Roberts and team

World, word, work: translating experience into art through lyric, image and object in the studio, lab, atelier, field and gallery"

Katrina Roberts, workshop coordinator, Mina Schwabacher professor of English/creative writing and humanities

Description: As coordinator, I began with the premise that if, as William Carlos Williams says, "Perception is the first act of the imagination," then we should all pack up our journals, our paints and lab kits, and tromp out into the field together to see what we can see — both literally and metaphorically. How might our own work come alive, our own understanding deepen, in unexpected ways when framed through lenses provided by another's discipline? How do poets, naturalists and artists each "read" landscape, for instance, and what politics are at work in the process? We're interested in the "made thing" and the "natural thing," and how they inform one another. We're also drawn toward discovering and comparing languages necessary to invent, to transcribe, to remember, to invoke, to define, within our own genres and those of others. Following Englehard's ecopoetic notion that poetry is connected to the world in a way that implies responsibility, we're invested as poets, naturalists and artists in becoming aware of our connectivity with and distances from others and in devising ways to expand the scope of our individual visions, thereby strengthening our ability to be engaged members of a global community.

How will you accomplish this? We plan to meet a couple of times each month, at times in the printing studio, at other times over books, still other times in the field. We'll do a couple of outdoor adventures and respond in a range of ways to "scape." As Mare Blocker has noted, "There is a tradition in Japanese book arts of a poet and an artist floating down a river and recording their experience." Before we float, we plan to read from each others' disciplines to begin to see things with "different" eyes. One trip will be a 17-mile raft float trip down the Hanford Reach of the Columbia. In anticipation, Don Snow writes, "It's a mind-blowing landscape: On the left bank as you proceed, the dead and inert reactors and processing buildings left over from the Manhattan Project. … On the right bank, a wildlife preserve, created accidentally by virtue of the thick veil of privacy and security that surrounded Hanford (and still does) for decades. Herons and plutonium — it makes for quite a viewing experience."

How will this work be applied to your curriculum/classes? Collaborative work in this sequence of round-tables and forays will directly inform courses offered to students in upcoming terms; as working artists, writers and naturalists, we thrive on the energy of creative invention we're able to bring into our classrooms through our own generative engagements within our individual and overlapping disciplines. Pedagogically, we're interested in ways we might bring two or three classes together (art, poetry, environmental humanities).

Why is this cross-disciplinary approach important? This sort of interaction is a crucial part of being an engaged human being. At a liberal arts college we have the tremendous benefit of juxtaposition, with all its enriching complications. Being a writer or an artist, one is, by necessity, engaged in ongoing cross-disciplinary activity, constantly embarking on various acts of translation. As part of this liberal arts community, we're tremendously fortunate to share the various threads of our individual lives daily in so many capacities, in and beyond classrooms, and to contribute to the remarkable interwoven tapestry of real experience that makes Whitman College such a dynamic and remarkable place.