Ekphrastic poetry, consisting of poems inspired by visual works of art, is an ancient greek tradition. On Dec. 7, the Chazen Museum of Art will present its biannual Bridge Poetry Series, allowing members of the local Madison community to experience encapsulating readings of such. 

This program was initially launched in 2012 by a group of Madison poets and has been a part of the Chazen ever since. Each year, around a dozen poets from the Madison and greater Wisconsin area are recruited to participate.

This year’s program’s poet, Katrin Talbot, founded the program and works as an organizer for the event. She works closely with the Chazen to pick an exhibit that will compliment the chosen style of poetry.

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Candie Waterloo, the curator of education for the Chazen, is the main organizer for Chazen’s side of the event and worked with Talbot to find the perfect gallery.

The setting, Waterloo said, is a very important factor in coordinating this event. Poets are invited to visit an exhibition and write poetry about the art pieces. They return to read their poems for an audience on the night of the event in the physical gallery space with which they have been inspired by to create a fascinating ambiance.

This year, the event will take place in the Rowland gallery. The exhibit is called “Certainty and Doubt,” which features paintings by Chicago artist Dan Ramirez.

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“Katrin and I chose this exhibit for a number of reasons. The work is very large. It almost seems confrontational when you approach it, but when you spend time with it it is almost calm and meditative work. Because it is abstract, it lends itself to interpretive art like poetry. It encourages the poets to be very creative,” Waterloo said.

In the past, Waterloo said they have held the reading in the auditorium. But, as the program moves forward, she added they have moved the event to a physical space where the artwork gives patrons a different experience of the poems.

During the event, the poets will be able to either point or walk over to the art that inspired their poem. When the series is done, the museum collects all the poems and publishes them on their website.

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“The word ‘bridge’ is very significant,” Waterloo said. “The series is seen as a way to build bridges between visual art and poetry so that was a very intentional word choice on the founding of the series.”

The event features poets from Madison as well as other areas of the state, allowing Wisconsin artists the opportunity to share their work in Madison.

Waterloo describes the event as being about “connecting different communities” — the University of Wisconsin as well as the rest of Wisconsin.

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People can definitely expect to be engaged with the Chazen’s collections in this new way.

“To have this unique poetry recital is a very specific experience that will engage them in a way that they will not always get to in this museum,”Waterloo said. “Museums are known for being quiet meditative places where you don’t have a lot of interaction with other people. Patrons can expect this event to be a very multi-sensory experience.”

The only thing that truly unites the poets is that they are passionate writers from Wisconsin, Waterloo said. They are a very diverse group in terms of their style, affiliation and age.

This event is great for those who have never been to a poetry reading as an introduction to poetry recitals. 

Waterloo is very excited to hear what this year’s poets have come up with as well as seeing the community’s response.

“I am excited to see what the response is from a larger audience about the exhibition and for the Madison community to share in that,” Waterloo said.