Chesla's sculpture

Sculptor Joe Chesla (right) installs his sculpture for the Poetry of the Wild exhibit. There are 17 sculpture boxes on campus through Aug. 2, each containing a poem and journal for viewers to record their thoughts. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Seventeen spots on the University of Missouri–St. Louis have become miniature art sanctuaries for the summer.

Each stop in the Poetry of the Wild installation is the product of collaboration between a poet and artist that everyone else can include themselves in as well. Each display consists of an artist-produced box that houses a poem and a small journal where passersby can record their own thoughts.

Several UMSL students, faculty and alumni are involved in the project, including Jennifer Goldring, UMSL’s poet laureate for 2013. She helped coordinate the poetry for the program, as well as contributing her own poem and a box.

“It’s interesting to have an artist respond to a poem and have the public respond to the poem and art,” said Goldring, who is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at UMSL. “It’s a nice way to get everyone involved in the artistic process.”

Poetry of the Wild is the product of Ana Flores, an artist based in Rhode Island, who produced the show through UMSL’s Gallery 210. Flores started the project in 2003 when she was an artist-in-residence at the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association in Rhode Island. She developed the program as a means to foster awareness and stewardship of the land, and to get passersby to be mindful of their surroundings. After placing a dozen boxes throughout the watershed’s land, she was shocked to find that the journals were all full five months later.

“I realized that there are poets out here,” she said. “They just needed a place to put their thoughts.”

The St. Louis branch of Poetry of the Wild is the largest that Flores has ever undertaken, with 30 boxes instead of her previous maximum of 24. Seventeen of those boxes are on the UMSL campus, with the rest at businesses in the Central West End and the Grand Center Arts Academy. The boxes on UMSL’s north campus will be up through Aug 2. The project allows Gallery 210 to host a show for the summer while the gallery undergoes renovations indoors.

“The Poetry of the Wild Project is a wonderful example of UMSL programs bringing together various communities on and off the campus,” said Terry Suhre, director of Gallery 210. “The public response to Poetry of the Wild has been most gratifying.”

Julia Gordon-Bramer contributed her poem “The Stray” to a display that’s in the Central West End. The poem is based on the story of a stray cat that she acquired after it showed up at her door.

Gordon-Bramer is a graduate of UMSL’s MFA in creative writing program and is about to publish a book about the work of Sylvia Plath called “Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath.”

“When I wrote that poem, I had given up the hope of taming this little wild thing but interestingly it happened over the years,” Gordon-Bramer said. “He’s not completely tame but certainly a member of our family.”

On the UMSL campus, Poet Laureate Marisol Ramirez contributed her poem “The Archaeological Dig.” Look for a feature about Ramirez, a student in the MFA in creative writing program, soon. Alumna Jennifer Tapenden contributed the poem “The Teraphim Instructs the Surgeon,” and Assistant Professor Shane Seely wrote “Pre-School Race, Seen Through a Bus Window.” Lecturer Steve Dalay, and Adjunct Assistant Professor Mike Behle contributed boxes.

In the Central West End, creative writing student Matthew Freeman, contributed the poem “Icarus” to a box at the St. Louis Public Library.

In addition to UMSL artists and poets, other contributors come from Lutheran High School North, the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School as well as the St. Louis region.

Visitors can either explore the boxes as they happen upon them or walk through the 17 all at once.

Click here to download the map or visit Gallery 210’s website for more information.

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