I am incredibly thrilled and grateful to share the good news that Tiffany Besonen and I were awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to produce a collaborative poetry/sculpture project. It’s a fairly elaborate, complicated project, and I’m both excited and a little nervous about starting it. I’m also amazed and elated that the panel reviewing the grants took the time to understand and take interest in a weird, experimental form of poetry “publishing.”
Here’s a portion of the grant proposal explaining the project:
As a result of the recent U.S.occupation of Iraq, a number of antiquities that were previously un-excavated showed up for sale. One of the types of items that has recently appeared on the antiquities market is the Babylonian Incantation Bowl, created during the 6th -8th Century, CE. An Incantation Bowl is an unglazed pottery bowl, whose concave surface is decorated with a demon figure in the middle, and an incantation against a particular fear written in Aramaic in spiral fashion around the circumference. The bowls were created for specific families or individuals, as talismans against fears. Once the bowl was completed, it was buried upside down at the threshold of the home to ward off the demon.
We currently live in a culture of fear. Fear of the “other” invades the modern American psyche, with our polarized political landscape and demonization of other cultures. Our climate is changing, leading to hurricanes, droughts and tsunamis. Our safety at home is threatened, with rampant reports of child abductions, home invasions, and domestic violence. Our health is under constant threat from carcinogens in our environment, genetically-modified foods in our grocery stores, and tumor-inducing radiation from our cell phones. Our children will not survive, we’re told, without the proper car seats, exactly the right nutrition, and constant, suffocating supervision.
This is the perfect time to re-introduce the Incantation Bowl.
For this project, I have asked visual artist Tiffany Besonen to create bowls on which to paint poems that I will write as incantations against modern fears. This will be a series of poems starting with personal fears and moving into national and global ones. I will use and adapt the structure of the incantations on the Babylonian bowls.
The project will consist of 20 bowls, each with a different incantation poem inscribed on it.
I chose Besonen as the visual artist because we have collaborated together successfully in the past, and her work speaks to this project. The sewing pattern paper with which she will construct the bowls echoes the color and texture of the Babylonian bowls, and the re-purposing of what has been a domestic and “female” material echoes the home-oriented nature of these objects. Besonen is an accomplished artist who has had shows all over MN, as well as in NYC, and who has been the recipient of a number of grants and awards, including an MSAB grant.
There are other elements to the project, but I don’t want to remove all the mystery! I want to give special and unending thanks to Jennifer Heath and Heather Hardester who were there when the seed of this idea was planted, and whose encouragement and brainstorming helped it take root.
My warmest congratulations go out to all of the other grantees, especially poets Heid Erdrich, Kris Bigalk, Wendy Brown Baez, Matt Mauch, Jude Nutter, Bao Phi, and Guante. I hope I didn’t miss anyone! It is a group I am proud and amazed to be included in, and I admire the work of all of these poets, most of whom I know personally. Minnesota is home to an incredibly diverse and talented group of poets and writers. It’s a fantastic place to live and work. Even when there’s no snow.