“Everyone talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.
– Popular misquote from Mark Twain
I NEVER KNEW poetry would be such hard work. My back is still sore today. Last Saturday as writer Eric Magrane and I installed our collaborative installation in the UA Downtown store window, once a Walgreens, among other things we wheel-barrowed in one and a half tons of gravel to serve as a metaphor for desert pavement.
I like the fact that the downtown locations brings poetry and art to the street, reaching people who probably never go to galleries. On the other hand they can just walk by without even turning their head. We found visitor engagement to be all a cross the scale so far.
Inspired by traditional O’odham song poems from a time when ceremonies brought the monsoons, I created a series of 8×2 foot photos, hung in a tapestry style, featuring things that were traditionally known in the Sonoran Desert to make the rain fall. Eric’s work went onto the windows using vinyl letters.
The work is installed in multiple layers that create an almost animated effect as a viewer walks past on the sidewalk and the words and images shift in front of each other. As Eric told me when we were working out the layout together to see how it all fit together on my computer screen, he’s a post-structuralist. I looked it up and I think it means that each viewer will make up their own meanings and associations. We don’t have to control it too much. Things can shift and flow like water. I relaxed.
We take only partial credit for Sunday’s first monsoon rain, repeated with greater effect on Monday. The rest goes to O’odham singers who are out there singing the traditional rain songs. I was up on the Hill that evening, watching the storm come in from the east. On Tumamoc we got only a few sprinkles, some wind, and the intoxicating smell of desert rain. Eric texted me from his house in midtown that it was raining there. That, of course, demonstrates that poetry is slightly more powerful that visual artwork in rain-making.
Sorry about the power outage. But almost everything looks so much better when wet.
Inspiration for this exhibition comes partially from thoughts by O’odham poet and linguist Ofelia Zepeda, given in the introduction to When It Rains: Papago and Pima Poetry.
I remember once listening to my mother tell of this ceremony and how it must be done in order for the rain to come. I said to her that the rain always comes at that time of year anyways. She simply replied, “that’s because we always do it at that time of year.” And it’s true. Every summer they have the ceremony and the words are repeated and one more time the rain comes.
Thanks to our loyal friends for helping with the installation: Bill Mackey, Wendy Burk, Phyllis Magrane, Owen Davis, Christina Robinson, and Leo Mirocha.
When It Rains: Papago and Pima Poetry, edited by Ofelia Zepeda. Sun Tracks series, The University of Arizona Press, 1982