Video: In the Stacks with Sarah Fox

Video: In the Stacks with Sarah Fox

Published on Friday, July 19, 2013.
The Great Goddess at the Olympian Temple of Zeus 2 by Jane Ellen Gilmore

The Great Goddess at the Olympian Temple of Zeus 2 (1978) by Jane Ellen Gilmore, from The Power of Feminist Art.  

Ed. note: Minneapolis-based writer and poet Sarah Fox is the second resident in Coffee House Press' Writers and Readers Library Residency Program. For the next several weeks we'll post dispatches here as Sarah responds to working inside the American Craft Council's Library. The following is excerpted from a letter Fox wrote to artist Zoran Mojsilov, whose sculpture garden in northeast Minneapolis near the ACC headquarters has become one of the central themes in the early stages of her residency.

On my first day in residence at the ACC, I decided to randomly gravitate toward books and objects without any guiding principle other than chance. I took photographs, and collected an armful of books, and talked to Jessica Shaykett, the librarian, and suddenly I found myself immersed in 1970s feminist art. Which is weird only because very recently two women artists I know told me that my new book of poems, The First Flag, sometimes reminded them of 1970s feminism. Which I didn't entirely understand but also didn't oppose, maybe 1970s feminism was, as a concept, somewhat vague to me - maybe it is somewhat vague to everyone - maybe 1970s feminists have been thrown under the bus.

In any event, as I began to explore the material I had arbitrarily amassed, two items in particular very much stirred my heart. The first was a poem I found in the magazine Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art & Politics (their Winter 1978 issue on women's traditional arts/the politics of aesthetics). The poem was called "Recitation of the Yoruba Bride," (Cambridge, 1970) and described "an example of improvised poetry that is common in Yoruba... the bride is decked out in her finery and, accompanied by drummers and a crowd of relatives, she is led to her husband's house. She is in a state of great excitement and, chanting all the time, she speaks about everything that comes to mind."

Not only is the poem, in its published iteration, full of surprising imagery and emotional complexity, but the whole idea of “speaking everything that comes to mind” - almost as a cathartic cleansing -seems (to me), as a ritual act, like a really good thing to do. And it reminded me of María Sabina, the Mazatec medicine woman whose mushroom veladas culminated in the healing agency of her spontaneous chanting.

The second thing that really blew my mind was a photograph by Jane Ellen Gilmore called “The Great Goddess at the Olympian Temple of Zeus 2” (also from 1978) that was featured in a huge coffee table book called The Power of Feminist Art.

Perhaps, like me, you recognized the atmospheric resemblance to the Zoran sculpture garden near the Grain Belt buildings in northeast Minneapolis, and can appreciate why I felt inspired to re-perform this photograph there, and why - after an initial test run - I have the desire to invite others to enact their own Great Goddess at the Olympian Temple of Zoran.

Couldn’t we all stand to dredge up considerably more Great Goddess as She uniquely presents herself in every individual psyche, to help us endure our decidedly anti-Goddess cultural climate where war, guns, racism, sexism, money, homelessness, corporate corruption, etc. etc. etc. are paving the path of our demise?

Also, I hope to find enough people to help me build a boat, as a component of this library residency and corresponding performance (August 22 at 7 p.m. at the American Craft Council Library Salon Series). Originally, I thought I’d get involved in making puppets. Maybe I still will. But both myself and Jessica mentioned to each other within moments of meeting that we've always wanted to build a boat. My father, just before he died last June, finished building a wooden kayak (above), and his father, maybe 20 years earlier, built a pine-strip canoe. Both men were doctors, otherwise.

I don’t know yet what role the boat will play, but I’m confident its purpose will be revealed over time.

Update: We sat down with Fox prior to her presentation for the ACC Library Salon Series to hear more about her weeks spent in the ACC Library & Archives. Here's what she had to say: