Robert ParkeHarrison (American, b. 1968) and Shana ParkeHarrison (American, b. 1964); Oppenheimer's Circle, 1999; gelatin silver print. Copy Right Holder: the artist. Museum purchase, Wachenheim Family Fund. (M.2003.5) x1200

The Moon Is Broken: Photography from Poetry, Poetry from Photography

November 11, 2006 - July 8, 2007

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) presents The Moon Is Broken: Photography from Poetry, Poetry from Photography. For this exhibition, regional poets curated photographs from the museum’s collection and wrote original poems, creating lyrical arrangements that explore how image and text resonate. The exhibition, and its accompanying interpretative programming, is an invitation to reconsider and respond to photography and poetry.

WCMA’s exhibitions this year celebrate the breadth of the museum’s holdings in honor of the publication of Encounter, the new handbook of the permanent collection. In addition to its staff curators, the museum has invited faculty, artists, students, and members of the community to reexamine the collection through a series of exhibitions that bring together works of art crossing cultures and time periods. “The curatorial process for ‘The Moon Is Broken’, like the new handbook to the collection, embodies our mission as a teaching museum—to encourage multiple voices from across the academic disciplines to engage with art, history, and ideas and to work in partnership on innovative approaches to presenting the extraordinarily diverse range of art in WCMA’s care,” says Director Lisa Corrin.

Under Corrin’s direction, the exhibition and programming took shape organically and collaboratively with input from all involved. She initially began working on the project this past summer with Williams undergraduate June Gordon, Class of 2008 and Cynthia Way, the museum’s new Director of Education and Visitor Experience.

Together, they reviewed the museum’s extensive photography collection and selected images that leave themselves open to poetic interpretation. In contrast to straight documentary photography that seeks to make declarative statements about events or pin down meaning, the selected images pose questions, evoke mystery, and create a puzzle for the eye. At turns abstract and ambiguous or descriptive and precise, these images endeavor to describe the essence of things in subtle and unexpected ways. Photographers featured in the exhibition range in style, intention, and time period, but all of their works share an evocation of the poetic. They include: Robert D’Allesandro, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Ralph Gibson, Duane Michaels, Man Ray, Aaron Siskind, Bruce Weber, and Garry Winogrand, among others.

Interestingly, the title for this exhibition came from a four-year-old boy who looked up at a half moon in the sky and said to his mother, “The moon is broken.” Gordon then discovered a poem by D. H. Lawrence using the same phrase. Indeed, the selection of photographs reflects a strand throughout the history of photography—from early pictorial work to contemporary artwork—in which photographs are derived from poems, compared to poems, or described in poetic terms. In this case, they inspired poems. Conversations with Williams faculty, the poets Larry Raab and Cassandra Cleghorn, helped to define the process for engaging regional poets in the exhibition.

In August, WCMA began inviting poets living in the region to select a group of up to five images from this checklist to make their own “image poems” from the photographs. Unlike a museum curator who might group these photographs chronologically, according to artist or subject matter, the poets will have the freedom to arrange them according to their own “poetic logic.” Each poet-curator demonstrates a unique approach to responding to the visual art, making the evolution of the exhibition unpredictable and the results surprising. The poet-curators’ juxtapositions of these photographic works promote new interpretations based on the visual and textual relationships that they set forward. The poets will also write original poems this fall, which will later be integrated with the “image poems.” Poet-curators invited to participate in the project include Trudy Ames, April Bernard, Rachel Barenblat, Cassandra Cleghorn, D. L. Crockett-Smith, Peter Filkins, Larry Raab, Mary Ruefle, Barbara Tran, and John Yau.

“The exhibition and programming explore a poetic view of photography while celebrating the creative process itself,” says Way, who co-curated the exhibition and designed the interpretative programming.

The interpretative component will extend the museum’s reach into the community, drawing together community members to explore the connections between photography and poetry. Programs range from school tours and gallery talks to community partnerships and finally a literary reading in the gallery, but individual viewers are also encouraged to contribute poems in response to the unique artworks on exhibition. “The programs encourage viewers to respond—and to frame their responses in the mode of artistic expression in which the exhibition itself converses,” says Way.

A school tour program will engage students in discussing the exhibition and then creating Polaroid photographs and writing poems of their own. In a collaborative initiative, Inkberry in North Adams will offer youth and adult writing courses that use the exhibition at the center of an exploration of ecphrastic writing, or writing that focuses on art. On Sunday April 29, the museum will host a literary reading with the contributing poets in the gallery, providing an opportunity for the general public and program participants to meet the poet-curators and celebrate the power of word and image.

The exhibition will run from November 11, 2006 to July 8, 2007. The visual “image poems” will be installed for the November opening, with original poetry appearing as it is completed this fall, allowing for viewers to consider the differences in meaning that arise when text comes into the picture.

Related Programming

Gallery Talk: Shadow Play in The Moon Is Broken
Poet Peter Filkins discusses his poem, “Shadow Play,” with Director of Education and Visitor Experience Cynthia Way
Wednesday, February 21
12:10 pm

Gallery Talk: Phases of the Moon
View the completed poetic image and text works in The Moon Is Broken: Photography from Poetry, Poetry from Photography.
Co-curators Cynthia Way, Director of Education and Visitor Experience, and June Gordon Class of 2008
Wednesday, March 14
12:10 pm

WordPlay at Papyri Books: The Moon is Broken
Saturday, April 14
7:30 pm
The public is invited to read poems created in response to the exhibition The Moon Is Broken: Photography from Poetry, Poetry from Photography at Papyri Books, 45 Eagle Street, North Adams 413-662-2099.
Organized by Inkberry.

Williamstown Jazz Festival 
Merge: Poetry, Music, Photography
Sunday, April 22
2:00 pm
Reception to follow. Explore the rhythmic connections among images, words, and music in this special concert at the Williams College Museum of Art. Merge, a poetry and music ensemble, will respond to the images and poems in The Moon Is Broken: Photography from Poetry, Poetry from Photography, an exhibition currently on view at the museum. Cassandra Cleghorn (Williams College English and American Studies Senior Lecturer), whose poetry appears in the exhibition, will perform her poetry with music by Merge co-founder Erik Lawrence (Williams Jazz Saxophone Instructor), bassist Rene Hart, and drummer Ziv Ravitz.

Sponsored in part by the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, Williams College Office of the President, Mass Cultural Council, The High Meadow Foundation, Greylock Federal Credit Union, MASS MoCA, and St. John’s Episcopal Church. www.williamstownjazz.com

Poetry Reading: The Moon Is Broken
Sunday, April 29 
2:00 pm
Reception to follow.
Contributing poet-curators for The Moon Is Broken: Photography from Poetry, Poetry from Photography read original poetry in the gallery: Trudy Ames, April Bernard, Rachel Barenblat, Cassandra Cleghorn, D. L. Crockett-Smith, Peter Filkins, Lawrence Raab, Mary Ruefle, Barbara Tran, and John Yau. Organized in collaboration with Inkberry.

About the Poets

Trudy Ames received her M.F.A. from Bennington College. Her poems have appeared in The Southern Review, LIT, Under One Roof, Holding True, and Crossing Paths. She was a recipient of two National Endowment for the Humanities grants, three Olmsted awards, and a Horace Mann grant, all for pursuits in the study, teaching, and writing of poetry. She teaches English at Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Rachel Barenblat holds an M.F.A. from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, most recently chaplainbook (2006), a collection arising out of her experiences in hospital chaplaincy. Her two previous collections are What Stays (2002) and the skies here (1995). Her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Phoebe, The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Holding True, and The Texas Observer. Her work can be found online at her blog, Velveteen Rabbi. She is co-founder and former executive director of Inkberry, a literary arts center in North Adams. She is currently a student in the Aleph rabbinic program.

April Bernard is a poet, novelist and essayist. Blackbird Bye Bye won the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Prize in 1989; her subsequent volumes of poetry are Psalms (1993) and Swan Electric (2002). A novel, Pirate Jenny, was published in 1990. Her essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, and other journals; her poems have been included in the anthologies The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Great American Prose Poems, and the recent American Religious Poems, edited by Harold Bloom. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University and has received a Guggenheim award. After many years as a magazine and book editor in New York City, she now teaches literature at Bennington College in Vermont, where she is also on the faculty of the M.F.A. writing program. She grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts and is a graduate of this town’s public schools and of Harvard University, where she earned her B.A.

