A Designated Space for Exploration

The cozy, windowless back room of Donkey Coffee and Espresso is warmly lit. The current decor of paintings of birds accents the eggshell walls and dark wood paneling. On most evenings, you’ll find this section filled with friends snuggling on couches, people buried in computer assignments, people on first dates and folks curled up on cozy chairs reading and writing for pleasure.

This warm, inviting haven is a fitting location for creative expression, and every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. it transforms into an open mic for reading poetry, essays, and narratives. Sometimes people even showcase performance art. This weekly session holds the fitting title of Designated Space, a home for poets new and old to gather and share their art.

I would be lying if I said that every poet who climbs onto that stage and takes the mic on a Tuesday night is good. Not everyone can be Maya Angelou, after all. On the other hand, it takes real bravery to share such personal art, and seeing people share, regardless of the topic or quality of content, is inspiring.

Regulars present new work like they would present their prized possession or a younger sibling. Olivia Cobb, an English major, began her set with a new poem. “I just wrote this one a few days ago,” she said. “I can’t wait to share my baby with you.”

The beauty of Designated Space is that it showcases a mix of regulars and pop-in poets, people who have been religiously pouring their work out every week since they discovered the weekly event juxtaposed with people who had no idea that Designated Space was even a thing—they just happened to be in the room when it started.

Allman performs an original piece at Designated Space.
Allman performs an original piece at Designated Space.

One such performer was Bobby Walker, a junior studying women, gender and sexuality studies. “I didn’t even know this was a thing until it started happening two hours ago,” they chuckled. Walker treated the audience to a piece read in their Guyanese accent, an accent they often choose to Americanize because they feel self-conscious. It was a special window into their personal world and upbringing, insight not provided but the casual passing conversations we have with strangers and acquaintances.

While some simply read at the microphone, others choose a more complex performance. Griffin Allman is a freshman studying integrated media. His readings were performed with intense energy, and at points he grabbed his hair, threw his arms out and nearly broke into a shout. Allman is a prize-winning member of OHIO’s Forensics Team.

Kara Guyton, the usual host of Designated Space and a senior studying commercial photography was unable to host the whole event, but she popped in at the end of the night to read some of her favorite poems about animals. Guyton was charming and funny, interspersing her humor between serious poems. Her voice was soothing and inviting, and her readings of two Charles Wright pieces entranced the audience wholly.

Over the course of the two hours, 16 people read poetry. Some chose to read original pieces, others read from poets past, while others chose to talk about everything from depression to self-exploration to vaginas to missing old lovers.

When I returned home to pick out my favorite bits of tape and outline this article, I couldn’t help but feel the pull to come back next week and explore the spoken word that fills the cozy back room with life every Tuesday.

Women of Appalachia event aims to change stereotypes

There are a number of stereotypes that exist about women within Appalachia; however, a small group is working to change those views.

For the seventh straight year the Women of Appalachia Project has events on the campus of Ohio University that focus on the work of female artists from the region.

There are three components to the Women of Appalachia Project, said Kari Gunter-Seymour, founder and curator of the project.

One part of the project currently occupies a quiet spot on the second floor of Baker Center. The Women of Appalachia Exhibit continues through April 30 at Ohio University’s Multicultural Center Art Gallery.

The goal is to showcase the art of women from the Appalachian region. This year’s exhibit includes the work of 20 artists from Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.

The art show has developed a reputation as being a place artists can submit their work without getting a response that is overly critical, Gunter-Seymour said.

Each of the women is able to represent the women of Appalachia in her own way, she said.

The art show has already been displayed in Parkersburg and after finishing its run in Athens will then be displayed in Chillicothe in May.

This piece is part of the Women of Appalachia exhibit currently being shown at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in Baker Center at Ohio University.
This piece is part of the Women of Appalachia exhibit currently being shown at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in Baker Center at Ohio University.

“Each year I say I can’t believe the quality of the artists,” Gunter-Seymour said. “But each year it keeps getting better.”

The idea for the project came when Gunter-Seymour became frustrated with having to look all over for places to display her artwork, she said.

“I had always heard it’s easier to create a job than to find a job. I thought it might be the same way with events,” she said. “I thought it might be easier to create an event than to find one.”

The project started seven years ago. Since then the effort has gotten bigger and bigger each year, Gunter-Seymour said.

Each of the seven years has been based in Athens and at Ohio University. Gunter-Seymour said when she was putting together the show she contacted Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, strategic director for diversity and inclusion and multicultural programs and initiatives, to ask about space and has worked with Chunnu-Brayda ever since.

