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READINGS : Listening, Looking Linked : Artspace Gallery presents a series of poetry readings that relate to the themes of the visual artworks on display.

April 02, 1993|SUSAN HEEGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Susan Heeger is a regular contributor to The Times

Listening to a poetry reading in an art gallery is a little like hearing a string quartet in a garden. The surroundings become a subtle part of the experience, giving the eye something compelling-- and complimentary--to focus on while the mind gets lost in sound.

At Artspace Gallery in Woodland Hills, looking and listening are closely linked as poets take the stand against a backdrop of painting, sculpture and other visual arts, all relating to a single theme.

In January, the first Artspace poetry reading was timed to coincide with a show called "Visual Utterances," which featured work inspired by social, political and environmental issues. The second reading, on April 8, will take its cue from the current Artspace exhibit, "From Generation to Generation: Roots, Traditions, Continuum." On May 20, poets will read work that shares with the art around them the theme of "Fantasy and Surreal."

Scott Canty, art curator of Artspace, a facility of L.A.'s Cultural Affairs Department, says the idea of linking poetry readings with his exhibits grew out of a desire to expand the gallery's audience. "We wanted to encompass other arts," he says, "but we're not equipped to bring a dance company in. We can handle a simple setup for readings."

His goal, he explains, was to create "a kind of continuous environment, where people could hear the words and see the visuals and maybe somehow connect the two."

This is just fine with the writers, according to Norma Squires, one of the gallery's poetry coordinators. "From their point of view," she says, "it's a chance to expand their audience, and draw people who go to galleries but not necessarily to readings."

Next week's event will feature five poets, many of whom also work in other art forms, and will unfold amid a display of textiles, art and artifacts from Mexico, Central America, the Pacific Rim, Africa, the Caribbean and the United States.

Among the poets exploring the subject of culture and tradition will be Bart Edelman, a Glendale College English professor who has studied literature and drama in India, Egypt, Nigeria and Poland. Author of the upcoming book, "Crossing the Hackensack," which will be published this year by Prometheus Press, Edelman has written movingly about the cultural and emotional limbo of living abroad.

Sharing the bill, Stephanie Han, a Korean-American actress, writer and Venice resident, will present poetry largely focused on romantic and erotic themes. In contrast, the work of West Hills writer and artist Kathi Martin concerns the search for the true self amid the mass-market distractions and electronic intrusion of modern life.

The quest for identity takes a different form in the hands of Akuyoe, a well-known African-born storyteller, actress and writer who will read poetry, she says, about "discovering the spirit in human form." A native of Ghana who arrived in the United States by way of Europe, Akuyoe says that "my 'exile' hasn't been from a country or culture but from my authentic self," and her writing involves a rediscovery of that self.

Poet Nicholas Simone of Hollywood is another sort of exile, one who carries with him childhood memories of Soviet tanks in the streets of his native Budapest. His memories show up in his work, which is haunted by various forms of oppression but also leavened by humor and a taste for the surreal.

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For those with similar affections, the May Artspace reading--against a multimedia backdrop of visual fantasy--will be equally compelling. The evening's poets, though hard to categorize in other respects, share a proclivity toward powerful and unexpected imagery. Some of their poems are based on dreams, some on free-associative imaginings that will entice their listeners to see the world in a novel way.

Woodland Hills poet Nan Hunt, author of "My Self in Another Skin" (Drenan Press, 1981) and a teacher in UCLA Extension's Writing Program, writes poems about housework, hunting, love and politics that are informed by a rich sense of layered time and the savage complexity of human being.

Whispering fish and sentient letters appear in the work of Bill Mohr of Santa Monica, a widely published writer and teacher. In other poems, Mohr ponders the slippery imperatives of language and the sufferings of citizens in an inequitable society.

Social commentary takes another form altogether in the work of storyteller-poet Willie Sims whose in-your-face, full-volume style borrows from rap rhythms and name-brand culture. L.A. writer and painter Audri Phillips portrays individual alienation more quietly but with equal force, in long, declaratory poems visited by dreams, and in small, understated comments on nature and being.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Poetry readings.

Location: Artspace, 21800 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills.

Hours: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Price: Free.

Call: (818) 716-2786.

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