, the NKU composer who is writing three brand-new Dickinson songs for Kimberly’s concert.  I love hearing music with musicians, and Kimberly is a good friend of Emily Albrink, the soprano who had the role of Tatyana Bakst in the Great Scott! workshop—and who certainly made the most of it on the Memorial Hall stage.  I hope I can get down to Dallas for the premiere in October.

Jake thanking the cast after the workshop performance at Memorial Hall

Jake thanking the cast after the workshop performance at Memorial Hall

Jake was as gracious after the performance as he was with the singers on stage, agreeing to take a four-way selfie with Kimberly, Doug, and me before heading down to the reception.  He was energized by his week in Cincinnati and says he now knows “exactly” where to go with the rest of the opera.  After he got home, I sent him a link to my blog entry about his coaching session with Kimberly to ask if I had his permission to post it.  He was happy to have it posted and he was “grateful” that I had been moved to tears when Kimberly had sung “That I did always love” to his accompaniment.  For him, my tears meant “that—for that moment—we were all one with Emily’s great passion, power and imagination—and that she was alive again in the room.  That is so powerful to me.  I love that we know when that is happening—and we are all so keenly aware when it is not!”

Jake thanking the cast after the workshop performance at Memorial Hall

Jake’s selfie with Doug Pew, myself, and Kimberly 

Jake and I did receive some bad news about a week before the Cincinnati workshop.  Artistic director Evans Mirageas had called each of us to say that the Cincinnati Opera will not be able to produce Moby-Dick as expected in June 2016.  The reasons for this decision were logistical and financial and currently unavoidable.  Moby-Dick will almost certainly come to Cincinnati at a later date—if not in the original Dallas production, then new production with a new design that would allow it to travel to a number of companies who have wished to stage it but were not able to.  This new development, which may eventually result in two different versions of the opera being performed in different venues, is probably a very healthy one for the longevity of the work itself, but it is certainly a deep disappointment for Cincinnati here and now.  When I shared this news with the museums and galleries who were actively interested in mounting Moby-Dick exhibitions in connection with the June 2016 production, I was glad to hear that several are still considering doing their shows anyway.  That would be great, especially since some of my local Moby artists are creating some great work right now with 2016 in mind.

The Deepest Dickinson

Entry begun Tuesday, November 18, 4:05 pm

This has been quite a week already.  Yesterday, Monday, on the coldest November 17 in Greater Cincinnati history, Emma Rose and I took the near-final file of the Moby-Dick catalog to the local printer who will produce a sample so we can see if they can match our current sample at a much lower price.  They will be sending our project out to California to be printed on a very high-quality press, which will take a little longer than we had planned, but also presumably increases the chances that the quality will be what we need.  Now that the Moby catalog is temporarily out of our hands, we can focus on our first-round edits of the Dickinson catalog, which will begin in earnest when we meet tomorrow.

Today at noon we had the event for which Kimberly Gelbwasser and I had prepared last Friday.  At 10:45 I picked up Jake Heggie at the downtown Cincinnati Netherland Hilton hotel and drove to a Bob Evans restaurant near our campus for brunch before the session in which he would coach Kimberly on his new songs.  I thought that Bob Evans “down on the farm” menu would offer a somewhat exotic cuisine to him as a San Franciscan, but I had forgotten that he would have known Bob Evans all too well from the years in his youth in which he lived near Columbus, Ohio.  He had trouble ordering because too many items looked a little “over the top” to his Bay Area taste—either too much food or too much gravy overlay.

I had not seen Jake since the National Opera premiere of his Moby-Dick opera in Washington DC in February.  I have always been amazed by how present he is with each person he meets in spite of all the deadlines and other concerns that must be on his mind.  He is here for a weeklong workshop on his new comic opera-in-progress, Great Scott!  This work is a special challenge because the text is an original creation by his librettist, the renowned playwright Terrence McNally—not, as is usually the case with opera, the adaptation of a pre-existing story.  The problem with an original story, Jake said as we rode to the restaurant in the car, is that “you don’t know where the wrong turns are until you make them.”  In addition, the current libretto for Great Scott! is considerably longer than it ought to be for a comedic opera, so there will have to be a lot of cutting in the course of this week’s workshop.   I will get to hear an extended run-through on Sunday night and a public performance of highlights next Tuesday night.

