Jane Dreeben counts Islanders with an ‘Urge to Create’

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Poet, Emma Young is one of the Islanders in Jane Dreeben's book, 'Urge to Create'. —Hannah Marlin

We sometimes wonder how many people living on the Vineyard are actively engaged in creative pursuits. Is it 10 percent? 30 percent? More? In “The Urge to Create: Vineyard Portraits,” Jane Dreeben collected 50 written and photographic profiles of Island artists and creative people. As we perused this book, we started wondering about Volumes 2, 3, and 4. How many volumes of 50 could there be on one Island?

Below is an edited excerpt from the book, which is available at Bunch of Grapes.

Emma Young

I went to the West Tisbury School. From about the age of 9, I had an interest in poetry, reading, and writing. We had a unit on poetry in my fourth grade class, which I still remember. My teacher was Jill Lane. Jill had a group of maybe three or four of us, little girls who really liked poetry. I remember being at her house; she would give us little writing prompts, and we would write. One of the first poems and prompts was just to write about a color. I remember writing about the color green. There were so many amazing green things in my life, the ocean and the fields. So I wrote this poem that was a little magical dreamscape of all the green things, and it resonated with me that the poem itself was a space where I could paint this picture. We also made our own hardcover books at the West Tisbury School. You wrote them, you illustrated them yourself, and someone would type them up. It’s funny because it’s still basically what I do.

I think at the onset, poetry felt like a language that I spoke. It allowed me to articulate things. Some people have great hand-eye coordination, and drawing is the way their brain connects. They can show you what their imagination has in a drawing or a painting. Some of us can do that with music; it just felt like my skillset was in writing.…

The other part of my artistic practice is letterpress printing and graphic design. My tool set is 19th century typesetting technology, and I use a platen press. When I was in college, I was more of a literature student. I really came to love a lot of turn-of-the-century modern poets. These writers were grappling with technology. They were connected to the natural world and looking up at these skyscrapers that were popping up and going, Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen next? Around that time, letterpress printing was in use. It was a technology that was very elemental. You have a letter, you add ink to it, you punch it into the paper. Those three pieces. These poets were just starting to break out of old forms, they didn’t need to have meter or rhyme anymore. They were doing things with language that hadn’t been really accepted yet. Those same poets started to take the capital A and make it big and red. They started to take the visual form of the poem and break it up, make it exciting, and use the visual form to illustrate the meaning of their writing. I found that this was the missing piece to my puzzle, because I wanted to do just what they had done — to take into my own hands the visual form of the poems I was writing.

Jane Dreeben, editor of “The Urge to Create: Vineyard Portraits,” has been involved with various collaborative-arts projects over the past 10 years. She currently produces musicals in partnership with island young people and their families as benefits for Vineyard nonprofits. She has also worked as a teacher, administrator, board member, fundraiser, and psychologist.

Jane Dreeben will speak on Tuesday, August 9, at 7 pm at the Vineyard Haven library.