Secular Liturgies

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The Poetry of Places: A Culture-Makers Initiative

Culture-Makers Background

My name is Anastasia Somerville-Wong and I am a poet and a researcher at the University of Exeter. I lead a project called Culture-Makers, the New Generation, which aims to inspire ideas and collaborations that will transform research and other creative publications and exhibitions using digital arts and heritage content, and new digital technologies.These innovative publications and exhibitions will engage the wider public with the cutting edge of human knowledge and creativity, and in doing so effect positive cultural change that will help meet our global challenges. One outcome is a pilot project I am calling The Poetry of Places: a Culture-Makers Fusion Arts Initiative.  

The Exhibitions

My aim is to create exhibitions that offer original and immersive experiences of poetry. These experiences will have an over-arching theme of formative places or spaces either in the natural world or in hybrid environments that are part natural and part artificial, such as those cultivated, managed and lived in by people. Visitors will be moved to reflect on the ways we are formed and transformed by the environments we experience. The exhibitions will facilitate a journey of re-connection with the natural world and a greater appreciation of the complex inter-dependence of life on earth. I hope they will strengthen our resolve to manage and develop these environments in aesthetically sympathetic and economically sustainable ways that meet not only the physical but also the psychological needs of their human and non-human inhabitants.

The Artistic Content

The poems will be reflective and sensory, compelling the listener to seek out the scenes and settings that inspired them. The theme of environments or places will be interpreted widely, as the initial collection demonstrates, though all the poems will have a reflective element in which the effect on the human or the way the human interprets and finds meaning in the scene is conveyed. Artists of different genres will be invited to respond to a collection of my poems by visiting the places that inspired them (or similar places) and creating works based on these. In turn, I will respond to the artists’ interpretations of the places that are meaningful to them, by visiting and writing poems based on their ‘special places’. Initially the other artists will be videographers who will try to visualize the poetry by digging deeper into the spaces that inspired it, capturing aspects we don’t normally notice, by using lenses and techniques that allow us to see things in micro or macrocosm, or in slow motion, and by using other abstract, impressionist and non-literal approaches.

The Challenge and Conversation

It will be a considerable challenge for the videographers to open up our imaginations using novel perspectives without being prescriptive in a way that undermines the imaginations of those experiencing the poetry for the first time. This is, however, as much a conversational arts project as one which explores new avenues for fusion arts. There will be an ongoing exchange between the poet and videographers with regard to the meanings, interpretations and experiences of these natural and hybrid environments, and the artists will work together to produce works that are complementary in the final offering. In many cases the live or filmed poetry readings themselves will be very simple and unembellished but followed by a high definition video piece. Where the poems were inspired by the videos the video material will come first. There will also be interactive opportunities, for example, ‘meet the poet’ or ‘meet the artist’ experiences with live and video interviews based on questions selected from those submitted by the artistic community and general public. The project will have an increasingly international dimension as I involve overseas artists, and eventually there will be representation of all earth’s natural and hybrid diversity. I hope also to build a website for the growing poetry video collections to be grouped under the approximate geographical locations that inspired them and accessed by clicking on a world map. This will be complemented with a geolocation app which allows you to listen to the poems and watch the videos related to the environment you are in. There will also be a traditional book publication of the complete collection of poems which will be illustrated with other artistic content.

The Research Network

This is primarily an arts project. However, I am also building up a research community around related research questions. Through the media of the poetry and art itself, and through a page on our blog which I’m calling ‘short stories from the cutting edge’, this project will facilitate critical reflection, discourse and networking around research enquiries such as:

  1. Alternative cultural understandings of the value to be found in natural environments and hybrid environments that are part natural, part artificial
  2. The ways creative representations of these natural and hybrid worlds in turn shape cultural values
  3. The role of particular environments in contributing to human health and wellbeing
  4. What we mean by ‘sustainable’ and how we determine what should and should not be conserved
  5. How processes of environmental change and interactions between humans and the environment affect our experiences of these places and the value we find in them
  6. The ways in which we and our cultural institutions deal with tangible and intangible heritages relating to these environments and how these heritages might be viewed from a moral or human rights perspective

Calling all Artists and Researchers

If you are interested in getting involved with either the arts or research aspects of this project or just want to keep up-to-date with our progress, please do follow me on Twitter and send me a message. My Twitter handle is @AnastasiaESW.

The Taster

I’ll leave you with a taste of what’s to come with my poem The Passing. In this poem I reflect on change, time and the contrasting human and natural worlds in the context of an English suburban garden:

The Passing

The years come, and then they go,

faster now, as act or scene,

and thoughts alight on things that passed;

Were they real? They didn’t last.

A robin flits across the lawn.

I see each year the same affair.

Yet changelings all we creatures are,

who circumnavigate the star.

Hairs of snow fall through the dark,

as new worlds dare to know themselves,

but thoughts still run to visions, dreams,

none quite real but love it seems.