NOMA Celebrates Centennial with Poetry April 17, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
An Odd Words Sunday Special for NolaVie
Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque looks every part the poet and professor of literature emeritus with a swept back mane of gray hair and a loose square-cut shirt untucked, standing before a large projection of Ida Kohlmeyer’s Cluster # 39 lecturing the students of the Lusher Charter School Writing Program on ekphrastic poetry and his own unique sonnet form at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Saturday. The poem was commissioned by NOMA for it’s centennial, and the reading program involving Bourque and the students from Lusher was organized by the museum’s librarian, Sheila Cork, an enthusiast of both visual and literary arts.
Following the lecture and a break for lunch, the Lusher students read their own art-inspired poems before various works they selected at NOMA, which are collected with Bourque’s poem in a free booklet published by the library (all scooped up Saturday but Cork promises to see about printing more). The students chose works of all sorts, from the modern to a portrait of Marie Antoinette, a Fabrege paper weight and a Renaissance miniature portrait. Bourque follow along with the students, offering commentary on their poems.
Here are a quick interview with Bourque, who has just published Ordinary Light: New and Selected Poems from ULPress at the University of Lafayette, and one with Lusher Writing Program founder and poet Brad Richard.
TS: I heard your remarks at the Tennessee Williams Festival and here today about ekphrasic poetry, and this must be a natural commission or a particularly apt commission for you.
Bourque: “I think so. I seem to come very naturally to responding to works of art through poetry.”
TS: I see in your discussion of the Marie Antoinette painting that you spend a lot of time not just looking at paintings appreciatively but thinking them through and looking at the history of the artists. Is this a second artistic…
Bourque: “It’s my second professional interest, certainly. I think if I hadn’t been an English teacher I would have been an art historian.”
TS: As laureate have you been called on to do many commissions?
Bourque: “I think I have gotten probably ten poems in the two years that were commissioned poems. I received one from the Lake Charles Humanities Council to do a poem on a painting for Vision in Verse project. Then I received a commission to do five sonnets for an art book that Professor Linda Frieze is doing at UL. Then the Abraham Lincoln omission, the commission for the dedication poem for the Ernest Gaines Center. And then I received a personal commission from a marriage poem, from someone who got married at City Park at Christmas time and she wanted to give him a poem for a Christmas present. “
TS: What do you think of this program, asking the students to do something like this?
Bourque: “I think its remarkable. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
TS: You went through the entire episode where the state tried to eliminate the poet laureate. As government de-emphasizes art in the schools why do you think it’s important to have a poet laureate.
Bourque: “Well, because the poet laureate to a large extend is one more person in the state who can support the arts and talk about the importance of arts as an essential part of the education process. Education is not just about learning skills and readying oneself for the job market. Its about developing the imagination and developing the school, and the poets and the art teachers are the people most responsible for that. I’ve probably been to over a hundred sites since I’ve been poet laureate, so I write less because it’s dangerous to write and drive at the same time.”
TS: I remember finding an ekphrastic poem about a Dutch master when I was writing about the poet laureate controversy, a very different style of painting than you chose for the [NOMA comission]. Do you prefer one period or style of painting?
Bourque: “I don’t have that bias at all. I go to a painting without any preconceived notions. I do a lot of ekphrastic work with photography as well and I treat photography as serious art. One of the first of the poems I did like that is in the Selected Works, “Posing for Our First Commission Picture” and I treat that like a painting and approach that the same way.”
TS: Quickly, what’s the name of your new chapbook?
“Folding the Notes, coming out this month from Chicory Bloom Press from in Thibodeau. It’s a really small edition. The first edition is an edition of 40, and if there’s a demand for it they’ll be more published. But it’s an exclusive hand-sewn edition put together by this husband and wife team. They don’t do it as a marketing thing. They do it as a labor of love.”
Brad Richard is the founder of the Lusher Charter School’s creative writing program, established in the high and middle school when the expanded Lusher moved to the Fortier campus and expanded it’s art centric curriculum to include certifications in the arts for students concentrating on a disciple such as writing, visual arts, music or dance. A graduate and former teacher at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, who spoke to Toulouse Street about the Lusher writing program and his student’s assignment to write poems about selected works of art at NOMA.
TS: Tell me a little bit about the program.
Richard: “It started on the Fortier campus. Lusher had been a K-8 for a long time and had a very, very strong integrated arts curriculum. So the arts and the academics are very strongly connected. Then when they started the high school, instead of just elective options they wanted to have serious training options for students who needed more than you can just get in electives. So they hired a fantastic roster of faculty in all the arts and that’s when they wanted a writing program. And I learned about it and came on board.”
TS: What inspired this particular exercise?
Richard: “I’ve written a lot of ekphrastic poetry myself and I’ve included it in out curriculum but actually Sheila contacted us independently of that, trying to do more outreach to get more kids in the museum.”
TS: How did the students react to this assignment?
Richard: “They really like it. As with anything quite like this its interesting seeing the different types of responses. If you’ve looked at the little booklet, with the Dorothea Tanning painting there are three people who wrote responses to that and the Whisper of Love painting, two people wrote about that. Its fascinating seeing what totally different takes students will have to a single artwork. We did some some preparation for them, about ways to imaginatively approach this.”
TS: Are your students drawn to a particular form, do you have fiction authors or poets, or students who are
Richard: “It’s a whole gamut. That’s one of the great things about teaching this age group. I was at NOCCA for a long time and it was the same experience there. It’s wonderful to catch people when they are just discovering what they are really most interested in and are willing to do anything. They’re curious about all of it.”
TS: Next week your launching this year’s literary journal, Street. Is that a new thing?
Richard: “We’ve had that since the very first year. It’s student-edited. There is artwork in their by Lusher students, and there’s one for the middle school and the high school. We’ll be launching in Saturday, April 23 at 2 p.m. at Maple Street Bookshop.”