I have just now heard Jake coach and accompany Kimberly in the five Dickinson songs that he wrote for, and performed with, Kiri Te Kanawa in August.  Last Friday, Kimberly and I spent an hour going over the poems themselves.  What a joy to discuss Dickinson poems with a singer preparing to make them into music.  Kimberly is a singer who needs to know, understand, and feel the words she is singing.  She read Dickinson poems, biographies, and critics over the summer to inform herself about the poet’s life and work.  She sought out Dickinson songs by a wide range of composers before she decided to sing all twelve of the Copland songs and several of Heggie’s.  Jake has written Dickinson songs intermittently throughout his career (he told me today he would like to gather tham into a single volume if he had time to edit and revise some of them) and Kimberly was drawn to a number of them.  But when she and Ingrid Keller got the score of Newer Every Day, the five Songs for Kiri he had written for the premiere in August, Kimberly knew these were the ones she wanted to sing.

Going over the texts with Kimberly on Friday brought them into focus individually and as a set.  I have a printed copy of the five songs, and I can read music, but I can’t “hear” it with my eyes, so it was very interesting to discuss each poem with a singer in the early stages of learning to sing them by accompanying herself on the piano.  We both loved the text of the first poem, “Silence is all we dread” (J 1251).  What a perfect concept to begin a cycle of song with.  Especially since it is followd by the line, “There’s a Ransom in a Voice,” Dickinson condensing so much about music and life into these two lines.

To follow the existential depth of this song with “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (J 288) is perfect.  Many elements of our social lives do displace the dreaded silence, but some of them are so inane that to be a relative “Nobody” can be a blessing.  Kimberly and I were both struck by the fact that Dickinson uses the word “advertise” in a poem she wrote in the 1860s.  Jake sets the word beautifully.

In preparation for the third song, “Fame is a bee” (J 1763), Kimberly had noticed that the last two lines of the song—“It has a wing / Ah, too, it has a sting”—reverses the sequence of “wing” and “sting” in the poem.  Heggie had himself noticed this unconscious reversal of Dickinson’s words before the Chicago premiere this summer, but Kiri Te Kanawa had learned it the way he wrote and it was too late to change.  We were interested in how this would play out in the coaching session today.

The fourth song, “That I did always love” (J 549), was wonderful to talk about because it states so decisively the supremacy of human love in our experience of the spiritual.  Kimberly is Jewish, so she had to look up the meaning “Calvary,” the word with which the speaker compares her suffering to that of Christ on the cross if her love is not reciprocated by her “Sweet.”  What a perfect song for our Dickinson Valentine’s Fest.

We began our discussion of the last poem, “Some say goodnight—at night—“ (J 1739) by easing out the meaning of the third line, “Good-bye—the  Going utter me—.”  Even when those going from her say “Good-bye” in the daytime, “Goodnight I still reply.”  I did not see Jake’s third stanza in Johnson’s edition of this poem, and had not recognized that it was a different Dickinson poem (“Look back on Time, with kindly eyes,” J 1478) until Jake answered my email and explained that the song had needed more words, so he had brought the new poem in.

How different to discuss this set of poems with a singer about to sing them than with a literary critic.  I think some of the literary background I brought to this sequence of poems may have been helpful to Kimberly, but I know that the musical intelligence she brought to them was a revelation to me.

Kimberly Gelbwasser as we discussed the texts of Heggie’s Newer Every Day on Friday, November 14

Kimberly Gelbwasser as we discussed the texts of Heggie’s Newer Every Day on Friday, November 14

If Friday was intellectually stimulating, today had moments reminding me on the one in which the “the soul” its “solstice passed” in Dickinson’s “There came a Day at Summer Full” (J 322).  To hear Jake play the opening chords of “Silence is all we dread” before Kimberly sang a note was itself a revelation.  As the murmuring beneath the opening chords continues and the vocal line rises through “Ransom in a Voice” and stretches out on “Infinity” before easing off into a flowing, sustained humming sound weaving through the opening texture, all one can do is try to take in the unbroken flow.  After Jake made a suggestion here and there, he asked Kimberly to sing it again.  As she did, I felt how fortunate I was to be one of the few persons, so far, to hear the dreaded silence of life broken in exactly this way.

