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Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine,...
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Walking, Poems, Buildings: A Poetry and Architecture Collaboration


Walking, Poems, Buildings: A Poetry and Architecture Collaboration

Maybe you’ve seen a poem written in the shape of a building—it's called "concrete poetry"—but have you ever seen a building in the form of a sonnet? Poet Annie Finch and architect Ben Jacks, both faculty at Miami University in Ohio, recently collaborated to curate an exhibit of original student work that explored the relationships between the disciplines of poetry and architecture.

According to Jacks, the two art forms are similar because of their interest with form, their use of meter or structure, and their stance toward their environments—poets such as Wordworth, for example, went into nature for inspiration, and, similarly, architects are often inspired by place. Both poetry and architecture, Jacks says, involve our perception and how that perception is translated into a created, or built, environment.

The exhibit, "Walking, Poems, and Buildings," features some impressively original architectural models of "writer’s huts," bus shelters, and nature observatories, as well as the wall-mounted poems that inspired and informed the designs. The young architects also designed scultpures in response to close readings of poems. Kelly Shields attempted to embody Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet "I Shall Go Back" by interpreting the visual patterns of the poem’s scansion and emulating those patterns. Her sculpture, consisting of various wooden rectangles, is displayed alongside a highly marked copy of the poem that inspired it.

Original work by Finch and Jacks is also on display, including Finch’s poem "About Poetry and Architecture," and Jacks’s rather cubic model of a "writer’s hut" that the architect has designed to embody the form of a sonnet. "Through discussion the building in the form of a sonnet became grounded in the landscape with a kind of sitting wall in the Sapphic rhythm," Jacks says. A line from the poem is inscribed on the building.

Why is this collaboration important? Finch and Jacks believe that students working in partnerships across concentrations often rediscover important elements of their own work.

"Of proportion and rhythm and beauty, only the word rhythm has any place in the architecture studio," says Jacks. "I hoped that proportion, unofficially and officially banished from architectural education in the 1940s, and beauty, misunderstood, hijacked, perverted, and subjected to claim and political counterclaim, might rejoin architecture by way of the poem as a Trojan horse." Similarly, Finch wanted students to more seriously consider the occasional poem, the civic possibility of the poem, a poem's context.

"Walking, Poems, and Buildings" can be seen at Poets House, a literary center and national archive for poetry in New York, until February 25, 2005. A longer, illustrated discussion of the project can be found on Finch and Jacks's website.

Photos courtesy Poets House, 2005. Used with permission.

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