The most recent unique setting for Montserrat College of Art’s Improbable Places Poetry Tour reading was on July 2 at the recently decommissioned and iconic Footprint Power’s Salem Harbor Station in Salem, MA, built in the 1950′s.
In conjunction with the exhibition of Across the Bridge, a collaboration between Montserrat College of Art and Footprint Power, this reading continued the goal of creating to honor and document the lives and work of the power plant employees, most of whom will lose their jobs and move on to other opportunities when the coal plant closes this summer. On this tour stop, the massive turbines were quiet, but poetry spoke loudly to the power of work and the work of power. In addition to the readings, there was also an opportunity for guests and poets to see portions of the power plant itself, with mini-tours of the vintage operating equipment and control room.
The tour was featured in several publications including, but not limited to:
“The poetry tour has always been about the place,” Colleen Michaels said. “The power plant was such an amazing opportunity. It’s a place that the public never had access to.” … The audience packed into the belly of the plant, among the stagnant machinery, while locals like Elizabeth Hart, January Gill O’Neill, Susanna Brougham, Melissa Varnavas, Mary Ann Honaker, Rick Matthias and Eric Wright recited their poetry. - The Beverly Citizen: Making the Improbable possible
The poetry reading was, in part, a farewell to the power station in the Salem community — we even heard a recording of the turbine’s deafening “voice.” But once the poets began reading their industry-related works, the evening shifted to an incandescent realm of words, imagery, imagination, speculation and humor. Listeners were easily engaged with lyrical perspectives on a variety of themes — grids, laborers, history, ecology, power and the industrial landscape. The juxtaposition of massive turbine to evocative poet escaped no one and added a magical element.
- Peabody Essex Museum: Poetic industry
The power plant’s control room was a striking setting for the writers’ work. The audience — close to 80 people — sat near gray, metal channels carrying electrical cords past massive vertical cylinders. Above, was a balcony with a curved edge. Sickly yellow lights beamed down on the reading. The plant’s employees didn’t read poetry themselves, but the poets gathered to honor their efforts. In front of the poets, a hard hat sat on a stationary vertical wheel. At the end of the reading, a recording of the power plant’s background noise was played. It sounded like a mechanical waterfall. - ecoRI News: Closing Coal Plant Shines at Salem Poetry Reading
When I heard that Footprint Power was going to host an art show and poetry reading inside of the defunct coal plant, my first thought was that we should infiltrate…When we actually got the art show, I felt a little ashamed of my Climate Summer shirt. Who was I to deny these workers their livelihood, their family? The artwork by the students of Montserrat Art College gave voice to the workers without tokenizing their labor or passing judgement on their industry. Reading quotes from the workers and looking at portraits of them, I began to see the workers as people. One of the pieces invited viewers to take a small container of coal, take a story. It felt like power, but then I looked at it closer and realized it differed only slightly from the charcoal I use to draw. - Climate Summer: Structures of Water: Poetry as Activism
Above photos taken by Paul Van Ness. See more photos of the Across the Bridge exhibit and the poetry reading on Montserrat’s Facebook Page!
The tour is Montserrat’s way of bringing together student writers, local poets, area businesses and enthusiastic listeners to celebrate the power of poetry and community. At each tour stop a new venue and theme is selected. Learn more here!