Thirty years ago, two women met in a childcare co-op, and struck up a friendship. They often talked about their creative impulses, and daydreamed about one day starting an artistic collaboration. Thus began an alliance that has spanned decades, and expanded and nurtured their art.
Their work together has spanned space as well as time; while Patricia Clarke traveled extensively to photograph images in Europe, Africa, Israel, South America, and Asia, Ellen Chavez Kelley remained in Southern California, where she continued to write and refine her poetry, earning an MFA at California State University, Northridge, as well as many honors and awards for her work. During this time, Kelley was also teaching young children through the California Poets in the Schools program and recovering from a life-threatening illness. Santa Barbara audiences were fortunate to hear her read her poetry, and cheered her on as her health grew stronger.
Today, Kelley is a gifted and dedicated poet and teacher, and the author of three children’s books: The Lucky Lizard, My Life as a Chicken, and Buckamoo Girls, the latter of which was recently featured in Time magazine’s Seven Books Kids Will Love. She spoke recently about how her collaboration with Clarke has changed her writing, and how “heavy-duty crises” in both their lives have encouraged them “to be who we are.” Kelley remembered how her friend had returned from a trip to Japan and Borneo with photographs of the landscape and the people, and reflections about how the world was changing. Something in Clarke’s “surreal, dreamlike images” called to Kelley. Then, in 2006, Clarke went to Thailand and Laos. When she returned, Kelley found the new direction for her poetry she had been looking for. “Something came through me,” she said, “not from me.” The name for this type of poetic response to visual art is called ekphrastic poetry-a style popular in Classical and Romantic eras that has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the last 10 years.
In entering someone else’s world, Kelley said, “We can become more awake, both individually and collectively, to those places within ourselves we all come from. My poems were like a doorway to hope.” She honors Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming, for this concept. The book helped her realize that out of the planet’s “horrific problems” has sprung a worldwide movement to heal the “wounds of the earth.” Kelley feels her own artistic collaboration is a small way she and Clarke can contribute. One of Kelley’s poems, inspired by a photograph of Clarke’s, appears below:
Up then, wind and time
are right and we’re all bound
for the crossing. Arise
from the waters, cast
and mend these nets,
these knots of try, try again.
Taker and giver, Taylor sings
and sure enough, tide lips
in, slips out. We drift kithless
and forever kin into the next
horizon. The fevered sea
all around, all around,
wallows, then births, us-
they say coral’s dulled
and harder rain’s ahead, oh what
have we done?-yet standing
on shore, that same rock and hum,
same pull beneath the rippled moon,
same pale shred of cloud
dropped at our feet.
Taker and giver, from “Boatman,” James Taylor.
The opening reception for Correspondences will be held on Friday, November 2, at the Architectural Foundation Gallery (229 E. Victoria St.) from 5-7:30 p.m. On Sunday, November 18, there will be a multimedia performance of the artists’ poetry, journals, and images at 4 p.m. at the gallery. Both events are free and open to the public. A feature story on this project will appear in a future issue of The Independent.
Attention poetry fans: Santa Barbara poet and educator Beth Taylor-Schott launches a new Adult Ed class this Wednesday, October 17, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Poetry Out Loud: Becoming Intimate with Poems through Memorization and Recitation give participants a chance to experience poetry as a form of oral culture. Visit ce.sbcc.edu for more information, or call 687-0812.