Arts Briefs: BIPOC poets and racy love letters in Northampton, music inspired by T.S. Eliot in Holyoke, and more

Northampton’s new poet laureate, Franny Choi, hosts a reading March 1 in Northampton with Valley BIPOC poets that will also offer information on local grassroots organizing efforts.

Northampton’s new poet laureate, Franny Choi, hosts a reading March 1 in Northampton with Valley BIPOC poets that will also offer information on local grassroots organizing efforts. Photo by Francesca B. Marie

British theater writer and performer Rachel Mars presents a one-woman show March 2 at the Academy of Music that investigates the racy contents of private letters from famous figures such as James Joyce and Georgia O’Keeffe.

British theater writer and performer Rachel Mars presents a one-woman show March 2 at the Academy of Music that investigates the racy contents of private letters from famous figures such as James Joyce and Georgia O’Keeffe. Academy of Music website

Sheldon Ross, who plays with a number of area ensembles, will be a guest soloist on trumpet with the Holyoke Civic Symphony at the group’s March 10 concert at Holyoke Community College.

Sheldon Ross, who plays with a number of area ensembles, will be a guest soloist on trumpet with the Holyoke Civic Symphony at the group’s March 10 concert at Holyoke Community College. Photo by Emily Lewis

“Kandersteg,” oil on panel, is part of an new exhibit of work by painter Cynthia Guild at Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst. 

“Kandersteg,” oil on panel, is part of an new exhibit of work by painter Cynthia Guild at Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst.  Image from Hampden Gallery

“Untitled,” a 2022 ink drawing by Gonzalo Silva, is part of a new dual exhibit at Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst. 

“Untitled,” a 2022 ink drawing by Gonzalo Silva, is part of a new dual exhibit at Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst.  Image from Hampden Gallery

Published: 02-29-2024 2:19 PM

Modified: 03-01-2024 10:24 AM


Poetry night celebrates BIPOC writers andorganizing work

NORTHAMPTON — Franny Choi, the new poet laureate of Northampton, will do a reading tonight (Friday, March 1) at 6 p.m. at the Northampton Center for the Arts, where they’ll be joined by a number of Valley poets of color for an event that’s also designed to raise awareness of local grassroots organizing efforts.

The event, held in the Flex Space at 33 Hawley, will include readings by Jai Dulani, Abigail Chabitnoy, Lyrical Faith, Omkari Williams, and Cameron Awkward-Rich. It’s been organized by Choi, who’s published three poetry collections, one of which, “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On,” was a finalist for a Massachusetts Book Award in 2023.

Choi has organized the reading as part of their work as the founder of Brew & Forge, an organization designed to build connections between writers, artists, organizers and movement workers, especially in the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.

Attendance at tonight’s event is free, but donations for continued work by Brew & Forge are welcome. The reading will be followed by a book signing and tabling by the Western Mass Bailout Project and the Trans Asylum Seekers Support Network.

Write dirty to me

NORTHAMPTON — In this age of instant communication, any number of people have bemoaned the lost art of writing letters and the depth of expression they can offer — including on the weighty matter of sex.

In “Your Sexts Are Sh*t: Older Better Letters,” a one-woman show at the Academy of Music March 2, British theater performer and writer Rachel Mars unveils some “hot-as-hell letters” from long-dead artists and famous figures such as Georgia O’Keeffe, James Joyce, Mozart, Charles Bukowski, and Eleanor Roosevelt, in which the writers could get very intimate with their partners.

Or as program notes put it, “loads of [the letters] were properly filthy.”

Mars, whose show takes place at 7:30 p.m., juxtaposes her letter reading and discussion with screen shots of anonymous modern digital messages: texts, tweets, dating app sexts and other blunt, less-than-romantic missives.

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“The form of sexting is so immediate,” Mars told The Guardian in an interview a few years ago about her show. “I am nostalgic for letters. There’s a craft that’s been lost in expressing some kind of desire or passion or bodily experience for someone else.”

“Your Sexts are Sh*t” also has its comic moments, such as a letter from Marcel Proust to his grandfather, begging for money so that he could go to a prostitute to cure his “awful masturbation habit.”

