Writing on Wednesday: Genre-Bending in Oxford

Maude Schuyler Clay discussing her photography at today's presentation
Maude Schuyler Clay discussing her photography at today’s presentation

For hump-day of my birthday week I took a day trip to Oxford (Mississippi) to attend a presentation by two talented women: the poet Ann Fisher-Wirth and the photographer Maude Schuyler Clay. You can read more about “Mississippi: A Collaborative Project” here. The presentation was at the Gammill Gallery at the Center for Southern Studies (Barnard Observatory) where the exhibit will be up for several more weeks.

Ann was a speaker at a writing workshop I attended several years ago, and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with her and her poetry ever since.  You can read a post I did after one of her readings here:

“When You Come to Love”

I recently purchased a large “coffee table” book of Maude’s work—Mississippi History—and I own several books of Ann’s poetry, so I was excited to see/hear their collaboration. Sadly, the slide projector wasn’t working at the venue, so we couldn’t view Maude’s photos as Ann read her work, but we were able to view the exhibit in the adjacent room after the presentation.


Ann Fisher-Wirth
Ann Fisher-Wirth

During the Q&A I asked Ann whether she considered her poems in this collection to be ekphrastic (poetry written about a prior text or work of art). I first learned about ekphrastic poem about six years ago at a workshop led by Scott Cairns. His definition at the time was this:

Ekphrastic poetry should give voice to an artifact… making meaning with narrative about something the piece of art might be saying.

Ann said it was more than that, because it wasn’t just a reflection on a piece of art (in this case a photograph) but it was more of a fictional story-telling exercise. For each photograph, she made up characters that could be (but weren’t) in the photograph, or got inside an imaginary viewer’s head and reflected from other points of view. It’s really kind of genre-bending what she and Maude have done together, and I love it. They’re hoping someone will publish the collaboration as a book some day.

Listening to Ann read and looking at Maude’s photographs inspired me to view art in a different way. And yes, maybe I’ll try my hand at a little genre-bending poetry the next time I see something that inspires me—a photograph, a painting, a sketch, a statue, a building. We’re going to Paris in May, so that should provide plenty of opportunities!

Delta Delta Delta house on Ole Miss campus
Delta Delta Delta house on Ole Miss campus

So thankful for the chance to get out of the rain (it was only cloudy in Oxford) and enjoy a delicious lunch at Bouré and some shopping on the Square. Found the perfect lightweight raincoat at Neilson’s. It always inspires me just to be in that town so full of literature and art and beauty.

And a little walk down memory lane … I parked right in front of the Tri Delta house, where I was a member 45-46 years ago! I watched a few girls come and go from the house (it was lunch time) and if it had been a Thursday, I might would blossoms Ole Miss campushave dropped in and asked if they still served grill cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on Thursdays! (Or was it Tuesdays?)

Even with the clouds, the campus was showing signs of spring and it was 73 degrees. What a great day.

2 thoughts on “Writing on Wednesday: Genre-Bending in Oxford”

  1. hi Susan, it was really great to see you and I am glad you had a good time. I wish the powerpoint had worked–it’s a total mystery why not, since my flash drive worked on EVERY other computer (mac and PC) that I tried it on. Lucky you, going to France– you will indeed have a lot of opportunities for ekphrastic writing (or any other kind as well!)

    Gotta say, that photo of me is awful! I look like the side of a barn–alas– But I love your comments. You are so smart and thoughtful. xo Ann

    1. You are a beautiful woman, Ann… and I apologize for posting that photo. It really didn’t reflect your beautiful spirit. So now I’ve replaced it with a better one, which I should have done from the beginning. I really enjoyed walking through the exhibit afterwards, but I especially enjoyed listening to you read your poems. What a gift!

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