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This is an exercise based off my Writing About Art workshops, offered through the Arts Center of Saint Peter (March 18 / April 15). The 410 Project is a community art space located at 523 South Front Street in Mankato, Minnesota. Grab your notebook and get there before the exhibit comes down on March 4th!
- Find the artwork referenced, currently on display as part of the 410 Project Juried Exhibition. I'm purposely only showing a little snippet of it, along with the artist info, so you have to visit the gallery! Being physically present alongside the work of art is one of the generative constraints that makes this exercise fruitful.
- Stand in front of it and look it for at least 1 minute (average viewing time for most artwork is about 15-25 seconds!).
- Set the alarm on your phone for 7 minutes.
- Read the associated prompt out loud or write it at the top of your notebook page.
- Write, write, write. Try not to stop writing for the whole 7 minutes, even if you're just writing nonsense. Stand with a clipboard, sit down on the gallery floor, or ask for a chair from the volunteer in the back.
This is a generative exercise! You might walk away with a poem, a memory that surfaced, or a kernel of an idea for a story. At the very least, you see some cool art. Learn more about Writing About Art by downloading my free, printable zine.
If you opened your mouth wide enough, what could we see?
What do you bow down to?
What is at the center?
Write about what is disappearing with each passing day.
Write about the foods you are not allowed to eat.
Starting from your feet and moving upwards, describe your body. When you get to your waist, you must switch to describing something that is not human.
The 410 Project 2018 Juried Exhibition holds over 100 different pieces of artwork created by artists living throughout southern Minnesota. Many thanks to 2018 juror J. Wren Supak.
It's not often that poets get to see their work off of a page (or screen). This summer I had the chance to display some of my erasure poems in an art installation for Made Here: Future, a project by Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Made Here is a walkable urban art experience that temporarily fills empty storefronts and commercial spaces with the work of Minnesota artists. Located in the West Downtown Minneapolis Cultural District, the project aims to highlight artists but also bring attention to available downtown properties—piquing the interest of renters and entrepreneurs. In fact, my installation came down prematurely when the former Rosa Mexicano restaurant in City Center was leased after being vacant for nearly a year.
"Dystopia Erased" showcased erasure poems sourced from four different dystopian novels, with themes including the existence of fact through memory; women’s bodies as political instruments; language as a tool of power; the causes of complacency; environmental and economic crises; racial and ethnic tensions; immigration; institutionalized population control; and perceptions of otherness. My source texts included The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler; 1984 by George Orwell; and Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias.
Presenting my words as an art exhibit was filled with a lot of new challenges. Once I wrote the poems I had to design each 36"x64" panel, do test prints, revise, print again, and then transport and install the poems at my site. Erasure already forces you to work under constraints and this project presented even more of them. However, one great thing about Made Here is that the staff are available to help you through each step. The program is very accessible to emerging artists—the application does not require a resume or even previous exhibition experience, just a good idea.
In order to curate four poems that worked well together for the installation, I wrote over 40 erasure poems sourced from the four novels. Below are some that didn't make it onto the windows for Made Here, but I think are still worth sharing.
Erasure poems by Erin Dorney, 2017
In a little over a month I'll be heading to a residency on a secluded lake near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota.
The Boundary Waters is part of Superior National Forest—over a million acres of glacially-carved landscape filled with cliffs, canyons, rock formations, beaches, lakes, streams, islands, and north woods forests. According to the US Forest Service, it's one of the most visited wildernesses in the United States, set aside in 1926 to "preserve its primitive character and made a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964 with subsequent legislation in 1978."
While most visitors travel the Boundary Waters on foot and canoe, camping in the wilderness, I'll be based at the Tofte Lake Center as part of their Emerging Artists Program funded by the Jerome Foundation. I'll be there with two other Minnesota-based artists and four artists from Brooklyn, NY. Our group will include a singer, actors and dancers, a photographer, a playwright, a choreographer, a sculptor, a storyteller, and a poet (that's me!).
There are a few reasons why I'm looking forward to this residency. It will be my first time attending a group residency—at my previous residencies I have been the only person participating. I'm excited to be part of a cohort of interdisciplinary artists coming from different places, mediums, and backgrounds. This one will still be pretty self-directed in terms of creative output, but I'm looking forward to eating with other people, exploring with them, and learning about their projects. Solo residencies are important in terms of giving you time and space, but can sometimes feel a little lonely. I'll probably do a blog post comparing the two experiences (pros and cons of solo versus cohort) sometime in the future.