Mars, who is queer, notes on her website that her show is about “triangulating the sex and love letters of long dead artists, contemporary sexts and meditation on the construction of the queer female body. How do we write ourselves and for whom?”

 

‘Tea and Trumpets’ in the Paper City

HOLYOKE — The Holyoke Civic Symphony, in a season the group calls “the Brass Menagerie” for its focus on the main four brass instruments, will highlight the trumpet for its next concert, on March 10 at Holyoke Community College.

The 3 p.m. show, “Tea and Trumpets,” will feature Sheldon Ross as a guest soloist on the trumpet, performing with the symphony on Vincent Persichetti’s “The Hollow Men,” a 1948 piece Persichetti composed for solo trumpet and string orchestra that was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem of the same name.

Ross, the principal trumpet for the Keene Chamber Orchestra, performs with a number of other regional ensembles and teaches music in Belchertown Public Schools and at the Northampton Community Music Center.

In a statement, he said “Persichetti’s music brilliantly portrays the poem’s essence, and he chose the trumpet as solo instrument for its expansive capacity, for expression, range, and wide contrast of dynamics.”

The concert, which takes place at HCC’s Fine and Performing Arts building, will also include performances of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique,” or Symphony No. 6 in B minor, and “Inspiration! Festive Overture” by contemporary Texas composer and conductor Quinn Mason.

HCS has already staged concerts this season focusing on the tuba and the French horn, and the symphony will offer a fourth concert in May featuring music centered on the trombone.

There is no fee for the March 10 show; donations at the door will be gladly accepted.

 

UMass brings on the visual art

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst has opened three new exhibits, including one that’s been inspired by a study of materials in the school’s natural history collection.

“Breach: Logbook 24 | Staccato,” at the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA), includes paintings, sculptures, and video by artist Courtney M. Leonard, a citizen of the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island who explores marine biology, Indigenous food sovereignty, and human environmental impact by investigating the multiple definitions of the term “breach.”

Her exhibit follows a multi-year residency at UMass during which she based her recent work in particular on the life and kinship ties of Staccato, a North Atlantic Right Whale killed by a ship strike in 1999; the whale’s remains are housed at UMass.

Hampden Gallery, meantime, has opened “Fabrications and Dreams” by oil painter and printmaker Cynthia Guild, a UMass alumna, and “Obsessive Compulsive Drawings” by artist and musician Gonzalo Silva.

Guild, who earned a BFA and an MFA from UMass, says her new exhibit of oil paintings and drawings juxtaposes “industrial mechanical imagery representing logic” on one side with “dreamy, snowy alpine scenes of nature, representing escape and reverie” on the other.

Silva, a native of Chile who grew up in Melrose, is a bass player and composer who once attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He also took up drawing several years ago, sketching what he calls “my compulsions” on the back of 8.5-by-11-inch cards. “These items are personal to me,” he notes, “like summons, default notices, or support group meeting lists.”

The exhibits run through May 3. An artists’ reception and a talk at the gallery by both artists take place at the gallery April 5 beginning at 5 p.m.

The People’s Tongue

AMHERST — Amherst College’s “Point/Counterpoint” series of public talks, in which speakers engage with Amherst professor and writer Ilan Stavans on a variety of social and political topics, opens its new season today (March 1) with a presentation by John McWhorter, an author and professor of linguistics who writes an opinion column for the New York Times.

The talk, at Stirn Auditorium at 4 p.m., is the first of five for this season. Other speakers include Ukrainian-American poet and translator Ilya Kaminsky and Northampton writer and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki.

The theme for the conversations, “Democracy and the English Language,” concerns what program notes call “one of the remaining threads binding Americans to each other and to their past … But even [the English language] is contested. How did English become American? To what extent is it truly national?”

Stavans, a professor of humanities, Latin American, and Latino Culture and the publisher of the independent company Restless Books, began the Point/Counterpoint series several years ago to host conversations aimed at bridging some of the country’s ideological divides.

Compiled by Steve Pfarrer