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'True Poems flee;' These Words are free

Emily Dickinson wrote:

          To see the Summer Sky
          Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -

          True Poems flee.

          The essential quality of these words, their spare yet transformational authority, prompted this interactive, performative work.  
         I began by making paper. Inspired by John Cage’s series of Edible Drawings, I incorporated bits of plant matter gathered each day. Unlike those filigree-like compositions by Cage, my papers also contain cotton rag and mulberry pulp as a substantive base. And yet, by including seeds, skins, flowers, leaves and stems from meal and medicinal preparations and garden walks, I do mean to impart the mutable sensibilities of personal, daily activities.

The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. This puts

one in accordance with nature, in her manner of operation.

                         — John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings


       Words are free, photomontage, 2018


          With a portable desk, a collaged box for the papers, a dictionary (for those who may like to browse), and a set of variously colored ink pens, I situate myself in garden settings and wait.
         I look to engage passers-by in conversations about words and ask
that they select a favorite word, a word used often to describe one's life or self, a word just recently learned, or one that gives pleasure as syllables are formed and intoned.

          Once the word is chosen, it is written in cursive writing on a handmade paper card. The card is then placed in a glassine envelope for safekeeping and offered to the one for whom it was so inscribed.
         With these activities and objects, I hope to draw attention to the relevance of individual and collective words, and to the material nature of writing. By situating these interchanges in public gardens the fertile potency of words is also emphasized.

with visitors at the International Rose Garden for Peace,
State Capitol Plaza, Sacrame
nto, CA

What 'self' is it that stirs to life when meeting someone else's art?

The self that trades in common stock, I'd say, in things like air, light, fire

and song, in things that nature made...

Lewis Hyde
Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership

          In addition to the influences of Emily Dickinson and John Cage, this project was inspired by the writings of Lewis Hyde, particularly with regard to the prescribed, revitalized creative commons.

          'True Poems flee;' These Words are free establishes a site for exchanging words in multiple languages, for sharing thoughts about writing, language, literacy and art-making, and for the art of conversation. In the spirit of the communal roots of creativity, it offers the faceted gift of expressive activity, interpersonal connection, and the art object itself to all who visit the garden.                       


inscribing handmade paper with visitor-chosen word



Selected bibliography

Cage, John, Silence: Lectures and Writings, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT, 1973

Dickinson, Emily, Ed., Johnson, Thomas H., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Little Brown and Co., Boston, Toronto, London, 1960

Hyde, Lewis, What is the Public? The Case for a “Rich Common,” World Intellectual Property Review, March / April 2012,
- The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Vintage Books, New York,1979
- Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010
Toale, Bernie, The Edible Drawings of John Cage, edible%20drawings.pdf


Image / photo credits
Valerie Constantino, Words are free, photomontage, 2018
(background garden image, modified, Aimaimyi, GFDL,
Danh Cao, all performance images

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