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'Poetry of the Wild' launches publicly on May 6

NEWPORT, R.I. – Community members who created public installations featuring their art and poetry will be featured at numerous locations on Aquidneck Island as part of the city-wide “Poetry of the Wild” exhibition that will officially launch on May 6. This unique presentation of “poetry boxes” that serve as a catalyst for exploring our towns and cities will run throughout the summer.

Ana Flores, ecological artist, sculptor and founder of Poetry of the Wild, says the project connects people to the landscape by combining poetry, visual art and the natural world. It is supported by Salve Regina University with help from additional community partners.

Salve Regina students welcomed their local youth partners from FabNewport to campus during the last week of April to help install exhibits on windows at McKillop Library as part of the POW exhibition. The FabLab kids produced vinyl cut-outs of poetry and a large bear that were stuck to the windows, and they made wooden boxes to host poetry journals. A dozen freshmen students in Jen McClanaghan’s introduction to creative writing class at Salve wrote poems to place into the boxes and after the installations were complete, they went to each location to read their poems aloud.

These and other installations are ongoing in preparation for the exhibition’s May 6 city-wide opening, during which members of the public are invited to join with contributing artists and writers on a tour of each installation.

Flores – who runs Earth Inform Studio – has been bringing Poetry of the Wild to locations both public and wild for the last 12 years. Each installation features a box or sculpture, built by artists and community members using recycled materials, that contains an original or classic poem as well as a journal for passersby to contribute reflections of their own. Each unique site reflects the spirit of each place.

“We’ve done this all over the country – urban, rural, universities and many, many other partnerships,” Flores says. “I think it’s going to present a Newport that people don’t think is Newport. Everyone has their own little Newport they know, and the tourists know a certain Newport. This is a very diverse Newport and this allows other voices to be heard.”

McClanaghan, assistant professor and writer-in-residence at Salve, and her class took on a leading role in organizing Poetry of the Wild in Newport, engaging with Flores and local artists to encourage submissions.

“Poetry of the Wild’s focus is art, the environment, and community,” McClanaghan says. “This project joins other great work Salve faculty and staff are doing, putting our mission and our critical concerns into action, and it also brings together a diversity of community members. We are creating a bridge between many homes, and what better way to do it than with an open invitation to make art and poetry together, which seems more important than ever. I hope the relationships we’ve built through Poetry of the Wild will inform new projects each year.”

Installations will be featured at more than a dozen sites throughout the city, including Eisenhower Park, Redwood Library, Aquidneck Land Trust, FabLab, the Met School, Community Garden at Quaker Meeting House, the Cliff Walk, Ballard Park, the Salve Regina campus and more.

“I just love the idea of leaving an unexpected communication as a gift for whoever comes along and giving that someone the opportunity to respond … that’s magical,” said Elizabeth Hughes, a Newport artist who is working on one box that will have a collage and a love poem of hers in it.

She’s also planning to create another box or two, just to see what other stories emerge.

“I am a writer and a painter and love this land around us,” said Hughes, who is relatively new to Newport. “It seemed like a great project to get involved in. I want to continue to grow my art community here. Getting involved with Ana and POW seemed like a great way to do this.”

A Newport father-son team got involved in POW as a way to connect with each other. “It was a no-brainer for me,” said David Tracy. “I’m a carpenter and my son, Dylan, is a writer. What better way to make a connection with him than to work together on a poetry box? I thank Ana for sharing her vision. She has a knack for drawing artists out of the nooks and crannies of the city.”

The university’s engagement in Poetry of the Wild is one example of the type of community collaborations being spearheaded by Salve Regina faculty as part of a $173,800 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to intentionally infuse community engagement and civic learning into the university’s curriculum.

The courses developed by faculty in each of the three years of the grant are built around a significant project developed in conjunction with partners that will fulfill a demonstrated community need and allow students to apply concepts and skills they learn in class. Regardless of discipline, students will be engaging with literature, practice, and reflection on justice, fairness, and social change in relation to their subject matter and their community project.

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