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Poetry, Art, and Sacred Space

I wrote the following in answer to a prompt for an Edx class I'm taking called Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life. The prompt was about what makes a place/space sacred.

{9} The Gallery: Poetry, Art, and Sacred Space

{9} The Gallery is a small open door along Phoenix's Grand Avenue - that's the busy inner-city adjunct to US Highway 60, which connects the East Coast of Virginia to Arizona-just-short-of-Quartzite half an hour east of California. Walking into {9} on the second Friday of the month, you'll find half the floor covered by white wooden chairs surrounded by paintings and other visual art by local artists.

In the back, past the bathroom, you'll find the counter. Purchase your coffee or tea, hot or cold, and peruse the shop. You might discover the perfect gift to buy - a chapbook, a greeting card, or perhaps a print created by locals. Take your time, but be ready to sit as the hosts for the evening's event arrive; the chairs will fill quickly. Settle in, sip your tea, be ready to listen. Maybe even be ready to witness. Will you share?

As I listened to Stephen Cramer's poem, "What We Do” for about the 4th time, I realized that indeed, {9} is a sacred space. It is sacred for a number of reasons, and the objects within reflect those reasons. The walls are adorned by interpretations of the world by artists who dare to apply their visions to canvas or other media. Aficionados of art both dark and light make this a sacred place. They come and they hold open their mouths at the wonder and the audacity of each new interpretation of a world that is both beautiful and ugly.

Fans of refreshment in this desert place find an oasis within which to rest weary bones and feast upon the artwork and the baked goods brought in from the restaurant down the street. {9} is a sacred space each hour that it is open for the interaction between human and human creation. Tonight, though - tonight it is made even more sacred for the sounds that will be aroused here.

On the second Friday of each month, the poetry series "Caffeine Corridor" meets at {9} The Gallery. Poets from across Arizona make the pilgrimage to hear the words of one or two featured writers and to share their own works at the open reading. This is a mixed reading; traditional poets and slam poets gather together; there is no contest, only open acceptance for the diverse nature of the spoken word.

While {9} The Gallery is made sacred by the presence of creativity, art, and the interaction of people with that art, these Friday night readings bring a great depth of holiness to the place. You see, the Caffeine Corridor series has had a number of homes over the years. It has met in coffeehouses and tea houses as well as in other galleries.

It isn't the presence of visual art that makes the place sacred, any more than the presence of a cross, statue, or other iconography makes a church building sacred. Even the poetry itself does not make the place particularly sacred, for to read a poem by oneself is different than to hear it read aloud. It is the community - the body of artists - that makes it sacred. These nights, when poets gather to partake of a communion of words, are more sacred than a gallery full of paintings but devoid of observers.

Each place brings a different kind of experience into that sacredness. Like the Orisha, who "rides" each dancer or each drum differently, the experience of poets is different in different surroundings. Some coffeehouses bring with them the sound of cappuccino machines, others are in alleyways beneath the flight path of the local airport. The experience differs depending upon the combination of poets - is the one who takes suggested word combinations in an attempt at humor present? Is the one who taps on the bongo while reciting her words in the mix? What about the one who speaks each piece from a different space on the floor or the poets whose words seem to be jumbles of unrelated syllables or the ones whose poems come in perfect iambic pentameter?

These are the variables that make the place where poets gather sacred. These, and respect and admiration shared through the snapping of fingers, the clapping of hands, or the loud, raucous laughter of listeners sharing the experience together.

(c) 29 March 2015

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Suzy Jacobson Cherry

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