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'Poetry and its Arts' exhibit open through April

December 8, 2004

"For Love of Lilith," a photo collage by Helen Adam, circa 1955While poets are known for their dexterity with the spoken and written word, many of them have also used the visual arts as an outlet for creative expression. This phenomenon is the inspiration for "Poetry and its Arts: Bay Area interactions 1954 – 2004," a first-of-its-kind exhibit sponsored by the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at SFSU and the California Historical Society.

The exhibit, on display through April 16 at the California Historical Society in San Francisco, features more than 100 original works -- many never exhibited publicly -- by more than 80 people. Curated by Poetry Center Director Steve Dickison, the exhibit features art created by poets, poet-artist collaborations, and works by artists in poetry circles.

"In many ways, this exhibit is a tribute to the poet-artist galleries that had short but significant lifespans in San Francisco of the 1950s and '60s -- King Ubu Gallery, the Six Gallery, Batman Gallery, Borregard's Museum, Buzz Gallery and the North Beach coffeehouses and bars that did double duty as art-spaces," Dickison says. "The San Francisco of this period served as a geographic confluence of radically realized individual and collective visions. Poets and artists together as friends, lovers, rivals and audience to one another's practice, creatively imagined a city perched on the country's far coast, and worked together to bring that city into being."

A broad spectrum of artworks, beginning in the 1950s with original pieces by prominent poet-artists close to the Poetry Center, leads to contemporary work that continues the Bay Area's interactive poet-artist traditions.

Earlier pieces on display include:

  • Kenneth Rexroth's distinctive, delicate work with pastels;
  • rarely shown collaborations and individual works by Robert Duncan and Jess;
  • Allen Ginsberg's West Coast photos from 1955 to 1984;
  • an original private press work by William Everson (Brother Antoninus), who undertook the printer's trade while in a World War II Conscientious Objector camp in Oregon;
  • paintings by poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima and Michael McClure, an SF State alumnus;
  • paintings by SF State alumnus and former creative writing Professor Stan Rice, the late husband of fellow alum and novelist Anne Rice;
  • Mary Oppen's torn-paper collage depicting her husband, poet George Oppen;
  • calligraphic works by friends Lew Welch, Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder, students of legendary calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds;
  • David Meltzer's collages mining the iconography of Jewish Kabbalah;
  • Fran Herndon's collages invoking pop-culture icons Willie Mays and Marilyn Monroe; and
  • rare visual works by poets Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, Madeline Gleason and Barbara Guest.

Highlights of recent pieces in the exhibit include works by Bay Area painters Carlos Villa, Amy Trachtenberg and Gustavo Ramos Rivera. Photo-portraits and historical photos accent the painted, drawn, hand-printed and constructed artworks.

"Poetry and its Arts" also features "Collective Memory," a multimedia installation by San Francisco poet and visual artist Norma Cole.

The exhibit wraps up a yearlong celebration of the Poetry Center's 50th anniversary. The center hosts 25 to 30 public poetry readings and events each year featuring a diverse range of artists from around the world. Its archives hold more than 2,000 audio and videotapes of writers performing their own works, dating to the Beat era. Professor Ruth Witt-Diamant founded the center, with encouragement from her friend Dylan Thomas and a gift from W.H. Auden, in 1954.

The galleries at the California Historical Society, located at 678 Mission St. (at Third Street), are open noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for college students and free for high school students.

-- Matt Itelson
Image: Courtesy of of The Poetry Collection of The University Libraries, State University of New York, Buffalo


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Last modified December 8, 2004 by University Communications