“The Muticultural Center is proud to have hosted the Women of Appalachia Project every year since its inception in 2009,” said Chunnu-Brayda in a statement. “This project is distinctive in that it brings together a combination of seasoned and emerging artists that never fails to please. Ohio University is unique in that it serves a very large population — students, faculty and staff as well as Athens and contiguous county communities. This event serves as one of Ohio University’s outstanding town/gown events. Approximately 3,000 guests visit the WOAP exhibit in our gallery each year.”

In addition to the exhibit, there are other events that surround the Women of Appalachia Project. Friday (Feb. 10) is the opening reception for the exhibit from 5 to 8 p.m.

At the event local activist Sandra Sleight-Brennan will be presented the inaugural WOAP “Appalachian Advocate Award.”

“There are so many women who want to help, but aren’t artists,” Gunter-Seymour said.

This award helps to recognize all the other women who help with the events and make things better for women in Appalachia.

The other portion of the project is the Women Speak events, which include poetry, songs and stories. These events take place all over the area, Gunter-Seymour said. However, they have an event planned on April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in Baker Center.

For more information about the Women of Appalachia Project or to see a full schedule of the events you can visit their website or Facebook page.

The Burrowing Process: My Writing Corner

I can confidently say I have filled up thousands of pages of notebooks and journals with my words. In my earlier years, those words were about boys or my gross older brothers or the meaning of life – if I identify something as blue, do other people see it as blue…or do they maybe see it as green? Basically, I was a super deep kid.

Everyday, I sit down and write whatever I feel like. Because this has been a ritual since I started writing  – even with backwards letters – I have always built a place specifically for writing. I refer to building it as the burrowing process, where I craft my own sanctuary of blankets and blank pages.

I don’t usually let strangers – especially strangers on the internet – see my writing corner. But due to circumstances involving a professor and a prize to be won, I am bringing out the big guns.

Welcome to my writing corner.

Defining a writing corner

Of course, there is an obvious necessity: there must be writing happening for it to be deemed a writing corner. But the second most important part of creating this space is surrounding it with things that evoke comfortability. This is the place I spend most of the deadest hours of the night, 3 to 5 am. It must be comfortable!

My window sill is lined with 12 to 15 scented candles because I am secretly addicted to collecting candles. They calm me.
My window sill is lined with 12 to 15 scented candles because I am secretly addicted to collecting candles. They calm me.

To create a comfortable atmosphere, I pile up cozy and colorful pillows, curl up in my childhood Tinker Bell blanket and light an almost dangerous amount of candles and incense(candles must smell delicious).

When I was younger, I was forbidden from being alone with fire after nearly burning the house down with a candle, so I decorated my corner in holiday lights.  This is a great alternative for pyros and clumsy people.

Surrounding the space with some favorite books is a great third necessity. I always have Mary Oliver and Walt Whitman on standby for inspiration.

The list of necessities doesn’t have to end with those three must-haves. It’s about creating a safe nest for creative and artistic exploration, and this is mine.

Maya Lin and OU’s Bicentennial Park

Many remarkable people have passed through the small town of Athens. Perhaps one of the greatest is artist and architect Maya Lin. Lin, whose parents were professors at Ohio University, was born and raised in Athens. Lin became a household name when she won the contest to design the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. when she was still an undergraduate student at Yale.

She has gone on to create many stunning pieces of art and other beautiful memorials. But Lin didn’t forget her Athens roots. In 2004, the university’s bicentennial year, Lin designed an earthwork installation called “Input” for Bicentennial Park, which is located directly in front of Walter Hall on West Green. The installation consists of 21 rectangles, some are raised and some sink into the ground. The shapes resemble early computer punch cards that were used in programming courses. While she was in high school, Lin took a basic computer programming course at OU, which inspired her design.

Lin said, “Hopefully, it will touch anyone who has spent much time in Ohio University or Athens. I wanted to draw a map of memories.”

bpark04

Students walking by may notice the inscriptions on many of the rectangles in the piece. Lin worked with her poet brother, Tan Lin, to create a “landscape of words” in order to show “their shared memories of Athens and Ohio University.” The words cause many to pause and reflect on their own experiences of their time at OU. There are also plaques in the grass along the sidewalk that leads to Walter Hall that display the name of previous university presidents, and current president Roderick McDavis, as well as other remarkable previous OU faculty members.

Nowadays, Bicentennial Park is often used to host tailgates before home football games. Students sit among the depressed parts of the “Input” installation eating, drinking and talking with friends. Even more than a decade after its dedication, the outdoor art space still brings students, faculty and the people of Athens together.

Featured image and the image in the text came from Ohio University’s website.