Poet and educator Jodie Hollander grew up in a family of classical musicians. “I tried the cello, the piano, the flute and the guitar,” she says. “My sister and brother had perfect pitch, and I didn’t.” So instead of performing, she’d lie under her father’s piano and watch the rest of the family play together.
But the musical gene didn’t pass Hollander by. “I grew up attuned to what sounds good,” she explains. She studied meter and form and, “It’s always been a priority for me to make my poems sound ear-pleasing.” She works for The Poetry School, an online institution, where she teaches a course on musical poetry. And while those sonic qualities of rhythm and melody will likely come into play during Hollander’s upcoming Asheville workshop, the subject of that class — taking place at The Refinery Creator Space on Sunday, March 17 — is ekphrastic poetry.
For those not familiar with the term, ekphrasis is art produced as a description or as a rhetorical exercise. Participants in Hollander’s Ekphrastic Poetry workshop will write about the exhibition Who’s Afraid of RED?, curated by Barbara Fisher and featuring work by Alicia Armstrong, Ian Brownlee, Margaret Curtis, Suzanne Dittenber, Spencer Herr, Karen Ives, Nava Lubelski, Daniel Nevins, Kevin Palme, Jeremy Phillips, Bethany Pierce, Peter Roux, Molly Sawyer, Ralston Fox Smith, Kirsten Stolle and Fisher. The show is on view in the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Thom Robinson | Ray Griffin Event & Exhibition Hall through Friday, March 29.
“This day and age we’re so focused on the visual and on imagery,” says Hollander. So maybe the ekphrasis approach is “less intimidating for someone who has never had any experience writing poetry” — her Asheville workshop is open to writers of all levels — “or maybe somebody who is interested in visual art predominantly and might consider dipping a toe in poetry because it’s combining the two art forms.”
She adds that, even for experienced poets, ekphrasis “opens things up … particularly with this exhibit we’ll be looking at. The [online images] I’ve seen look really emotional. Colors and visual art can be a great tool to open people’s emotional eyes.”
Hollander, who currently lives in Colorado, is making the trip to Asheville in part to celebrate her birthday with a friend. She met fellow poet and UNC Asheville professor Mildred Barya in Africa. Barya was a poet-in-residence in Senegal and attended the Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana, where Hollander was helping out. Hollander has also been the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship for Study of Literature and Education in South Africa, among other awards and international educational opportunities.
The two friends, who have kept in touch over the past decade, will give a reading at Malaprop’s on Monday, March 18, during which they’ll discuss the animals that appear in both of their poetry collections. Barya “realized we both integrate nature and wildlife into our writing,” says Hollander. “She looked at both of our works through that lens.” The two poets will not only recite — Barya’s collection is Give Me Room to Move My Feet — but will also share a conversation about their art and process.
Hollander’s debut, My Dark Horses, was predominantly about her family and her relationship with her mother. Her forthcoming collection, currently in progress, “picks up some of the family themes [and] talks a little bit about my father as a concert pianist,” she says. “But then it delves into more of my own repercussions of growing up the way that I did.” The new poems grapple with depression and incorporate travel and more animal motifs.
Hollander’s first book took eight years to craft. And, while she admits she’s a slow writer, “That was a haul,” she says with a laugh. “The first book always takes forever. I can’t wait eight years for my next book. I was told the first one takes the longest and after that, things begin to move a little more quickly.”
WHAT: Ekphrastic Poetry Workshop with Jodie Hollander
WHERE: Refinery Creator Space, 207 Coxe Ave., ashevillearts.com
WHEN: Sunday, March 17, 1-4 p.m. $50
WHO: Jodie Hollander in discussion with Mildred Barya
WHERE: Malaprop’s, 55 Haywood St., malaprops.com
WHEN: Monday, March 18, 6 p.m.