Everything that was sustained and soulful in “Silence is all we dread” became jaunty, joyful, and playful in “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”  After the first run-through, Jake encouraged Kimberly to be even more conversational—and especially to have fun with the “la da dee da” scat work at the end.  He sang it out with the kind of freedom with which Kiri Te Kanawa had apparently sung it in Chicago, inviting Kimberly to “make it your own” in whatever way she felt best.

“Fame is a bee” is short and not entirely sweet, especially when the “sting,” not the “wing,” comes at the end.  It is so interesting to see how quickly a singer can internalize the suggestions of a vocal coach, especially when the vocal coach is the composer himself!  Jake clearly meant for the performers to have fun with this piece too, especially when adding “(zz)” for buzzing sounds after such common words as “is” and “has” before tripling the letter “s” in “”sting.”  The strongest gesture of this kind is the “(ouch!)” he writes over the “ah!” before the “sting.”  One of his suggestions to Kimberly was to come into the “ouch!” from the top of the note and to sing it as if you are totally surprised, whieh she did perfectly when she repeated the song.

There is a precious magic when a composer or a poet hits on something entirely simple, transcendent, and profound.  You hear this in the opening chords of “That I did always love,” as you do in the opening line of so many Dickinson poems.  The 4/4 rhythm of a quarter and a dotted half note animates almost every bar of the accompaniment, often in both hands, creating the feeling of a suspended, irregular heartbeat.  The words of the first stanza are as direct as can be:  “That I had always loved / I bring the Proof / That till I loved / I never lived—Enough—.”  How beautifully suited is Kimberly’s voice to the sustained motion of this thought and emotion.

The melodic line and harmonic texture are a little more complex and edgy in Dickinson’s second stanza: “That I shall love alway / I argue thee / That love is life— / And, life hath Immortality.”  Again, the emotion and inflection of Kimberly’s voice seem made for these words.

I can’t explain it, but when the original tempo and rhythm of the opening bars return after having slowed down while “Immortality” was fading away, you feel a whole world returning during the two-bar transition to the last stanza of the poem.  In the last stanza, seven bars of song are followed by eight bars of piano.  The emotional force of Dickinson’s deceptively simple language is never more powerful than when she ends this poem with thirteen words that are highly irregular in rhythm and meter for her, all but two of the words simple monosyllables, yet loaded with explosive emotion: “This—dost thou doubt—sweet— / Then have I / Nothing to show / But Calvary—.”  The best way I can characterize the effect of this metrically irregular stanza followed by the unaccompanied piano is to say that it has “that precarious Gait / Some call Experience” (in the words of Dickinson’s “I stepped from Plank to Plank,” J 875).

The pace of this song is spacious.  There is room for a world of feeling.  Kimberly sang it with such beauty and feeling that Jake had very few comments.  He noted that she has “plenty of air” for the sustained high notes.  He said the middle section with ‘I argue thee” remains “peaceful” because the speaker is arguing from strength and knows she is right about “love” being that “life” which includes “immortality.”  I felt like they were ready to move on after she had sung it only once, but I selfishly asked if I could hear it again.  Hearing them sound it out once more was for me one of those “solstice” moments for the “soul.”

After this song, “Some say goodnight—at night” is the perfect conclusion for the set.  It is light but thoughtful, enjoyable and full of personality, not dwelling on the poem’s implied argument that “parting” is “night” even if it happens in the daytime, with death being the final “goodnight” to life.  The added music for “Look back on Time, with kindly eyes— / He doubtless did his best—” softens any of the darker colors with a higher human comedy reminiscent of the way Mozart ended certain operas and piano concertos.

The session lasted less than an hour but it felt timeless.  To be listening on the margins of such an easy, creative cauldron was pure joy.  I took no notes, thought no thoughts, just listened and felt.  How often in life do we have a chance to do this?  Kimberly and Ingrid will give what I hope will be a large audience in Greaves Concert Hall a chance to do exactly that on the evening of February 13.

Of course we took a few photos in Kimberly’s studio before we went our separate ways.  Jake knew how to use the camera in my iPhone better than I did.

k & j 2

When I was taking a few photos of him and Kimberly, he was saying “higher, higher.”  I was not sure what he met until he borrowed my camera and took a close-up “selfie”’ of the two of them from a much higher angle.

k & j 5

He then invited me to join them in a three-way selfie:

k & j & b 2

It is such a rare privilege for a literature teacher and scholar to be in such close communion with musicians who are making something new.

