As a Chinese proverb once said, “In every poem there’s a picture and in every picture there’s a poem.” In a recent field trip, both pictures and poetry united to create an educational experience for a group of Stuyvesant students. After school on Thursday, January 14, a group of students experienced eye-opening scenes captured by photographers in the exhibit “Portraits of Poets” at the National Arts Club, as well as the elusive words of famous poets such as Gerald Stern and Marie Ponsot.
The trip, organized by English teacher Emily Moore, was held to expose students to the multitude of poets from the past century. “I decided to organize the trip to the National Arts Club to see the Poetry Society of America’s centennial exhibit “Portraits of Poets” because my wonderful friend and former boss Alice Quinn invited us,” Moore said. “As the head of the Poetry Society of America, she was excited about the exhibit and wanted to give students the chance to see it.”
Ten students, from all four grades and various writing communities such as Caliper and Writing on the Wall (WotW), joined Moore, as did English teacher and faculty advisor for WotW Holly Weiss, and two invited alumni, Abby Deutsch (’02) and Ezra Glenn (’06). The group took the subway to the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park on the East Side. WotW, a program inspired by the “Poetry in Motion” program which posts poetry on buses and in subway stations, posts literary works along the hallways and classrooms of Stuyvesant. “Poetry in Motion” and “Portraits of Poets” are among many of the exhibits coordinated by Quinn to promote poetry appreciation.
The “Portraits of Poets” exhibit opened on Wednesday, January 6, with vintage portraits of Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot and Lucille Clifton. Displaying artists of the past century, photographs of poets in their childhood homes gave the students a taste of the times in which these writers grew up in. “I hope that the wide geographical spectrum came across,” Quinn said. “On the walls, we had portraits of poets from California to DC, Boston to Hawaii, and I think the role of New York City across the decades came through loud and clear.”
The exhibit also included collages, drawings and oil paintings done by the poets themselves. Quinn “took us on a tour [of] this one really beautiful room whose walls were just covered in photos and a few paintings of poets,” junior and co-head of WotW Elizabeth Litvitskiy said. “No names were on the pictures, by the way, and [Quinn] knew each and every one of them and a lot about them.”
“[Quinn’s] enthusiasm was so contagious. I couldn’t forget her. I suppose meeting her was the most memorable part of the trip,” junior and WotW co-head Sophia Abbot said. “It encouraged me to throw everything I have into my writing, because holding back will only hurt me.”
The students were exposed to a lot more than enthusiasm. They delved into deeper aspects of their favorite poet’s lives, learning more about them than just the snippets of emotions and experiences revealed in their poems. Portraits taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt and Gerard Malanga introduce to readers the writers who penned the words. And while it is easy to forget the human experiences and interpersonal relationships that inspire such poetry, the exhibit helps to reestablish that connection between writer and reader. “The address of a poem, from the maker’s soul to the reader’s soul, is unique,” Quinn said. “No piano, no canvas, no troupe of exquisitely trained dancers is necessary for that contact to be made. One has only to crack open a book to be dazzled and transformed.”
Indeed the trip has been a memorable experience for all its partakers. Bringing together pictures and poetry, Quinn has created both a visual and emotional experience. She brought a new perspective to the students, introducing them not just to a broader literary world, but to the history behind each of the fundamental figures who helped shape that world. “My favorite part was hearing some of the stories about different poets’ lives and the history behind some of the paintings that were on display,” junior Randy Arthur said.
“The trip was a total pleasure from my perspective,” Moore said. “I hope that the students enjoyed the National Arts Club, their new connection with the Poetry Society of America and the chance to view glimpses of the diverse and fascinating lives of several generations of American poets.”