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Pathways

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Island Artists meet again at off-season art hub.

Poet Lee McCormack reads from his poem "Beyond Appearances" at Pathways Projects Institute. – Photo by Angela Prout

Pathways Projects Institutes opened its season on Thursday, December 11. While the ride up South Road to the Chilmark Tavern, the winter home of Pathways Living Room Studios, was as quiet as could be expected on a chilly December evening, the packed parking lot was reminiscent of a summer night.

In its sixth season, Pathways serves as a gathering space for creativity and provides Island artists, musicians, and writers an outlet for their talents in the winter months. Founder Marianne Goldberg, an accomplished artist and former dancer, created Pathways to nourish the work of individual artists while promoting collaboration across the arts community on the Island. The program is especially welcomed this time of year, when inspiration and activity are less frequent. Ms. Goldberg has given people good reason to go to Chilmark in the winter. The lively opening event kick started the new season and showcased the recent work of the Pathways Honoraria Award recipients selected by Ms. Goldberg last year. Recipients were asked, “if you could do anything creative, even just a part of it, a little piece, what would it be?” Recipients were awarded the resources to fund a passion project of their choice and used Thursday to share their progress to date.

Photographer Peter Simon showed off the fruits of his labor, a presentation of breathtaking aerial shots from recent flights around the Island’s coast. Multimedia artist Danielle Mulcahy thanked Ms. Goldberg and exclaimed, “You sure know how to throw a party,” before sharing a two minute film which captured brilliant imagery of color and seasons on the Island. Nick Fournier, another award recipient known for his woodworking artistry, intrigued the audience with his plans for a motion-controlled time-lapse device that will allow him to better document the process of his work, starting with a new staircase he will be constructing this winter. Mr. Fournier also thanked Ms. Goldberg and expressed his gratitude for giving him the motivation and resources to bring his project to life. David White and Jesse Keller of The Yard shared their upcoming projects, including their plan for an integrated arts education program that they are hoping to bring to Island schools. Another presentation came from Richard Skidmore of the Lighthouse Poetry Project, who wowed the crowd with a showing of I Will Save You!, a book he comprised from children’s poems and drawings after visiting local schools and presenting on the importance of moving the Gay Head Lighthouse.

There was a selection of captivating readings, including two emotional ones from Nancy Aronie on the loss of her son and the tribulations of marriage, invoking both laughter and sympathy. Author Barbara Peckham also read her poems on the immenseness of the sea and the essence of time and inevitable mortality, while writer Nicki Patton explored the topic of self worth with an amusing monologue that began with her trying to exchange her life for another.  Before going into his reading “Beyond Appearances,” writer Lee McCormack reiterated the community’s appreciation for the Pathways Projects and noted that in the 43 years he has been on the Island, no venue has given artists the exposure that Pathways offers.

Music played a big role in the evening, including mother and daughter duo Chrysal and Emmanuelle Parrot who performed a breathtaking song that 11-year-old Emmanuelle had written, followed by a rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” by her mother Chrysal, which featured an African polyrhythm technique. For the final performance, pianist David Stanwood stressed the theme of collaboration by inviting outside noise into his set while he played, soliciting the accompaniment of clinking bottles, tapping, and humming.

The night concluded with a champagne toast and cake cutting to celebrate Pathways’s new year, a season that is bound to be full of even more Island talent.

For more information, visit pathwaysprojectsinstitutes.com or email pathwaysprojectsinstitutes@gmail.com.

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Don Nitchie, left, and Dan Waters both read at last week's poetry jam. — Photo by William Waterway

They pay me to write about literary matters around here so it’s been a concern for me in recent years to understand that I possess no ability to review poets or their poetry.

We are awash with both on Martha’s Vineyard, so not only do I feel inadequate but also that poets and their work are not getting a fair shake from me. Reading poetry on a printed page has been less problematic than listening to it read aloud.

I even attended a session of a poetry group a year or so ago run by Jennifer Tseng, a poet and literati at the West Tisbury Free Public Library. Figured that’s where I’ll get the grist for the reporting mill. Later, I spent a few hours reading notes, made a few gasping starts, then wrote…nothing. I had found no news to report.