Before taking Jake back to the hotel, I took him to briefly meet my wife Joan Ferrante, the sociologist, in her office, as they had never met before.  We also made quick stop at my office so I could show him a sample of the Dickinson and Moby-Dick art by my students that we will be exhibiting next semester.  Who could better appreciate them than a composer who has composed a Moby-Dick opera and well over a dozen Dickinson songs?  His attentiveness to these student artworks deepens my feeling that Jake is simply one of the most generous people I will ever know.  We kept our coats on, as we were still chilly from the frigid air through which we had passed between the buildings, and he had to get right back to the hotel to spend the afternoon wrestling with Great Scott!

jake in office 1Along the way today, I learned a little about how Newer Every Day had come to be.  Jake had turned to Emily Dickinson for this song cycle to honor Kiri Te Kanawa’s seventieth birthday at the singer’s request (he had not previously known of her love for Dickinson).  His next step had been to slowly page through his edition of the Complete Poems to see which poems spoke to him best for this occasion.  After he had accompanied Kimberly in “That I did always love,” I asked if he could say anything about the process of composing that particular song.  The first step was to think and feel his way into the poem itself.  When he then sat down to compose, it was about creating a musical world in which these words could live.  In this case, a certain sequence of chords began to form, and the song was under way.

Just before posting this entry, I was editing Emma Rose’s early spreads for the Dickinson catalog and was delighted to see how directly one of them speaks to Jake’s new song cycle.

Molly Blackburn's Dickinson diptych for my 2012 Fall Semester course

Unedited draft of two-page spread for Molly Blackburn’s Dickinson diptych from my Fall 2012 course

Molly Blackburn created multi-media collages of “I’m Nobody! Who are you” and “Fame is a bee” as her final project in my Fall 2012 course in Dickinson and the Arts.  Her I’m Nobody! collage superimposes the second stanza of the poem (“How dreary–to be–Somebody!– / How public–like a Frog– / To tell one’s name–the livelong June– / To an admiring Bog!”) over the faces of current celebrities.  Her Fame is a bee collage shows a bee “buzzzzzzzzing” (as in Jake’s song) on the upper left corner of the one image we have of Dickinson, surrounded by some of the powerful little fragments of her magnificent poetic legacy that are keeping her name alive today.  I will make sure that Molly, who presented her Honors capstone project this week, knows about Kimberly’s February 13 recital.

Creating Catalogs, Artists Creating

Entry begun Wednesday, November 12, 6:50 am

Creating catalogs is somewhat like chasing whales.  One “long voyage ended, only begins a second, and a second ended, only begins a third” (as Ishmael realizes in the “Wheelbarrow” chapter).  As Emma Rose and I are in the final flurry of getting the files of the Moby-Dick catalog ready to take next Monday to a local printer who we hope can reduce our production costs, she has been integrating all the ingredients we have assembled for the Dickinson catalog into an InDesign file from which we will print a sample of this catalog after everything is in its place.  The basic elements of this catalog will be the same.  After our introductory essays, each student artist will be represented by a two-page spread in which Emily Wiethorn’s photo of the artwork the student created will be accompanied by a short bio, a classroom photo, and the artist statement.  Emma Rose is using a different color scheme as the framework for the Dickinson catalog, as you can see in her first draft of this spread for the quilt by Stacey Barnes:

First draft of Stacey Barnes spread for Emily Dickinson catalog

First draft of Stacey Barnes’s two-page spread for Emily Dickinson catalog

As with the Moby catalog, several of the Dickinson artists will require a four-page rather than a two-page spread.  As soon as we drop off the submission file for the Moby catalog to the local printer on Monday, we will edit all of the Dickinson spreads and send digital copies of them to the student artists for approval before we do the final edit for the submission copy of this one.  If we like the sample that comes back from our Moby submission next week, we will go with the local printer for both catalogs.  We have been able to get this far in the development of these catalogs because of excellent support from the University.  In late October, Emma Rose received a Zalla Award from the Honors Program that will allow us to produce enough copies of the Dickinson catalog to be able to give one to each student artist.  In early November, we received a grant from the Office of Research, Graduate Studies, and Regional Stewardship that will allow us to do the same with the Moby-Dick catalog.

