Love Letters and Tongues Aflame


“We are animals of language. All the words that were, and all the words that will be, are asleep inside our bodies.”  

Artist Leslie Dill

If you are a lover of letters, of language, if you’ve got a thing for words, if you’re hot for font and a fool for the mesmerizing voluptuousness of phrases writ large and draped about, as if an old monkish scribe got manic, then get thee to the Halsey. thumbs_img_4256_g

Poetic Visions: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan, Leslie Dill’s wordy and wondrous exhibition at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, is one good read. And its the perfect cheap date for Valentine’s Day, especially since Valentine’s falls right at the start of Lent. Dill conveys the spiritual mania of New Orleans street preacher, Sister Gertrude Morgan, with a hyper-graphia reminiscent of folk artist Howard Finster, but she also demonstrates tender and fierce reverence for the Word. This exhibit is a visual ode to the power of language. Dill revels in the graceful architecture of letters. She creates a wall of shimmering wire that all emanates from wire-scrolled words. I’m not even sure what they say, but maybe there’s meaning in that mystery alone. There’s a bride, too, if you want a little more Valentine’s tie-in.

To further celebrate Dill’s artistic vision, for which, she says, poetry is the “touchstone” and language is “the pivot point”  the Halsey is hosting a poetry series throughout the exhibition (on display through March 9). Tomorrow night is the second in the “Tongues Aflame” series, and will feature the College of Charleston’s brightest talent.  Last week’s inaugural reading featured local poetry heavy-weights Marjory Wentworth, Katherine Williams, Richard Garcia, Kit Loney and Susan Finch Stevens, and it was as fabulous as the art surrounding it. For those who missed it, I’m pleased to share poet Susan Finch Steven’s prose poem, “How to See Visions at the Halsey.”

thumbs_all-seeing-eye-13337300How to See Visions at the Halsey

by Susan Finch Stevens

Enter the gallery as though entering a book. Come alone so as not to be distracted by someone reading over your shoulder. That shoulder, the one draped with the superfluous sweater, which will unravel here to hang from you like threads, like the words that habitually spin from the dark cave of your mouth. Books change. Marvel at the strange architecture of a child’s pop-up but prepare to be regaled by apocalypse. Turn to the page that shimmers, that becomes a wall like a waterfall, like strands of hair you long to run your fingers through, to braid, to be raised up by like the prince in another book you read long ago. Remain lucid here so you will resist the longing to touch out of fear of waking in a gallery. Perhaps you can stem the urge by becoming the maiden with no hands from that long-ago book. Turn a page with your stump and Allegorical Figures bring memories of the metal hands the king once made for you. Or were they made for someone else? You will not find THE END in this book. You will find an EXIT. And when you exit you will take something that gets lost inside you like your words that have not yet found air.  It is wise to remember that the maiden had to venture out on her own before her hands became flesh.



Welcome Home!



If home is where they always have to let you in, then every writer needs a home. An open door. A welcome mat. A stocked cupboard and handmade ceramic coffee cup, or a well-used wine glass is, of course, equally good. Maybe both.

A place where you can spill words on the page and not worry about whether they leave a stain or not. A place where fellow writers and/or wannabe writers will offer encouragement, helpful criticism, a few training tips, a pen if yours runs out of ink, a beer when you come up dry.

Writing is like long distance running — it’s lonely out there, and tiring, and occasionally boring because you get so stuck in your own self-doubts and sore writer’s quads. A good writing group is like finding that coach who cheers you on and makes it somewhat bearable, maybe even fun.

Lucky for you, Charleston, poets Brit Washburn and Bryan Penberthy have created that writers’ home at 107 Ashley Avenue. Added bonus: it’s one of those fabulously wow Charleston homes. With a spectacular curvy curling staircase so you feel like your ascending into a truly magical realm, which of course you are. Poets House South (a nod to the Big Apple’s venerable Poets House) is Brit and Bryan’s brainchild and abode, but it’s also the coolest Charleston salon-with-a-view-and-piazza. A gathering place for poetry readings, wine tastings, musicales, book signings, and tonite, and most every other first Tuesday night of the month, a Writers Group, which is open to you, the writer who needs that friendly little nudge.

It’s for all comers. Just bring your paper and pen, 10 or so copies of a piece (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, recipes, whatever!) that you’re working on, and then the magic begins. Wine and nibbles are welcome if you’re so inspired. But mostly, just bring it on home. Climb those stairs, one a time, curl your way up into that place where words find their place, and you find your place with them. Just like our neighbor Bill Murray does in this clip from Poets House in NYC.


Writers Group tonite. 7 p.m.  107 Ashley Ave, Apt A. 

Poets House South.  Built circa 1829. Poeticized in 2012. 

And if you can’t make it on short notice tonite, mark your calendar now for the next Sunday Musicale Soiree on February 24th.  Check out their Facebook page for more info.