Ezra Pound famously wrote early in the 20th century that all poetry aspires to be music.
But what about other art forms? Do prints and photographs also want to sing?
That issue is joined in Jazz: An Exhibition of Poetry, Prints, and Photography
It’s the engaging new show at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven‘s Sumner McKnight Crosby Jr. second-floor gallery on Audubon Street.
In her debut as a curator, poet and printmaker Shaunda Holloway (pictured} has brought together about a dozen artists and poets whose works, in her view, jumps with the energy of music, and jazz in particular.
The show, which kicked off with a Friday night reception, complete with poetry reading by Frederick-Douglas Knowles II and Bessie Smith-style vocals by Yolanda Coggins, runs through March 4.
“Visually, these all look like music to me,” Holloway said as she stood in front of a suite of monotypes, or one-of-a-kind prints, by Maura Galante.
“They have a rhythm of lines vertically and horizontally,” Holloway pointed out. “They’re sort of like a visual quartet.”
The show features monotypes, photos, collages, lithographs, linoleum prints, wood cuts, and printed texts of poems by Knowles, Ngoma Hill, Antoinette Brim, and Eric Sermabekian (pictured).
The written works are affixed to the walls of the gallery’s narrow corridor, giving the spaced, indented, black-and-white lines of the written word a kind of equal visual valence with the pictures.
Sermabekian, who met Holloway on the poetry reading circuit — the visual artists are colleagues she has gathered from training at Creative Arts Workshop—had to think hard, he said, about the relationship between words and music.
A mechanical engineer by training and a serious amateur piano player in addition to being a poet, Sermabekian described a jazz composition as an “unstructured structured story.”
His own work, he said, often comes out of a dark place. In “All My Fault,” one of his compositions on the wall of the gallery, Sermabekian riffs on Emily Dickinson’s famous “Because I could not stop for death, he stopped for me.”
Her line, quoted verbatim, is his theme, but the brooding, self-minatory variations are all his own.
He said he often uses music to trigger his writing. “I think all music is poetry, but all poetry is not music.” What they have in common is the stirring up of feeling, he added.
Holloway told her artists the premise for the show and they ran with it, either selecting work already completed or creating, as poet Sermabekian did, something for the occasion.
From her own courses and performance, she knew many of the artists and writers’ work. They all had the kind of spontaneity, revisited with further exploration, movement, and detail, that she described as the heart of jazz’s non-structured structure, as Sermabekian phrased it.
As Holloway stood in front of her own monotype called “Sea Air,” she said when you pull a print, “it’s like watching a child come into the world. You don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s going to be unique. You can go back into it,” as she did with her print — adding, for example, faces in charcoal that were not there when the print was pulled.
“I wanted to merge print making and poetry and show how those things are closely related,” she said.