A new video called Connecticut Poets Respond features current and past town poet laureates reading their works online. They’re “responding” to the current state of the world (pandemic, the environment … you get the idea.)
Westport’s own laureate, Diane Lowman, is one of the featured poets.
Fellow laureate David Bibbey of Woodbury produced it. Westporters know him through his video work at the Westport Library. Click below to see:
The Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Westport Library’s 8th annual TEA — that’s Thinkers, Educators, Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 27, 2 p.m., Town Hall).
The topic is timely and relevant: “Breaking Barriers Through the Arts.”
Music, visual arts, performance and poetry artists will share personal stories of breaking boundaries through their work, in 3 20-minute conversations and performances.
There are special appearances by Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman and internationally renowned pianist Frederic Chiu — a local resident — plus an audience Q-and-A, and the presentation of a Horizon Award to a young area artist of note.
Noah Fox is the winner of that Horizon Award. The 2009 Staples High School graduate — he went by Noah Steinman then — studied photography at Staples, and studio art, art history and queer theory at Oberlin College; earned an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; worked as education manager at the Westport Arts Center, and now serves as coordinator of academic and public programs at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
He’s made a name with a unique project: “transforming” educational books that are “alarmingly misogynistic, homophobic and racist.” Fox paints, draws, sculpts and uses collages to gouge out the books, and “reclaim” them. He “sheds light on the oppressive foundations of American culture, while exposing the ways in which these systems and rhetoric persist today.”
Fox will be joined on the TEA stage by:
Illustrator Ann Chernow of Westport, whose works evoke the images of female cinematic figures of the 1930s and ’40s
Westport conceptual artist and sculptor Jeanine Esposito, who co-founded Beechwood Arts salon, and now brings innovation to libraries, universities and non-profits
During her 22 years in Westport, Diane Meyer Lowman has done a lot.
As her 2 sons moved through the school system, she was involved in many PTA ventures, including ArtSmart. She helped formalize and coordinate Staples High School’s library volunteer program, and was on the district’s food committee.
She was a substitute Spanish teacher, at Staples and the middle schools. She did pro bono nutritional consulting for Homes with Hope. She teaches yoga at Town Hall.
But until a few days ago, Diane — a graduate of Middlebury College, with a master’s in Shakespeare studies from Britain’s University of Birmingham — had never been Westport’s poet laureate.
That’s okay. Until a few days ago, we’d never had a poet laureate either.
Diane Lowman (Photo/Jane LaMotta)
If you missed the announcement, you’re not alone. It came in the middle of the Westport Library’s opening-day ceremonies. (The library was part of the selection process, along with the superintendent of schools’ office and the town Arts Advisory Committee, which manages the poet laureate program.)
The application process was rigorous: a resume, personal statement, 4 letters of recommendation, and several interviews. “It was like applying to college,” she says.
So what exactly does Westport’s poet laureate do?
The job description includes the importance of promoting poetry as a form of communication, inspiration and entertainment; expanding and promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry and writing in general, and advocating for poetry, literature and the arts.
Diane admits she is not a poet, per se. (She has, however, written 1600 haiku.)
“This is the inaugural position,” she says. “There’s no template. But I’ve got some good ideas.”
They include working closely with schools, the library and the arts community; helping students and senior citizens collaborate through writing; organizing poetry slams at places like Toquet Hall and the library; bringing a “Poetry on Demand” desk (and local poets) to townwide events; putting bulletin boards around Westport, for anyone to post poems; working with ArtSmart, the Westport Arts Center and Artists’ Collective of Westport to include poetry alongside exhibitions; integrating poetry into WestportREADS — stuff like that.
“I wake up every morning thinking of something new,” Diane says.
She welcomes ideas from the community. “This is not about me. It’s about Westport,” she explains.
Diane knows that the word “poetry” can be intimidating to some people. When she studied Shakespeare, she realized that his name too carries “a cultural cachet that can feel elitist or off-putting.”
But, she insists, “everyone can read and write poetry. It’s just another way to communicate feelings. It makes us realize how much we all have in common, whether we’re seniors in high school or seniors at the Senior Center.”
Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and her son Dustin. (He’s midway through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other son, Devon, is an artist and art handler, also in Chicago.)
Devon, Diane and Dustin Lowman.
There’s no type of poetry Diane does not like — except “poems that intentionally try to be difficult. Challenge is fine. Thinking, reflecting, questioning — that’s good. But it’s not good to make someone feel dumb or stuck.”
Westport’s new poet laureate — who began her honorary, non-compensated 2-year post on July 1 — is both excited and humbled.
“I’m so appreciative of this community,” Diane says. “I’m so glad to be able to give back to it. I know it sounds trite, but I’m very enthusiastic and excited.”
No, not at all.
Not trite; quite right.
(Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman welcomes all suggestions and ideas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org — with “Poetry” in the subject line — or email@example.com)
For as long as she remembers, the Westporter loved the long-dead English author.
But when her sons Dustin and Devin graduated from Staples High School, Diane — who kept busy in her 20-plus years here by volunteering in school libraries, tutoring and substitute teaching Spanish, and doing nutrition consulting with groups like Homes with Hope and Project Return — found herself with empty-nesting time.
For “brain stimulation,” she read all 38 of her crush’s plays. She blogged about the experience in “The Shakespeare Diaries.”
When that was done, Diane says she had “post-partum depression.”
Then a friend mentioned a cousin was earning a master’s degree in English. A light bulb flashed.