First draft of two-page spread for Danielle Wallace's Tea Set II

First draft of two pages depicting Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick Tea Set II

One example from the Moby catalog illustrates the intricacies of the editing process.  The Moby-Dick Tea Set that Danielle Wallace created in my Spring 2009 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts, followed by a second Tea Set in 2011, required a four-page spread.  Emma Rose and I loved the photograph Emily Wiethorn took of the second complete set (lower left in image above).   We had decided to show each individual cup, too, and we made that part of our original work order for Emily.  When Emma Rose was beginning to lay out the individual cups, we decided to label each cup according to the character or scene it depicted.  As we began to do this, we discovered that two of the cups had not been photographed.  We also realized that some of the others would require a new photo if we were to feature the most characteristic image of each.  We rehired Emily to this additional work, resulting in the two-page spread I have posted immediately above.

I loved the way the new layout looked until I began the process of identifying and labeling the individual cups.  This was made easier by the fact that I had commissioned the 2011 set and have it in my dining room.  I now appreciated for the first time that Danielle had inscribed the subject of each cup under the bottom of each piece.  When I began to match each cup against its counterpart in Emma Rose’s spread, I found that we had three “unnecessary duplicates” (to use a phrase from Moby-Dick that has become popular among literary critics).  Two of the images in the current spread are from “The Pod” cup and three are from “The Chase.”  Today when Emma Rose and I meet, we will sort them out and choose one image to represent each.  We will also decide how to best arrange the fourteen cups, the one young whale, and the one Moby Dick pot now that we know the subject of each.  So, the above spread in the published catalog will have three fewer cup photographs and a new sequence of its parts.  These are the kind of details we have to attend to before we take the submission copy to the local printer on Monday.

Danielle's inscriptios naming cups for The Chase, Pip, Squid, and Queequeg

Danielle’s inscriptions on the bottom of the cups depicting The Chase, Pip, Squid, and Queequeg

While Emma Rose and I have been busy with our two catalogs, some of our Emily Dickinson artists and musicians have been busy creating new work for the Valentine’s Fest in February.  The artwork of the students who will be featured in the exhibition and the catalog has been completed.  But Claire Illouz in Chérence, France, and Kathleen Piercefield in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, are both creating new work for the lecture-demonstration that will initiate our Marathon weekend on February 12.  Illouz and Piercefield are both accomplished Moby-Dick artists who are creating Dickinsonian art for the first time.  Piercefield had exhibited her first portrait print of Dickinson at the Fort Thomas branch of the Campbell County Public Library this summer (as illustrated under “Kick-Off Events” earlier in this blog).  She has now recently completed a renovation of the studio in her Dry Ridge home and has begun work on at least two new Dickinson prints she will have ready to show in February.  It is exciting to think of her filling her own Dry Ridge studio with ingredients similar to those in the photo from Claire’s Chérence studio I posted at the end of my previous blog entry.

Photo of Kathleen Piercefield's Dry Ridge studio on the day I posted this entry

Photo of Kathleen Piercefield’s Dry Ridge studio on the day I posted this entry

On Monday night the Board of the Friends of Steely Library decided to make the Illouz-Piercefield lecture-demonstration on February 12 part of our Lecture Series for the 2014-15 season.  This means that John Campbell, a fellow member of the Board who had taken my Dickinson class during the 2014 Spring Semester, will be creating some art of his own in advance of the Illouz visit.  He has been a great fan of Claire’s art ever since she came to NKU in 2011 to lecture on the Whiteness book she created in response to Moby-Dick (an artist book of which our Steely Library Archive possesses one of twenty-five copies in the world).  John had already offered to create a limited-edition broadside for each event in this year’s Literary Series.  He is an experienced printmaker and knows how to mobilize the needed resources.  His first broadside was for Richard Hague, who gave a fine reading from his book of new and selected poems, During the Recent Extinctions, on November 23.  In addition to typesetting “Walking into the Library,” one of the poems in Hague’s new collection, John added his own drawings to the design.  It will be very exciting to see what he comes up with for Claire’s visit.

