Poetry and Visual Art Create a Dialogue

Just like poetry inspires music, it also can inspire visual art. That is what artist Heidi Hehn says about the Circumpolar Duet project, which is a collaboration between visual artists and poets that will launch on Sept. 29 as part of the Culture Days Yukon event.

Hehn is organizing and participating in the project, which involves 20 poets and artists exhibiting artwork, poems and short prose.

“The most exciting part about this show is that we don’t know what to expect from each other,” Hehn said. “It will be a surprise for me to see what story a word artist ‘sees’ in my work and equally exciting to see what I ‘see’ in a poet’s art.”

Writers used the artists’ work like a prompt, and vice versa. Some of them did not know who their counterpart was.

The idea has its origin in the Circumpolar North Book called POEM.A. (POEMA.A. is a book with content from a lot of Yukon writers). Hehn says she got her inspiration for the Circumpolar Duets project during a reading from the book in Whitehorse last year.

Hehn got her inspiration for the Circumpolar Duet project during a reading of POEM.A. in Whitehorse last year.

“While I was listening to the other poets reading their work that night I saw pictures and paintings everywhere. I realized then that almost every visual artist could make a piece of art based on a poem.“

She realized that the same was true of poets, whom she calls “word artists.” They could write a poem based on a piece of visual art and the stories it whispered to them. Hehn discussed the concept with poet Kathy Munro, and the idea became fertile after they asked the authors published in POEMA.A. to be part of it.

One of the word artists involved in Circumpolar Duet is poet and creative writing teacher Jamella Hagen. She wrote a poem about fall and gave it to Deanna Bailey to create a sculpture or painting.

“I can’t wait to see what she has created to go with my poem – I haven’t had the chance to see it yet,” Hagen said.

She adds that her creativity benefited from this project.

“Working with other artists is, for me, deeply motivating and inspiring,” Hagen said.

It also sparked her creative work when she looked at a sculpture created by her counterpart, Catherine Jamnicky. The artwork was partly created using shattered glass from the windshield of the artist’s car.

“It was so fascinating to listen to [Jamnicky’s] explanations,” Hagen said. It inspired her to write a poem about ice.

Hagen did further research on ice as as historical record, and that the poem became a response to the sculpture.

“You could say that viewing the sculpture and speaking to the artist was a catalyst for a more in-depth creative process. That’s my favourite thing about this project – that it enables a whole community of artists and writers to work together.”

The opening reception for Circumpolar Duet takes place on Friday, Sept. 29 from 5-9 p.m. at the Yukon Artists at Work gallery. The exhibition will run for three weeks.

The Yukon Artists at Work gallery is located at 4129 – 4th Ave. For more information call the gallery at 393-4848.

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