Artists performed spoken word poetry at March’s First Friday Art Crawl.
During the March 1 First Friday, Living Arts hosted 14 spoken word artists from across the state for the Oklahoma Avant Garde event. These poets performed on the backdrop of installations by three local visual artists. The performers and visual artists included several students and faculty members from TU. Over the next two months, Living Arts will present two other events that incorporate work from the Oklahoma Avant Garde.
The event centered on pushing the boundaries of written and spoken word, exploring the confines of poetry. The artists used language to navigate and explore contemporary life and experiment with form to achieve innovative expressions of these ideas. Artists broached social issues through intimate personal descriptions, used a collage-like approach to poetry and recited a translation of ancient texts. In each performance, the poets navigated language in a nuanced and exciting way.
Current TU student Brennen Gray and Dr. Bruce Dean Willis, a professor of Spanish and comparative literature, shared more personal memories in their performances. Gray dealt with stereotypes about race and ethnicity and the experience of reconciling these with reality. Willis recounted experiences with a mortgage through the lens of looking at a new house. In another of Gray’s poems, he used Snapchat article headlines combined with a humorous look at popular culture. Another TU student, Haley Ashwell, also explored innovative forms in her poetry. She described her approach to language as a collage in which she combined quotes from her friends and newspapers to create an eclectic collection of phrases.
Tulsa Artist Fellow M. L. Martin performed her translation of Anglo-Saxon poem “Wulf and Eadwacer.” In her experimental translation of this proto-feminist poem, Martin navigated the original writer’s switching between Old and Modern English. She embraced the plurality and ambiguity of the speaker’s voice, represented by “&” in her translation. According to her translator’s note, she aimed to “to recover this radical female text to the feminist and experimental canons to which it belongs.”
Before the poetry performances began, visitors were invited to walk around the gallery, where installations by three local artists were set up. This included Black Moon Collective artist Christina Henley as well as TU professors Michaela O’Brian and Xia Zhang. These women deal with complex themes through mixed media interpretations. Henley’s creation of a burnt house frame, “The Aftermath Remains,” takes on the memory of the Tulsa Race Massacre as it persists today. O’Brian’s videos and photos navigate the American Dream through the lens of a small community called Love Valley. Zhang’s videos and sculpture consider the experience of immigrants and women of color.
Poets and visual artists featured in Oklahoma Avant Garde push the boundaries of their genres to produce innovative approaches to their topics. Living Arts will continue to shoulder this objective and allow artists to delve into the complexities of contemporary life. The mixed media installations that premiered at this event will also be featured in the upcoming Alternative Archives event on March 8–9 and New Genre Arts Festival April 5–6.