Thursday, November 17, 2005

Susan Vreeland

Art and literature are what makes us human - shows our passions and despairs. Both forms slow down time to give us the chance to reflect on our experiences and, hopefully, learn from them and find beauty in them. Susan Vreeland combines both artistic forms in her books. At the Secondary Sectional Get-Together, she was the main speaker and a true storyteller.

To begin the session, each table was given an activity to complete. A stiff piece of paper was folded in thirds, to make a triptych. One section had an excerpt from one of Susan's books, one section had a piece of artwork which was related, and the three needed to have a poem. This was the topic for discussion at the table. There were 4-5 poems to choose from and after reading and discussing, we chose two of them. The poems were from different eras and poets and each gave a slightly different view of the situation. This was the purpose of the activity – to actively engage in the analysis of the art and literature.

Taking the podium, Susan's tan suit and black hat told me that this was going to be a unique experience. She alternated between prepared remarks, off-the-cuff comments, and interpretations of her writing. I was so fascinated, I forgot to take notes. In her experience, the way to students' attention is through their hearts. Poetry, literature and art speaks to this need to express and share our emotions. She shared a poem written about the day her hair fell out from chemotherapy. It wasn't about the cancer, it was a love story – the support and endurance of that love. There were few dry eyes in the room. Having read that poem to her own English class, she made an emotional connection to them. Later she read an excerpt from Girl in Hyacinth Blue that expressed the longing of a young girl (Vemeer's daughter) to paint, however, based on the time period, was not allowed to learn. Each vignette in the story spoke of the strong emotions we all have, yet often are reluctant, or unable to express.

I too, now feel a personal connection to Susan Vreeland. Her voice, the art and poetry swirled through my head as I boarded the T (electric train) to return to my hotel. Hopefully, this weekend I'll be able to pick up her books.

Life Studies
The Forest Lover
The Passion of Artemisia

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