UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 12 Spring 20 Library
Creative Writing

Taking UVA Student Poetry & Artwork on the Road

For those willing to see it, there is poetry everywhere in daily life. It's in the beauty of nature, it is in the rhythms of the words we hear, and it flows both from, and to, our most open hearts. Now thanks to a revival of an innovative creative writing initiative, UVA Art & Poetry in Motion, student art and poetry can also be found in the way we get from Point A to Point B on Grounds. The student curators of UVA Art & Poetry in Motion Aline Dolinh (English) and Hope Harrison (Studio Art) pair submissions of poetry and art created by UVA students and circulate it throughout UVA on posters that adorn UTS buses and inject a little art, and heart, into the most mundane of circumstances—heading for a nursing shift or running late for class. 

The interdisciplinary program was first launched in 2009 by Creative Writing Program director and professor Lisa Russ Spaar (College '78). Last year, she reached out to one of her Creative Writing students in the Area Program in Poetry Writing, Aline Dolinh (College '20), to relaunch the effort. Dolinh partnered with Studio Art major Hope Harrison (College '20; Commerce '21) to put out calls for submissions and then to find complementary words and images for display. "I really liked the idea from the beginning," Dolinh said. "I am very much invested in the idea that poetry and art should be inextricable parts of our everyday lives. There is a famous quote from Audre Lorde that says, 'Poetry is not a luxury. It would be a necessity of our existence.' That has always really appealed to me. I very much like the idea that you are able to see and engage with beautiful and thought-provoking things on a daily basis, and that this is something that should not be just limited to the people who are lucky enough to study poetry or studio art on the university level. So why not make it available in situations as public and ordinary as just sitting on the bus every morning?"

Dolinh and Harrison worked with the folks at University Transit Service to spread the word on the program and to encourage submissions of poems and artwork. "Then we got together and tried to find pieces that would go well together, which was kind of a fun, puzzling process. You never really know what text and images are going to play well with each other," said Dolinh. She and Harrison had no idea what to expect and were pleasantly surprised both by the submissions that came in and by the diverse pool of people who submitted them. "We had submissions from first and second-year students who were in their first creative writing class, as well as from M.F.A. students, and it was really cool to see the contrasts in these approaches." 

The first "edition" of 4 separate posters launched on the buses in December (the UVA Parking and Transportation funded the first round of posters). "It was very cool, and a little weird to start seeing our work show up," Dolinh said. "To see the potential of someone's poem or piece of art reaching so many eyes was amazing, and it is great to think that there may be things that people really think about, and that may stick with them long after their ride is over. The idea of knowing that kind of work is perceivable in a public place, as something of real value, was surreal, but very affirming." The posters were placed alongside more traditional UVA bus poster fare, including things like pedestrian safety. Like so much art, Dolinh said, "the poetry and art posters had no specific effect intended. They are not trying to sell you anything or impart any particular lesson. Their purpose is to invite you to consider this poem for a while. I find it nice to get your mind and attention off of the details of your everyday life, and off of your devices, and to create space for paying attention to things in my daily life. I would say the goal of this project is to make other people feel the same way."

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