hague broadsiee outside best

John Campbell’s broadside for Richard Hague’s November 23 poetry reading

The musicians preparing for our February 13 Dickinson song recital are also busy creating.  Kimberly Gelbwasser has finalized the program.  In addition to the twelve Dickinson songs that Aaron Copland composed in 1951 and the five that Jake Heggie composed for the world premiere in August of this year, Kimberly will be giving the world premiere of three new Dickinson songs by Douglas Pew.  Of the six Dickinson poems Doug selected for this project, he has chosen three for Kimberly’s recital in February.  The set will be called My river runs to thee after one of the poems he is setting (J 162).  The other new songs will be On This Wondrous Sea (J 4) and Wild nights! (J 249).  In addition to the songs Kimberly will be singing, her recital will include instrumental settings for three Dickinson poems for clarinet and marimba by NKU composer Kurt Sander.  This set of three will be another world premiere and will include settings of “Water, is taught by thirst” (J 135), “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” (J 254), and a poem still to be selected.

On Friday I will be meeting with Kimberly to discuss the five Dickinson poems that Heggie set in Newer Every Day, the cycle she will be singing.  We are meeting on Friday because Heggie himself will be arriving next week for a ten-day workshop at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music on Great Scott!, his opera in progress.  He has generously agreed to coach Kimberly on his new songs next Tuesday if his schedule allows.  If I am allowed to be a fly on the wall, I will hear a composer I love coach a singer who is a dear new friend for what will probably be the second performance of these five songs anywhere in the world.  You don’t get much closer to artists creating than that!

Coda on the morning of Thursday, November 13:

Emma Rose has just sent me the changes we made yesterday afternoon in the two-page spread in which we reproduce Danielle Wallace’s Tea Set II.   Now each of the fourteen cups is labeled and is represented by one image only.  We have arranged the cups in the order in which their subjects appear in the novel.  Readers will now be able to experience Danielle’s response to the book narratively and spatially at the same time.

Second draft of two-page spread depicting Moby-Dick Tea Set II

Second draft of two-page spread depicting Moby-Dick Tea Set II

Fall Back, Spring Forward

Entry begun on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 7:30 am

We switch our clocks back from Daylight Savings Time this Sunday, and the shorthand phrase, “Fall Back / Spring Forward,” fits what’s happening with my projects this week  Again I’ve got back in touch with some great Moby alums.  I had not seen Thomas Foltz, a Political Science major, since my Spring 2010 class in Douglass and Melville, when he had drawn a powerful bull-eye view of the Pequod as it was about to be stove in by Moby Dick.  Thomas was a new job selling cars for a local Buick dealer after having worked for a time as a gravedigger.  Nancy Vagedes was the Studio Arts major in my American Short Story class in 1997 who had mesmerized her classmates at the end of the semester by unveiling the ceramic sculpture she called Captain Ahab’s Worst Nightmare, the glorious White Whale looming high above the small captain in his whaleboat.  Some time after taking the class, Nancy had been partially paralyzed from cracking her neck when diving into a swimming pool.  I had worried about her ever since, and was delighted to hear that the metal plates have helped her to heal fully and that she is teaching ceramics courses at Cincinnati State.

Nancy Vagedes presenting her final project in the American Short Story course in 1997

Nancy Vagedes presenting her final project in the American Short Story course in 1997

Storing all the works that I have borrowed or purchased from my former students has been a real challenge in advance of our Moby show in Covington in April.  Last week I was very happy to get back from the framer the most recently created work in our forthcoming exhibition, the charcoal drawing that Stephen Wheeler did as a freshman in my Honors Composition class during the 2013 Fall Semester.  Stephen was inspired by the same scene in the novel that had inspired Nancy sixteen years earlier, but he created his response in charcoal on paper.  He called this drawing The Worsting of Captain Ahab, and it looks great in its new frame.  I have found a good place for it next to our entry hall at home, displacing my poster of J. M. W. Turner’s The Whale Ship from the New York Metropolitan Museum, now behind a living room couch.

