The House of the Rising Poem
On June 21 in Greenfield, Mass., poet, artist and publisher Chris Janke presented an ambitious one-night poem/sculpture performance titled “How The World Wears Its Words” or “Of the of of the of — Miner Street.” The crowd of about 40 wandered around 20 installations that combined plexiglass, wire and wood constructions with the natural elements of a house and surrounding yard.
The project was based around bringing a poem that Janke had written into the physical world to interact with space, air and light. According to Janke’s Kickstarter page, the intention of the project was “to explore the relationship between word and object, between the words that are inside and the world that is outside of our own heads.”
On the program, the piece was divided into three separate sections by the time that certain installations were best viewed. As the piece relied on the position of the sun and light surrounding the house, sections such as “Intended to be viewed during sunset and into dusk” shared their titles with the temporal space of the exhibition, making the exhibition feel present and fleeting.
Mojie Crigler, a writer from Montague, Mass. said she had been looking forward to the exhibition, but wasn’t sure what to expect when she got there.
“I showed up at maybe around 6:30 p.m. and was given an instruction book and a printout of the poem. As the sun started to come down, I started to move from station to station. It was structured, but I was also able to veer off and make my own experience of it.”
Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, who was also at the exhibit, said he felt Janke’s exhibition expanded the boundaries of poetry in a unique way.
“The physical world surrounds each poem and in some cases even becomes a player in how the poem is read and understood. And while the words themselves have their own sparkling resonance and their own intrinsic associations, they now also have the added dimension of being joined not just in time but also in space.”
Crigler also said the exhibition was technically impressive in both construction and vision. She mentioned how the piece itself and the experience for the viewer were intricately designed.
“If I could pick one thing that really stood out in terms of construction — the front of the house had giant letters hanging in front of it and, as the sun set, the letters rose up on the front of the house. They were huge.”
Janke noted the technical difficulty of the project both beforehand and after, and how the construction of the project — not just the viewing — became part of his experience of the piece.
“One of the things that struck me while I was putting up the largest of the installations was that in order for me to put weightless shadows on the house, I had to engineer and build an enormous construction. The mind/body metaphor was intentional throughout the installation, but when I’d envisioned the shadows on the house I hadn’t anticipated how the difficulty of actually doing it would be a powerful metaphor,” he said.
Crigler said she did feel echoes of Janke constructing the installations within the piece itself and got to experience that as part of the poem and that it all came together really well. She said she felt the poem itself was also well chosen for a project of this sort.
“Here was this poem about the giganticness of life — and the experiences that come out of that “bigness,” and you have its presentation, which is actually made out of mostly air, but it’s very intricate and air is a giant thing, but we carve out our relationships and experiences and tiny spots of witness and notice.”
Sawyer-Laucanno acknowledged the piece’s place in history.
“Eighty years ago Andre Breton experimented with what he called object-poems in which words were superimposed on a painting. Janke has moved the marker much farther by obliterating the distinction that words exist in time and the plastic arts in space,” he said.
Photos courtesy of Chris Janke