By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern
In your memory there probably exists a nasty grammar school teacher with half-moon spectacles and a fierce lecture on dangling modifiers who preached about poetry as rhyme and metaphor, parallelism and meter. Now, you run from her gravelly voice every time you stumble across a book of poetry lying innocently open in a waiting room.
And then there are English professors like Amy Bagwell, a Community Supported Art (CSA) participant and poet, who understands that life usually has one too many syllables and can get lost in figurative language. Behind Bagwell’s assemblages lies a desire to make poetry accessible and enjoyable instead of intimidating – because if we’re honest, don’t we secretly want to channel our inner John Mayer and scream say what you need to say when digesting Shakespeare?
Bagwell, who teaches at Central Piedmont Community College, has been writing poems since she was eight and began experimenting with wall art after college as an alternative to poetry readings. She believes anything that lifts poetry from the page expands its appeal to a given audience, which led to a collaborative show with close friend, Shawn L. Smith. Smith and Bagwell exhibited assemblages and poems respectively, both incorporating elements of light, water and text into their pieces.
Inspired by Smith, Bagwell considered objects and their propensity to complement her text. The installations that resulted are a fusion of vintage whimsy and modern verse, “…the object’s story and the poem…working in unison” and becoming “a greater expression”.
Bagwell used to frame her poems, simply hanging them on the wall, but using clocks, books and fish tanks as display models completely changes the aesthetic of her work.
“It went from a way to show a poem to an environment for that poem,” she said.
If encountered correctly, a poem is a living, breathing creature – the images and the sounds it contains speak to something more, something deep within the reader. Says Bagwell, “It [poetry] can fix a moment in time but it isn’t unchanging.” This is what allows poetry to come alive, and this is why Bagwell’s art makes sense – poems are meant to inhabit the spaces around us.
How does she choose the vessel for a poem?
“It always starts with the text and not the object,” she said. “I put something together and then live with it for a day. I don’t want to force it or go off of artificial motivation.”
Cutting out book pages and inserting a poem was a way of combatting the commonality of books. Any bookstore is an overwhelming mecca of immeasurable thoughts in glossy hardcover. Poetry, a rarified being, has the smallest shelf space so the book theme allowed Bagwell to conquer poetry’s inconsequence.
From an artistic perspective, Bagwell feels it is “rare in publishing” to find “a book that’s a beautiful object.” When she does alight on true works of art, she wants to create installations that showcase those objects’ potential.
Of the CSA opportunity, Bagwell says, “It’s a terrible, terrific pressure.” She is constructing 50 assemblages using unpainted, wood boxes. Inside will be one poetic segment that, when combined with the other boxes, makes one long poem. Bagwell hopes to photograph the whole poem prior to sending out the boxes and will include a printed copy of the poem in its entirety. The challenge has been establishing just where to break the poem, but, explains Amy, “What appeals to me is that each bit retains meaning even out of context.”
Shareholders receiving an assemblage have permission to interpret their poetic parcel as freely as they choose, appreciating its linguistic quality or simply its contribution to the total picture.
“Don’t all artists want to convey something?” ponders Bagwell. “But then we don’t have the power to control what we
convey. That’s what’s fascinating to me. Thinking about that kind of boggles my mind…there’s exponential interpretations. It’s also daunting…but that’s good.”
If you’ve abandoned poems to musty textbooks from the high school days, take a moment to give them a second chance and read Amy’s. Thou may just be pleasantly surprised.
Click here to see more of Bagwell’s work.