Cassandra Cleghorn received her B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her Ph.D. from Yale University. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including the Paris Review, Yale Review, Western Humanities Review, Southwest Review, and Seneca Review. She was a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant Finalist in Poetry in 2000. She has taught at Williams College in Massachusetts since 1990 where she is Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English. Her most recent project is a collaboration of poetry and music. The quartet, Merge (comprised of Cleghorn, saxophonist Erik Lawrence, drummer Allison Miller, and bassist Rene Hart), issued the CD Merge in October and have begun performing in clubs and colleges.

D. L. Crockett-Smith received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Since 1980, he has taught at Williams College as professor of American Literature. He is best-known for his work on Mark Twain, African American culture, and the Black Arts Movement. He was co-editor, with Jack Salzman and Cornel West, of the Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History. At Williams, he has served several terms as Chair of African American Studies, and he was Dean of Faculty from 1996 to 2000. He was also Director of the W. Ford Schumann Performing Arts Endowment from 2000 to 2005. Crockett-Smith is the author of Cowboy Amok and Civil Rites. He is working on a sequel to Cowboy Amok, tentatively titled Day of the Dude. His poems have appeared in several anthologies. He has appeared in numerous solo and group readings and has been a featured guest on radio and television shows. Since 1981, he has hosted a weekly radio program, “Let the Music Speak,” on WCFM. He lives in Berkshire Village.

Peter Filkins is the author of two books of poems, What She Knew (1998) and After Homer (2002). He is also the translator of Inbegorg Bachmann’s collected poems, Darkness Spoken (2006), as well as her novels, The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann (1999). He is the recipient of a Berlin Prize Fellowship in 2005 from The American Academy in Berlin, a Fulbright grant to Austria, and an Outstanding Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Poetry, Partisan Review, The New Republic, The American Scholar, and The Los Angeles Times Book Review. He teaches writing and literature at Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He received his B.A. from Middlebury College, and his M.A. from Syracuse University. He has received the Bess Hokin prize from Poetry magazine, a Junior Fellowship from the University of Michigan Society of Fellows, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Council on the Arts. His collection of poems, What We Don’t Know About Each Other, won the National Poetry Series and was a Finalist for the 1993 National Book Award. His sixth and most recent volume of poetry, Visible Signs: New & Selected Poems, was published in 2003, and a seventh collection, The History of Forgetting, has recently been completed. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College, where he is the Morris Professor of Rhetoric.

Mary Ruefle is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently A Little White Shadow (2006), an art book of erasures; Tristimania (2003); Among the Musk Ox People (2002); Apparition Hill (2001); Cold Pluto (2001); Post Meridian (2000); Cold Pluto (1996); The Adamant (1989), winner of the 1988 Iowa Poetry Prize; Life Without Speaking (1987); and Memling’s Veil (1982). She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a Whiting Foundation Writer’s Award. She currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College.

Barbara Tran received her B.A. from New York University and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. She is the author of In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words, coeditor of Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry & Prose, and guest editor of the Michigan Quarterly Review special issue Viet Nam: Beyond the Frame. Barbara’s honors include a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholarship and Lannan Foundation Writing Residency. Her poems have appeared in Pushcart Prize XXIII and The New Yorker.

John Yau is an art critic, essayist, editor, poet, and prose writer. He received his B.A. from Bard College and his M.F.A. from Brooklyn College. The author of more than thirty books, his most recent collection of poetry is Paradiso Diaspora (2006). His books of criticism include The Passionate Spectator: Essays on Art and Poetry (2006); The United States of Jasper Johns (1996), which was translated into French and German; and In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol (1993). His collaborations with artists have been exhibited at Volume (New York), Kevin Bruk Gallery (Miami), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York). Yau’s honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Jerome Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the General Electric Foundation. He currently teaches at Mason Gross School of the Arts (Rutgers University).