Thursday, November 15, 2012

Erica Baum's "Poetry"


Yikes -- this was already a short week to begin with because of Veteran's Day (no SWIC this past Monday) but I am having one of those "Holy crap, it's already Thursday sort of weeks."  I have been pretty busy this week dealing with Annotated Bibliographies from my ENG 102 sections which take time to walk through carefully and help the students think about their research questions and how they are approaching their eventual research essays.  That means that I am spending little time on my own research and writing.  Which makes me feel stressed.  And tired.

However, I am working hard at focusing on the "good stuff" that happens in every ordinary day!  For example, we are "reading" the most amazing poetry right now in my (free!) online MOOC, Modern and Contemporary Poetry (or ModPo for those in the know!).  One of the poets in ModPo this week is Erica Baum, a photographer "slash" poet (or maybe it is poet "slash" photographer?).  Anyway, below is an image of one my favorite pieces by her so far:
As you can tell, Baum takes a look at "found language" -- why create a poem when there is so much language already out there?  This take on poetry, of course, leaves a person more time to focus on interpretation (versus taking all that time to actually "create" a poem).  At first, I wasn't sure what to think -- this isn't the sort of post-modern "stuff" that  I am usually attracted to.  But, the more I looked at the above picture (and listened in on the video discussion of the poem), the more I found myself drawn to it.  As you can tell from the image I hope, Baum took photographs of old card catalogs (a type of object that I suspect many younger people have no knowledge of!).  She then took some photos with the juxtapositioning of language and words.  Here, there are subject cards in the card catalog for Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis -- of course, our former first lady and wife to JFK.  I was a bit perplexed at first by the subject card "Once" sticking out.  What in the heck is that card doing there?  I suspect a librarian at some point decided to insert a subject card with "Once" for any number of reasons.  But what immediately comes to mind for me is "Once Upon a Time ...," evoking a fairy tale, a story of Camelot ... which then makes perfect sense when juxtapositioned next to Jacqueline Kennedy's name.  Weren't  JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy seen as the "stars" of their own Camelot, our American version of royalty?  The fact that the cards are repeated with her name -- something about that evokes movement for me (though I am not sure what to do with this observation!).

Anyway -- you get the point!  Who knew such a seemingly "simple" poem could do something so powerful for me?  Erica Baum is also known for her dogearing "portraits" like the one below:
Like the card catalog poem, there is something interesting about the words and sentences that are created when you do this type of paper folding.  The video in the online class alluded to something I hadn't thought of before.  If you look at any novel or book that I have read, you will often notice the dog eared pages -- even if I undo them for some reason, you can still see them!  You can still see where I highlighted a page for whatever reason.  Isn't that interesting how this "trail" might be saying something about you and what you value as a person and a thinker?

So in this busy and crazy week that I am experiencing, I am trying to find "gems" like this to stay sane.  Poetry is starting to be a daily reminder that language is, indeed, powerful and pivotal to how I see and think about the world.  I'd like to think that wrapping my head around poetry (and images) is helping me to think a little differently -- and maybe helping me write a better dissertation!

PS:  This last Erica Baum image I am leaving you with is also fantastic -- make sure you take a careful look at the words noting the "stuff" in this particular card drawer!  Fantastic!

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