When Kwoya Fagin Maples told me she wanted to become a member of See Jane Write, I was elated — and nervous.
Kwoya is my colleague at the Alabama School of Fine Arts where she teaches in the Creative Writing department, so I’m aware of how talented she is. She has an MFA from the University of Alabama and is a Cave Canem Fellow. In 2010 she published her chapbook Something of Yours through Finishing Line Press and her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies including The African-American Review, PLUCK, Cave Canem Anthology XIII, The Birmingham Poetry Review, Right Hand Pointing and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. As an instructor at ASFA, Kwoya has developed a three-dimensional poetry exhibit which features poetry and visual art including original paintings, photography, installations and film. With that kind of resume, I wondered, what could I offer her?!
But Kwoya was seeking community, courses, and coaching that would help her better market her work and herself as a writer and that would help her reach more of her life and literary goals. She’s done exactly that, which is why she is the See Jane Write member of the month for May.
On Friday, May 12, Kwoya will reach her goal of organizing and hosting this year’s three-dimensional poetry exhibit. The 2017 Three Dimensional Poetry Exhibit, which will be displayed at Space One Eleven in downtown Birmingham, will feature students of ASFA’s Creative Writing Department and will center on the theme of Chimera: Reimagined Memory. (Learn more here.)
An opening reception will be held at Space One Eleven, 2409 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham, at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 12. Before heading to Friday’s opening, get to know the woman behind this wonderful project.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, can you explain exactly what 3-D Poetry is?
Here’s my formal definition: “3D poetry is the intersection of visual art and poetic language. It provides an immediate image which seeks to influence and enhance the reader’s encounter with the poem.” Since 2015, my creative writing students have been exhibiting their three dimensional poetry at art galleries in Birmingham. Throughout the spring semester, students write poems that reflect a theme and then create a visual art piece in response. It may be photography, film, paintings or sculpture.
How did you get the idea to incorporate this into your classroom?
For years I wanted to find a way to make poetry come alive and off the page other than reading it. When I was in graduate school I would bring objects directly mentioned in poems as part of my presentations. I loved holding something solid while mentally “handling” something abstract. I love that sensation, and this is what led to 3D poetry. I wanted poetry to be interesting to people who felt like they did not have an appreciation for it. Visual art may instantly capture the attention of a viewer. That brief amount of time may decide whether the viewer goes towards it to get a better look. When our viewers approach to look closer, they find a poem.
In what ways have you seen this help your students with their writing and overall creative process?
3D Poetry allows my creative writing students an opportunity to express themselves by way of another art form. Often this means they have to take a risk and move out of their comfort zone of writing. Participating in the project stretches students and often pushes them beyond their limits. They have to analyze their own work in ways they don’t typically in order to create a visual representation of a poem. Most of the feedback I’ve received conveys that they enjoy the process—but that it is often daunting. And that’s the key to their experience as well, that they are not visual artists. They are writers first. So, for most of them this is a challenge. After students complete such an arduous process, the way I honor that work is by organizing and arranging for it to be exhibited.
Do you think 3-D poetry is a good way to get people who aren’t poets to appreciate and connect with this genre of writing? If so, why?
The art of poetry is often considered lofty and some people say they find it inaccessible. Poetry readings can be boring. If your attention wanders for a moment, you could miss the relevance of an entire poem. With 3D Poetry, readers experience the poem at their own pace by being able to read the poem on their own, while also considering an image that has attracted their attention. The 3D Poetry Exhibit allows writers to connect to their community and bridge the gap between what may be considered “high art” and what may be familiar. Most people who have never been to a poetry reading have seen visual art. I believe they are comfortable with visual art because they can experience it on their own terms. My parents, who haven’t come to many of my poetry readings, have driven from Charleston, S.C., every year to attend the 3D exhibit! I’ve found that 3D poetry reaches a broader audience, and this is directly connected to my vision of spreading an appreciation of poetry to a general audience.
You currently have a completed manuscript that you hope to be published soon. Tell us more about it and any writing projects you’re currently working on.
My own poetry manuscript, MEND, tells the story of slave women who were the experimental subjects of Dr. James Marion Sims of Mt. Meigs, Alabama. I began writing the collection six years ago and it was a difficult process because the poems are persona poems, which means they were written in the voices of the women, and not my own. After a considerable amount of research—a year’s worth, I finally felt comfortable to write what I felt could be believable situations these women may have experienced. Putting myself in their shoes was often a moving and heartbreaking process. I’d never written historically-based poems before this collection. After completing this collection last year, I need a break! Now I’m working on a collection that has a simpler premise: “wonder.”
Why did you decide to become a member of See Jane Write and what do you like most about the organization?
I decided to become a member of SJW because I wanted the marketing of “MEND” to be successful. I knew that the skills I’d learn as a member would give me the confidence to pursue and see this desire through. Taking the “Goal Digger” course last December was particularly life changing for me. Writing out a vision of what I wanted for myself seemed impossible at first, but because the course takes you through the process step by step, I felt empowered by it. I learned how to write goals and how to keep them, and that has been critical to my success this past year. Since becoming a member of SJW, I’ve completed my manuscript, submitted it for publication to eleven presses, been a finalist in one contest, attained speaking/reading opportunities, and I’ve begun marketing strategically via social media. What I love most about SJW is the opportunity to hear the stories of other women. Women with goals—entrepreneurs, struggling to overcome things that hold them back, like me. I’m still usually the quietest person in the room, but I have learned how to make waves, and how to be a girl boss. And I know this is just the beginning.
Interested in becoming a member of See Jane Write? Enrollment for membership is currently closed, but sign up here to be notified first when enrollment reopens.