From Poetry Magazine

Join Us This Saturday for 'Freedom of Shadow: A Tribute to Terry Adkins' by Douglas Kearney & Val Jeanty

By Lindsay Garbutt

Photograph by zkonqü.

If you attended our symposium of poets & artists last year, you may remember that the event ended with the announcement that poet Douglas Kearney and artist Terry Adkins would be collaborating on a forthcoming performance piece. In the subsequent months, Kearney and Adkins corresponded about how this piece might take shape. The project was in the beginning stages when Adkins suddenly passed away in February.

Kearney struggled with whether and how to continue the project. In our September issue, Kearney documents the process with images from his notebooks, selected correspondence with Adkins, and poems inspired by their exchanges. This portfolio, “Freedom of Shadow,” serves as a sort of preliminary notation toward the performed work that Kearney has created in response to the questions raised in his conversations with Adkins. The result, called “Freedom of Shadow: A Tribute to Terry Adkins,” takes the form of an oratorio for solo voice and electronics, created in collaboration with musician and sound artist Val Jeanty. On Saturday, September 20, Kearney and Jeanty will perform the work live at the Poetry Foundation. We hope you’ll join us!

For more information on the event, check out the recordings below. Earlier this month, Kearney was kind enough to talk to us about the performance and Terry Adkins's work.

Photograph by zkonqü.

“Terry Adkins was an artist who created an alter ego named Blanche Bruce, and that name comes from the first black senator to serve a full term, if I'm remembering correctly, as a Mississippi Senator. A part of what is intriguing about the Blanche Bruce character, the Blanche Bruce persona, is that Blanche Bruce was interested in being a kind of locus for communal art making, and by communal art making I mean the level of the collaborative that Blanche Bruce’s manifesto, his mission statement so to speak, was that he could amplify the creative impulses of other people, whether they were artists or people who would come to see a performance.”


“The piece that really just spoke to me was this piece Muffled Drums, which is this tower of kick drums, and in many ways it’s visually very simple, but in terms of thinking about live performance, in terms of thinking about structures and forms within musical styles, that piece just communicated so many questions to me. Like, what’s the environment in which this drum would be a drum? Where would you play this? And if it's not a drum, what’s the environment in which a drum becomes architecture?”


“I hope that what people feel is that we’re paying tribute to the man's art, Terry Adkins’s art as Blanche Bruce. I wish I'd had more of an opportunity to learn Terry Adkins as another artist, another human being walking the earth. But because I did not have that opportunity, what I do feel I have and can honor are the questions that he was asking in his work, the kinds of ways that he pushed me in just our few, maybe seven or eight conversations. He's changed the way I think about what it is I should be doing with my art.”



Photograph by zkonqü.

Wondering what this performance will sound like? The recording below is the first time Kearney and Jeanty worked on “Blanche Bruce Does the Modernism” together—it is an improvisational beginning to the final performance.

You can hear Kearney read the rest of the poems in the portfolio by clicking the individual titles in the September 2014 table of contents. Be sure to join us at 6:00 PM on Saturday, September 20 for the live event!

If you can't make it for the event, be sure to stop by the gallery in September. As a companion piece to the performance, Berlin-based schriftkunstler (writing artist) Drury Brennan takes over the gallery wall to compose ulteriori ombre (further shadows), a massive calligraphic reaction to Kearney’s original text. This exhibition opens on September 18 and will be up through the end of October.