Purdys resident recognized during National Poetry Month at Westconn


Compelling images and thought-provoking words are the cornerstones of a poem. For student photographer Colin Smith, of Purdys, his lens allowed him to creatively capture the theme of the poem “Pinecone Pachinko” with a black and white photograph of military dog tags hanging in a tree. “I thought this photograph complemented the poem really well. They both portray similar moods and I feel like it enhances the poem without distracting from it,” said Smith, a junior at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in Photography.

Smith’s work is part of WCSU’s Breathing Space Broadsides Series, now in its second year, one of a series of projects celebrating April as National Poetry Month. “The series was created as a showcase for the work of excellent WCSU student poets, artists, and digital designers. Each poet was matched up with a student artist or photographer,” said Dr. Brian Clements, Assistant Dean of the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of writing. Marcia Firsick, Director of Communications & Marketing at WCSU, paired up the artists/photographers with the poets. The series will be displayed on television screens and broadsides around the campus; it can also be viewed online at: www.wcsu.edu/

For Smith, the project was an interesting way to connect the two disciplines. “We were all given a handful of poems to read and we picked whichever we resonated with more,” said Smith. Of his decision to select “Pinecone Pachinko,” written by Dr. Jeffrey Schlicht, Professor of Health Promotion & Exercise Sciences at WCSU, Smith said, “When I first read this poem, I initially thought of the dog tag trees that WCSU has on campus. From that initial idea I was just waiting for the correct conditions for me to go photograph the tree. From there I used the Photoshop skills that I have learned in classes here to further portray the mood of Professor Schlicht's poem.”

Schlicht describes the poem as part personal recollection of his father’s return from Vietnam and the gifts he brought home, including a tabletop pachinko machine, and part meditation on the general treatment of young men upon their return to the States after the war. “Sitting in the backyard one summer listening to pine cones fall through the dead branches of a tree, the sound caused a flashback to the sound of the metal pachinko balls hitting pins,” he said. “Colin brought the idea of using an existing campus veteran’s memorial as the centerpiece of the image – I showed him the dog tag tree near my office and it was settled. I think this does a good job – the tree and dog tags are easily understood. Black and white creates the appropriate somber mood.”

Smith and Dr. Schlicht had a conversation about the poem’s meaning. “Discussing how to present it in a visual way was an interesting exercise, making me think about my poem using a different part of the brain. For me poetry usually evokes an emotional, not necessarily visual, response. Fun to approach it from another direction,” said Schlicht.

Smith appreciated his input. “My conversation with Professor Schlicht was key in getting the ball rolling for this project. I wanted to make sure that he liked the photo that would complement his poem. Being able to bounce ideas off of him and then ultimately agree on an idea was very crucial to get started,” he said. “The collaboration between us was very helpful for creating the final artwork.”

According to Clements, Colin's black and white imagery implies memories of a distant past, which, in the poem, is both past and painfully present. “Colin's interpretation of the poem brings those memories and emotions vividly to life,” said Clements.

Dr. Schlicht feels the project is a creative way to celebrate National Poetry Month and spark creativity. “The collaboration between the written word and visual media is a natural fit, and having students (and a faculty member) from different disciplines collaborate on a project like this is certain to generate some creative juices,” he said.

Clements noted that in addition to showcasing student work, the series provides a platform for them to engage in a collaborative production. “So much of the work of writers and artists happens in isolation, but the work of getting writing and art in front of the eyes and ears of audiences involves, in most cases, the work of multiple people,” he said, adding, “this project is one of the many examples that students at WCSU have for hands-on, experiential learning that will apply to their careers after they graduate.”

Thursday, April 20, 6pm to 8pm: “Breathing Space: Exploring Collaboration Across Art Forms” at Arts Escape, 493 Heritage Road, Suite 4C, in Southbury, CT. WCSU faculty and student poets Michelle Rochniak and Liv Iacono will share their experiences collaborating on Breathing Space. Audience members will learn about the creative opportunities of collaborating with fellow artists across forms and styles, as well as participate in a short writing exercise inspired by visual art produced by the Arts Escape community. Original broadsides will be on display. Refreshments and light snacks will be served. Event is free and open to the public; registration required at: artsescape.org/breathing-space-exploring-collaboration-across-art-forms/#program.

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