Wick Poetry Center collaborates on exhibit to be shown at Ellis Island this fall

Junior English major Dorisha Hendrix, A Wick Poetry Center employee, and senior integrated language arts major Faith Payton work and talk in the May Prentice House on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. 

“Traveling Stanzas,” the ever-changing poetry project through Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center, will journey to the National Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island this fall as part of the “Sisters in Liberty: From Florence, Italy, to New York, New York” exhibition.

“It showcases a lot of the innovative technologies and collaborations across disciplines on the Kent State campus and with our Kent State Florence program,” said David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center.     

This exhibition, which opens on Oct. 17, 2019 and runs through April 26, 2020, displays the partnership between Kent State and the Opera di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy.  

There will be a weekend in New York City, on Nov. 9 and 10 to commemorate the exhibition. The two days will be comprised of a reception, brunch, keynote talk and tour of the “Sisters in Liberty” exhibition at the National Museum of Immigration. This event will be open to the public.   

This project came out of a meeting between James Blank, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; J.R. Campbell, executive director of the Design Innovation Initiative; Fabrizio Ricciardelli, director of the Kent State University Florence Center and leadership of the Opera di Santa Croce. This conversation began because of the 200th anniversary of the friendship between the U.S. and Florence, said Jessica Jewell, senior academic program director at the Wick Poetry Center.        

Out of this meeting came the concept of “Sisters in Liberty,” a way to celebrate the U.S. Statue of Liberty and Pio Fedi’s “Liberty of Poetry” statue. This idea eventually grew into a collaborative exhibit around the theme of liberty, Jewell said. A Kent State research team helped build the exhibit, which will include a 3D-printed reproduction of Fedi’s statue that is nearly full scale.   

The idea of collaboration and global communication is also evident in “I Hear the World Sing,”a collection of poems from schoolchildren in Kent, Ohio and Florence, Italy. Co-edited by Hassler, Jewell and Stephanie Siciarz, adjunct instructor in the department of modern and classical language studies, this bilingual book explores the connections students can make through poetry.   

In the 10 years since “Traveling Stanzas” began, the project has grown to include a digital creative writing tool, which will be included in the Ellis Island exhibit. A grant from the Knight Foundation in 2016 helped fund this tool, known as the Listening Wall. 

“It is an interactive digital screen where users can hear oral histories, they can read archival documents, they can watch videos, they can listen to interviews, around a theme,” Jewell said, “and then using those pieces of content they can actually pull up transcripts and find words that they can use to create poems.”

This technology will make its debut at Ellis Island with the “Sisters in Liberty” exhibition, featuring dual-language content, in English and Italian, curated by Jewell. The poems from the Listening Wall can be shared around the world, wherever the wall and its corresponding websites exist. The Listening Wall at Ellis Island will be connected to installations in the Cloisters of the Cathedral Santa Croce in Florence and one on the Kent Campus. This technology will also be used for the 50th commemoration of the May 4 shooting. 

“Traveling Stanzas” began in 2009 as a partnership between the Wick Poetry Center and associate professor Valora Renicker’s visual communication design students and has since evolved. This combination of graphic design and poetry presented an opportunity to publish voices of the community, especially those who don’t view themselves as writers, Hassler said. These curated poems were dispersed among mass transit to promote the voices of the community and bring poetry to people’s lives. 

“We like to think of our ‘Traveling Stanzas’ poems as offering people a little moments of pause or pockets of time to slow down and reflect on their lives and make meaning,” Hassler said.  

Beyond these projects, is the publication of “Speak a Powerful Magic: Ten Years of the Traveling Stanzas Poetry Project. ”This celebration of 10 years is a collection of graphic designs paired with poems authored by schoolchildren, patients and caregivers, immigrants, and veterans. 

In the end, the celebration of all of these projects comes back to the celebration of poetry. 

“Poetry is often language slowed down and attended to, perhaps in a way that helps us make meaning, at a time when we often are grappling for creating a sense of meaning and belonging in our lives,” Hassler said.  

Contact Abigail Mack at [email protected]