In preparation I've been learning a lot about Northern Minnesota and the Boundary Waters, which has been fascinating. The North Shore of Minnesota (along Lake Superior) is one of my favorite parts of this entire state, but I've never explored much to the northwest. I'll be spending my week there generating new work for my manuscript of erasure poems sourced from scientific and natural texts—specifically poems sourced from Minnesota-centric texts.
Erasure poetry is a form of found poetry where words are taken away from an existing text. Punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks are sometimes altered, but no words are added to the piece beyond the original source text.
You can see examples of erasures from an ornithology textbook over at Entropy Magazine. Some of the source texts I'll be bringing with me to the residency are listed and depicted here. Most of these were purchased from thrift stores, library or used book sales, or donated by friends. I've been particularly drawn to vintage instructional books. I find that these books have intriguing illustrations (that sometimes complement or add context to my poems) and surprising language, providing a good challenge in terms of finding the poetry in inherently "non-poetic" texts.
- “The Compact Book of Small Game and Varmints” by Ray Ovington (J.L. Pratt, 1965)
- “The Rock Book” by Carroll Lane Fenton and Mildred Adams Fenton (Doubleday & Co., 1948)
- “A Laboratory and Field Manual of Ornithology” by Olin Sewall Pettingill (Burgess Pub. Co., 1967)
- “How to Draw Trees” by Gregory Brown (Studio Ltd, 1957)
- “The Adventure Book of Chemistry” by Lazer Goldberg (Capitol Pub. Co., 1962)
- "America's Wonderlands. The scenic national parks and monuments of the United States" from the National Geographic Society of America (Washington, 1966)
- "Minnesota, Past and Present" by Antoinette E. Ford (Lyons and Carnahan, 1951)
- "Telephone Almanac for 1960" from the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (Bell Telephone System, 1960)
- "Prairie Skies: The Minnesota Weather Book" by Paul Douglas (Voyageur Press, 1990)
- "Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings Round Lake Superior" by J. G. Kohl (Ross and Haines, Inc., 1956)
- "Gopher Tales: Stories from the History of Minnesota" by Antoinette E. Ford (Lyons & Carnahan, 1938)
- "Minnesota Public Lands, 1983" prepared by Land Management Information Center Minnesota State Planning Agency in cooperation with Land Bureau Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (1983)
- "The Rocky Coast" by Rachel Carson (McCall, 1971)
If you have any last minute ideas for Minnesota-specific books that seem to match the ones described above, please let me know. Books that are valuable don't work as well since I typically alter them as part of my process. But if you're thrifting and you see something that would be perfect, get in touch! I still have a few weeks left before I head out. I'll have limited internet/cell access while I'm there, but I'll be sure to share pictures post-residency. I'm crossing my fingers for a bear sighting!
Many thanks to the Tofte Lake Center for selecting me for the Emerging Artist Program, to the Jerome Foundation for making opportunities like this possible, to Lorraine Hansen for her book donations, and to my partner Tyler who will be holding down the fort while I'm out exploring the northern-most edges of Minnesota.
Last March I had the opportunity to participate in the Artist Residency at Spruceton Inn. It was an amazing experience and they're currently accepting applications for 2017 residencies (through October 31, so hurry!). Spruceton Inn is a twist on a traditional bed and breakfast. Instead of offering you a home cooked morning meal, one of the rooms has been converted into a bar (open to visitors and the public). You can get Poptarts in the morning, Glogg or a local sour beer in the evenings, and it’s all super-Instagram-cute. Two years ago, the Inn started offering week-long Artist Residencies during their off-season months. Six artists are selected each year, ranging from painters to photographers, illustrators, and writers.
Each morning during my stay I woke up to a window-full of mountains and massive pine trees. Being alone for a week to work on writing was a transformative experience, one that I will always be thankful to owners Casey and Steven for. I left my residency with over 17 drafts of new poems, one of which I recently learned will be published in Amazon's weekly literary magazine Day One. Writer and artist friends, I strongly encourage you to apply!