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Students' poems selected for community series

April 13, 2010

Most poets’ work gets tucked into books, which are, in turn, tucked onto shelves and read on a whim. But three ASU students – Catherine Hammond, Ryan Holden and Kathleen Winter – won’t have to worry about closed books for a while. Their poems will be on display on 7th Avenue in Phoenix for the next year, out in the open for all to read.

Hammond, Holden and Winter’s works have been selected to be part of the 7th Avenue Streetscape Series 6, and had its debut during the First Friday Art Walk on April 2. The poems were chosen by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture and Seventh Avenue Merchants Association.

The 7th Avenue Streetscape is a collection of panels that display reproductions of original works created by Arizona artists and poets through the Office of Arts and Culture Public Art Program.

The panels, installed in May 2004, are part of “Pedestrian Amenities Along Seventh Avenue,” a public/private urban infrastructure project designed to be a catalyst for the revitalization of the 7th Avenue commercial corridor in midtown Phoenix. The project, which also was a collaboration with the ASU School of Architecture, won an Environmental Excellence award in 2004 from Valley Forward.

This is the third year that poetry has been included with the visual art. Three poets are chosen each year, and so far, seven of the winners have been ASU students. The previous winners were Douglas S. Jones, Elizabyth Hiscox and Julie Hampton, 2008, and Sean Nevin, 2009.

One of this year’s winners, Kathleen Winter, said she was surprised at “how vibrant and well designed the project is. The City of Phoenix has done an amazing job in making this art available to anyone who happens to be passing by that intersection (7th Ave. and Glenrosa), or waiting there to catch public transit.

“One of the first poems I ever published was a short, bilingual anti-war poem displayed on public buses,” she added. “I believe art has a place in public because its beauty brings joy to our lives, inspires us, and can even teach or challenge us to think more deeply – so I'm honored and delighted that my poem will be on 7th Avenue this year.”

Catherine Hammond’s entry was unusual in that it was a translation of a poem by Olvido Garcia Valdes, a poet from Spain who won the Premio Nacional, Spain’s highest poetry prize, in 2007.

Hammond, a student in the master of liberal studies program who also has earned in MFA in creative writing, is translating Valdes’ prize-winning book for her degree project.

“Valdes’ poems are short, but intense,” Hammond said. “In the one included in Streetscapes, she writes about women as ‘spider mothers,’ who have connections with other people. When I visited her in Madrid last fall, we talked about the idea that all women are daughters and some, at the same time are mothers, too.”

Hammond said she hopes that those reading the poem or translation “will feel encouraged about what they are doing and move ahead with whatever is going on for them.”

Ryan Holden said his poem is “pretty straightforward as to its meaning,” but has an interesting story behind it.

“I was in Wales in November as part of an international fellowship and was feeling homesick/missing my fiancée,” he said. “I was going to be sitting in on an undergrad class taught by one of the PhD candidates at Aberystwyth University. He asked me to write a poem for that class as well to serve as an example.

“Their assignment was to write a pastoral, a style that I've never really worked with. So, I wrote an urban pastoral focusing on my fiancée and trying to spot the meteor shower back in November and being unable to see it due to light pollution.

“Being selected to have my work out there and open to the public year-round is quite exciting. It's an honor to be selected.”

Sean Nevin, one of last year’s winners, said he entered a poem in response to the call for submissions to the City of Phoenix public art project. “I was familiar with this important project and I believe strongly in the need for, and value of, public art.,” he said.

According to Nevin, his winning poem was about “beauty in the commonplace of the natural world, akin to discovering a poem at a city bus stop.”

He is excited that the project now includes poetry. “Poetry, and public art in general, is not just important, but indispensible in our society,” he said. “It is transformative and can alter the way we experience the world around us. It improves our quality of life, buoys our humanity and challenges us to think deeply about ourselves and the things around us.

“It can remind us we are not alone. A moment like that, and a cup of coffee while waiting for a city bus, is an invitation to change the world.”

Elizabyth Hiscox’s winning poem, set in Arizona, dealt with “chance encounters and transit.” Hiscox also believes it’s important to include poetry with visual art because “the more chances that people have to interact with art the better. And I do think foregrounding ‘act’ there is important – for ordinary people to interact with and around it: eat a sandwich nearby or hop on a bus.

“It's wonderful that the visual arts are represented in so many public art projects, including this one. The visual gets pushed beyond the commercial billboard. Language appears on billboards too, on signage, on advertisements," she said.

“For someone, then, to encounter language out in the world that is trying to speak, not to sell, is almost revolutionary. Anyone can experience a moment out in the world WITH art: not have to retreat from the public space to find art.”

For more information on the project, go to