Poets and painters, poets and photographers, poets and moviemakers – poets and all manners of visual arts – were paired, studied, and understood more fully when Dr. Josephine Yu gave an insightful and inspiring presentation titled “Sister Acts: A Discussion of Poetry and Paintings” on October 19 at the Mattapoisett Public Library.
Yu, a professor at Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale, earned her BA and MFA at Georgia State University before moving to Florida to pursue her PhD at Florida State University. Her awards span such notable achievements as 2016 winner of the Judge’s Prize Elixir Press Poetry Award, 2008 Best New Poets Award, 2013 Ploughshares Emerging Writer Contest, and three times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, to name a few.
Yu’s style of public speaking and subject matter is a mixture of warmth, humor, empathy, anger, forgiveness, and nearly all other varieties of human emotion coupled with a deep appreciation and understanding of art in general.
Picking both well-known works of art as well as other artistic forms such as photography and film, Yu asked the audience to go deeper into the visual works through the words of poets.
She carried the participants down the road where cognition and emotion cross paths, thus generating a fuller sense of being present with the artists.
For the 16thCentury painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Yu examined the poem “Muséedes Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden. She directed the attention of the attendees to how small and insignificant Icarus appeared in the lower right corner of the canvas, a mere antidote to the larger theme of “life goes on.” Auden wrote of the much larger farmer in the center of the frame, “but for him it was not an important failure.” The mistakes of youth and ambition pale against a larger canvass of decades of living where success and failure are inevitable.
Yu also focused on abstract art in the form of Michael Goldberg’s “Sardines” against the poem of Frank O’Hara, “Why I am Not a Painter.”
“This is a story of the process,” said Yu, for both painting and writing, and how one can influence the other, while maintaining creative independence, and also how “art may look spontaneous,” but is really carefully crafted.
Later in her presentation, she discussed Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway’s book Bellocq’s Ophelia, reading three separate pieces that explored race, power, a woman’s role in society, strength, and fragility.
The presentation was a tour de force in bringing visual arts and poetic passages into a deeper context and the extent to which humans attempt to express themselves –to reach out and touch one another.
On Saturday, October 20, Yu read her own works from her book Prayer Book of the Anxious, published by Elixir Press.
The voice of the writer is never more expressive and vulnerable then when reading his or her own words, and that sensitivity and courage was on full display.
Yu’s writing brings the reader into the fullness of human experience from the profound to the sublime and everything in between. In her poem Ocean, it begins with an October coastline; as a first-time visitor to Mattapoisett, Yu thought this selected piece apropos. Her voice seemed to rise and descend on ocean currents, “I experiment with the lives I invent…maybe hiding myself.”
In other works, her Catholic upbringing and her mother’s devout faith were given a presence as Yu referenced saints and their religious attributes to drive home emotions of anger, loss, and forgiveness.
“I’m interested in how we use stories to heal us through myth and fable,” Yu said.
Yu is a very generous writer, introducing selections from other writers she thought the audience might enjoy, including one from Marion poet Elizabeth Farrell.
Yu said in closing, “There is no greater wish I could have than to have my book be appreciated.”
Copies of Yu’s latest book are available at the Mattapoisett Public Library and for sale online on book buying websites.
By Marilou Newell