New Takes on Old Earth
by Eric Steineger
Statement from the Poet
Josh Copus and Jenn Grossman’s “Audible Shapes” was part of the Materials, Sounds + Black Mountain College exhibit at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in downtown Asheville from June to August 2018. The exhibit debuted at Murray Art Museum Albury in Australia. The idea: let artists reimagine the use of materials (much in the way Rauschenberg recycled materials in his Black Mountain days) to challenge traditional notions of ‘materials,’ their purpose, and considerations of their appeal; moreover, let artists conceptualize sound as an accompaniment to their work. How does sound inform material—and vice versa?
“Audible Shapes” consists of geometric shapes harvested from clay from different parts of North Carolina. Embedded in each shape is a small amplifier. To me, this collaborative piece is about the creative potential of raw materials, the reality of climate change, and the hybridization of genres. The sounds coming from these vessels ask us to consider what we can touch, how we craft matter into something useful/beautiful, and how long this will remain a possibility.
My poem invites the reader to interact with Copus and Grossman’s piece, while also considering what came before it—the making of it, the many hands involved—and the hands involved in other works that may be tangential to “Audible Shapes.” Because their piece was a collaboration and a hybrid of material and sound, I did not use a conventional syntax for this poem; instead, I played with white space, font, and word order to try and recreate the experience of approaching these vessels for the first time. I tapped into the sensory details that surround this work and the exhibit that housed it.
For me, Black Mountain College started as a curiosity in graduate school. I remember reading Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, among others, and enjoying their poems. Later, I discovered more of BMC’s rich heritage, moving beyond the familiar, male-dominated figures of that era to learn about poets such as Hilda Morley or artists such as Anni Albers. Now, I bring the College into the classroom whenever possible, and it [the College] also informs my reading. Last year, I taught a BMC-themed freshman seminar class at Mars Hill University where I teach in the English Department.
When I moved to Asheville in 2010, I got connected to the poetry scene and was quickly welcomed. One of the people I met was Alice Sebrell, Program Director of Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, who was gracious to allow me to curate an evening of poetry in early 2013. Since then, I have curated several poetry events (with the blessing of Alice as well as Jeff Arnal, Executive Director) and try to do something different each time. In April 2019, I co-curated a reading with Dr. Rick Chess from UNC-Asheville that was comprised of creative writing students from UNCA and Mars Hill. There should be more outlets for students to showcase their creative work in western North Carolina. Currently, I am planning another event, this one different from the student reading, which will take place at the Museum in 2020.
– Eric Steineger