“I’d been out of school hundreds of years. It was crazy,” Diane recalls. “But I applied to the Shakespeare Institute.”
The research group is part of the University of Birmingham (England, not Alabama). Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, it offers a 13-month master’s program in Shakespeare studies.
So a year ago, Diane says, “I ran away from home.”
Diane Lowman with her crush, at Stratford-upon-Avon.
The experience exceeded even her lofty expectations.
“I pinched myself every day,” she reports. She lived in the beautiful West Midlands, surrounded by farms, sheep and swans. The Cotswolds were close.
It was not Disneyland. It was “Shakespeareland.”
The Institute’s professors were “Shakespeare’s brain trust,” Diane notes. Yet they were exceptionally accessible, caring and helpful.
Her flat was 2 blocks from the Church of the Holy Trinity, where the writer is buried. Diane visited often. “I would just sit and chat with him,” she says.
The Royal Shakespeare Company was half a mile away. She saw every play they produced.
Diane also volunteered at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. She had access to the full archives — including rare, barely seen materials.
She flipped through a 1623 folio of the playwright’s works — the first time they were compiled together. “I actually cried,” she says of that experience.
Diane Lowman held this rare Shakespeare folio.
Now — 13 months later — Diane has her master’s degree in Shakespeare. What does that mean for her life?
“That’s my big quandary: What do I want to do when I grow up?” Diane admits.
She has met with the creative director of Shakespeare on the Sound, and contacted Norwalk Community College about teaching a lifetime learners’ course. She’d also like to do a “Kids’ Introduction to Shakespeare” through the Westport Library.
The renowned author’s works “are really not daunting,” she claims. “I read Shakespeare to both boys starting around 2. They knew ‘Hamlet’ better than ‘Goodnight Moon.'”
As Diane Lowman starts to figure out her next steps, there’s one literary certainty. Her memoir, “Nothing But Blue,” has just been published.
It’s a trip back to the summer of 1979. Diane — a 19-year-old Middlebury College student — spent 10 weeks working on a German container ship, with a nearly all male crew.
She traveled from New York to Australia and New Zealand and back, through the Panama Canal.
The voyage changed her perspective on the world, and her place in it. She left as a “subservient, malleable girl,” and returned as a confident, independent, resilient young woman.
That long-ago journey was not much different from her recent one.
“I went far from home, on what seemed like a crazy idea,” Diane says of both. “But ultimately my time was so enriching.”
Her time in England was “wonderful.” Her shipboard experience was “scary, lonely and weird.”
Ultimately though, Diane learned and grew from both.
As the snow continued throughout the morning, alert “06880” readers sent in photos from around town. Here are a few:
Without entitled parking — at least, none we can see — the Starbucks near the diner looks positively serene. (Photo/Diane Lowman)
Whenever the Minute Man is decorated with a Santa cap or Easter bunny ears, a few folks complain. Today, Mother Nature decorated Westport’s favorite figure. Enjoy! (Photo/Anne Hardy)
Staples junior Eliza Goldberg snapped this shot of her dog Gracie.
Rindy Higgins lives on Saugatuck Shores. This morning she saw this sight. Because he’s reddish-gray, black behind the ears with a white chest and long tail that stuck out straight when he scooted off, she’s pretty sure he’s a fox — not a coyote.
Like many Westporters, last week you hung your stocking by the chimney with care.
But no matter how carefully Maria de Palma, Anne Faber, Diane Lowman, Ellie Herman and Harriet Vandis tried, they could not do the same.
Their stocking is 139 feet tall, and 74 feet wide. It weighs 1,600 pounds. The Guinness folks confirmed: It’s the world’s largest.
The world’s largest stocking. (Cramer Gallimore Photography for Caron United)
Anne, Diane, Ellie and Harriet live here. Their stocking is in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Well, technically it’s not their stocking. It belongs to 1,100 others too — and Caron United.
Over a year ago — on Veterans Day 2014 — the yarn manufacturer asked for help creating the largest stocking in the world. Across the country, knitters and crocheters responded.
The Westport quintet — and all those others — created 3-foot-by-3-foot blankets. They sent them to Caron, which stitched them all together.
What’s the point?
Along with helping create a world record stocking, Caron contributed 15 cents for every skein of its yarn used. They also solicited donations. The result: More than $100,000 has been raised for Children of Fallen Patriots. The organization gives scholarships to kids of US military personnel killed in the line of duty.
The stocking was unrolled and displayed as part of a Christmas celebration in Fayetteville — a city best known as the home of Fort Bragg.
Diane Lowman, Anne Faber and Harriet Vandis, hard at work. Not pictured: Ellie Herman and Maria de Palma.
So where do you hang the biggest stocking in the world?
You don’t. Soon, it will be taken apart. More than 1,100 blankets will be created –then donated to military hospitals.
Maria, Anne, Diane, Ellie and Harriet belong to Knit One, Nibble One. That’s a loose-knit (ho ho ho) organizations of hundreds of Westporter women who create “healing shawls” for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. (Because the drugs are infused at a low temperature, patients often feel chilly.)
The “nibble” refers to magic-bar cookies that founder Ellen Lane bakes. She puts one in a tote bag that also holds yarn, needles and knitting directions.
The women do much more than knit, of course. For example, Anne is a champion rower, while Diane runs yoga workshops.
So as you stow those Christmas stockings, be thankful they fit in a box in the attic.
And be thankful too for talented, creative and caring women like Westport’s own Maria de Palma, Ellie Herman, Anne Faber, Diane Lowman and Harriet Vandis.
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