Martha's Vineyard poet laureate Lee McCormack
Martha’s Vineyard poet laureate Lee McCormack

Last Thursday night, the epiphany appeared at the Poetry Jam at Pathways Center at the Chilmark Tavern. My epiphanist was old hand poet and mentor Don Nitchie, one of the evening’s featured readers. By the way: This is a gorgeous space and Pathways conductor Marian Goldberg and host Scott Crawford send up perfect ambiance for the evening. Many of the poets, experienced with far grimmer environments, expressed their delight.

This reporter cornered Mr. Nitchie between the sparkling water and the cheese tray beforehand and put the questions to him: Where does this come from, what informs you, and finally, what is your voice? Describe it. He meditated a moment, seemingly on a whole-grain cracker on the tray to his right, then delivered the bad news: “I don’t think that’s a question for me to answer. It’s a question for you to answer.”

Oh.

I do not like to take direction, but I figured that if I kept doing what I’ve been doing, I’ll keep getting what I got. So my notes for the evening became my reaction to what I was hearing and feeling from seven or eight poets who read, sang, and danced, to their verses. Like reporting on yourself. An uneasy feeling.

What I came away with was that: poets are outliers, scouts. They work alone, just outside the emotional and spiritual perimeters, and report on the contours and jagged edges of the human condition. Nomans Land for most of us. And because they publicly report their own findings, called poems, they work without a net, so to speak. And the pay sucks.

So I think poets are brave to do that, though some seem to do it because they have no choice. They have got to do it. That topic is covered in Advanced Poetry 202, not here. Regardless, I believe their reports benefit you and me if we can hear them.

Here’s what I heard:

I heard Martha’s Vineyard poet laureate Lee McCormack believe that we are becoming a continually more pitiless society, that we’re on the slippery slope and that ain’t chocolate ice cream at the bottom (not his metaphor).

I heard Don Nitchie say he missed his friend Ricky Vanderhoop, a beloved Island gearhead. “I wonder who’s driving you now. I wonder where you are going.” Ricky Vanderhoop passed six months ago after slugging it out with cancer for a long time. Mr. Nitchie’s words flashed me back to the “time” they had for Ricky in Aquinnah, his brother sobbing in the kitchen and how you could literally feel the community fiercing around that family.

I heard a woman tell her lover in some detail how she experienced him in their lovemaking. When she finished, she said: “As I reread this poem, the thought occurred to me that this was written for a woman. Maybe I wish he had written it for me?” Who admits stuff like that? Poets.

I heard good ole’ jocular Dan Waters choke up a little when he finished a song poem about Nancy Luce, West Tisbury poet and eccentric of note whose only good relationships were with her chickens and so she was shunned. Nancy Luce has been dead for more than 120 years. Who would still grieve? A poet.

And I learned that if you let go, you get who they are: Ellie Bates’s orderly rhythmics; Sian Williams, droll and whimsical but with a sharp point; William Waterway’s gymnastics in making himself the audience and the audience the performers; Cristina Montoya’s dance poem “I Got This Thing” celebrating womanhood, and its flip side, in our world; Martin Vogel’s hilarious and sad viewing of “The Story of O” with his mom.

After the Pathways event, possessed now of an expanded consciousness, I looked up how the pros handle poetry reviewing and instantly felt better. Sharp people, poetically-savvy people, at least, are all over the lot on the role of reviews and reviewers.

So here’s the deal for me. I learned how to listen a little on Thursday night and I liked it. Feels like you changed the air filter in your head. I’m going to listen to more poetry and if the spirits moves me, I’ll write it down.

Try some poetry yourself. I’m not kidding about the air filter.

Readings of new work by Fan Ogilvie and Justen Ahren, followed by an open Poetry Jam, Tuesday, April 8, 6:30–9 pm, Pathways, Chilmark Tavern. Free. For more information, email pathwaysprojectsinstitutes@gmail.com.