UWindsor book of poetry focuses on city’s public art

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One of the coolest courses at the University of Windsor just became cooler.

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The editing and publishing practicum, taught by Marty Gervais for the last 18 years, was recognized by Maclean’s Magazine as one of the coolest courses on campus in 2017. But this year students took the course a step further, working with local writers to generate 50 poems by 13 authors inspired by 50 pieces of public art to be published in a book.

“In The Middle Space,” published by Black Press, will be unveiled at a book launch April 6 at UWindsor’s Mackenzie Hall.

“The book is really a celebration of public art and what it means to the community,” Gervais said.

“In The Middle Space” is the product of a new approach Gervais took this year with his students.

Normally, each September, he presents students with an unedited manuscript and they shepherd it through the publishing process.

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This year, it was different.

“I came into the classroom … and I walked in on the first day and I said, ‘I don’t have anything for you. You have to create a book.’ ”

Students were instructed to commission local authors such as André Narbonne, Laurie Smith and Peter Hrastovec to create poetry.

Iori Khuhro, a fourth-year English and creative writing student, said the idea of giving respected authors direction then editing their work was daunting. She worked with Narbonne, whose book Lucien & Olivia was nominated for the Giller Prize.

“I was thinking about this the whole time,” she said. “You can’t find words for it. It’s such an engaging and eye-opening experience. … When you think about authors you think ‘oh they’re so distant and they’re so famous and how can I work with them and how can I be personable with them?’

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“There was a lot of anxiety in regards to that. It’s just that there’s the author is god. And Marty Gervais told us no, the author is not god.”

Khuhro had taken a course with Narbonne, who encouraged her in during the writing process. “Dr. Andre Norabonne said to me very clearly that I am your professor but when you’re on this project, you are my editor and so that relationship is different.”

Gervais said the timeline was quick. “We need a manuscript to do the design and layout for it by December so they had to do all the editing and get the writers to write the work. You have to give the writers a deadline, and then they edited these poeting expressions, and then in January working on cover, design, layouts.”

The finished work is likely to be an eye-opener for students, he said. “Some of these students … may have walked along the riverfront and maybe never gave the presence of public art any thought at all. I think what happened here is that their eyes were opened to why public art is important.

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“It’s important for a community to embrace art and have it be right there, right in front of them, and not just set apart from them in a gallery.”

The book is illustrated with “stunning” line drawings by student Julia Sanders, Gervais said. The decision to go with the drawings “was a real breakthrough. It wasn’t that we were going to use line drawings; we suddenly realized that the book itself … is not really a document about public art, but it is public art. … It’s really, in a sense, living art.”

The poems were inspired by artworks such as Tembo the elephant on the riverfront, the sculpture of Shawnee leader Chief Tecumseh meeting General Isaac Brock in Sandwich Town, and the statue of Hiram Walker unveiled in the city last summer.

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Windsor’s riverfront features a lot of public art that shows how the city values it, said Gervais. At one point, “there were railway tracks and warehouses all along the riverfront and the city made the commitment to clear off that and to have this greenspace. But in this greenspace you have this lovely ability to be in touch with and see art right at your fingertips.

“I think it’s important that we enrich our lives … so the works that you see, some of it celebrates our history, some of it celebrates our culture and some of them just simply celebrate the esthetics of being in touch with the things that really should matter in our lives, which is to enjoy our lives.”

“In The Middle Space” will be available at Black Moss Press, and will soon be available at the gift shop at Museum Windsor’s Chimczuk Museum, and at Biblioasis Bookshop in Windsor and River Bookshop in Amherstburg. 


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