Stephen Wheeler’s The Worsting of Captain Ahab, newly framed, across from the stairs in my hallway

Stephen Wheeler’s The Worsting of Captain Ahab, newly framed, across from the stairs in my hallway

Thomas, Nancy, and Stephen were all happy with Emma Rose’s catalog layout for their work.  Now that that catalog is being finalized, we are working hard on the Dickinson catalog for February.  I had already sent Emma Rose the ingredients for about two-thirds of the catalog, with images and text for those students who had created works in these categories:  Quilts and Fabric Art (4) , Portraits and the Human Figure (12), and Landscape and Nature Scenes (9). The ingredients I have begun assembling this week fall into these categories: Vintage Assemblages (3), Artist  Books (6), Film and Video (3), Public Art and Individual Blog (2), and Inclusive Websites (2).  Revisiting all of these classroom creations, organizing the catalog in which to present them, and writing a short bio of each student is a very enjoyable “Fall Back” to the past as we “Spring Forward” toward the Spring Semester exhibition.

Yesterday was quite a day.  Just after assembling all of the ingredients for the mural Sarah Kellam had painted on a floodwall in Covington as her final project in Dickinson and the Arts last Spring, I checked the website for NKU Athletics and found that Sarah had won the Charles Braun Jr. Intercollegiate Golf Tournament in Evanston, Indiana.  Her round of 73 had beat more 90 individual competitors, and led our team to second place out of fifteen teams in only our third year as a D-I program.  It is such a pleasure to have true student athletes in our classes.  Two athletes from my recent classes in Freshman Honors Composition, Taylor Snyder and Sami Rutowski, have been helped our current volleyball and soccer teams qualify for the A-Sun Conference tournament during the first year in which we are eligible.

Sarah Kellam painting part of her floodwall mural in late April, 2014

Sarah Kellam painting part of her floodwall mural in early May, 2014

My most sustained engagement with student athletes came when I wrote a book, Thirteen Women Strong, about the 2006-07 season of our women’s basketball team.  That team lost in the firt round of the Great Lakes Regional Tournament, leaving to the next year’s team to win the Division II National Championship in Kearney, Nebraska (which made a wonderful Epilogue for my book).  I had not planned to, but I ended up using a poetic phrase from Emily Dickinson as the epigraph for almost every chapter, including “I took my Power in my Hand,” the title poem for Sarah Kellam’s 2014 floodwall mural and our 2015 Dickinson exhibition.

Cover of womens basketball book, with chapter epigraphs from Emily Dickinson poems

Cover of womens basketball book, with chapter epigraphs from Emily Dickinson poems

Just after seeing that Sarah had won the golf tournament in Indiana, I got an email notifying me that Emma Rose has won a Zalla Award from the Honors Program for $1,329 to help us produce enough copies of the Dickinson catalog to be able to give one to each student artist.  This an especially timely boost as we are now getting deeply into the layout and fine tuning of that catalog.  Early this week I wrote the first draft of my catalog essay, whose working title combines three of Dickinson’s images for the creative process:  “Cocoons Tighten and Fingers Stir as Brains Blossom.”

One other fine thing happened yesterday for our Dickinson Valentine’s festivities.  I have been searching for funds by which our library might acquire a copy of Claire Illouz’s forthcoming artist book, Summer boughs, inspired by Dickinson’s poetry.  I have found some funds, but when Illouz came in 2011 to lecture about her book The Whiteness inspired by Moby-Dick, we had considerable difficulty paying her as a citizen of France.  I wanted to be sure that this would not happen again when she comes to lecture on Summer boughs on February 12.  After consulting with our purchasing office, I emailed her to see if our current methods of payment will work this time, and she assured me that they will.  She also had this to say about the status of her forthcoming book:  “Summer boughs is not born yet. . . . For the time being, it makes me feel like having a difficult pregnancy – but the huge mess now in the studio can testify that I  keep doing all I can for the baby to come out strong and healthy.”

I asked in response if she could send me a photo of that “mess” in her studio, since I can’t walk across the lane to her house in Chérence to take a look.  She sent me instead an image of “the studio this summer.”  It’s very exciting to get even a quick glimpse of the ingredients by which Claire is creating an artist book to be “born” just in time for the Valentine’s weekend at which we will present each of our student artists with one copy of our catalog I took my Power in my Hand.

Ingredients for Claire Illouz’s Summer boughs in her studio in the summer of 2014

Ingredients for Claire Illouz’s Summer boughs in her studio in the summer of 2014