By Anna Seaton Huntington
Poet Brandyn Johnson started off a recent Echoing Passages Arts Collaborative writing workshop at Main Street Square by pointing out that writing actually shouldn't feel like torture.
"Writing shouldn't be like eating Brussels sprouts! It is an affirmation, a way of acknowledging and honoring things, even the dark stories," said Brandyn, a Black Hills State University literature professor who lives in Rapid City with his wife Anna, a middle school teacher, and their young daughter. "The more I write and share, the more I feel connected to other human beings, it's a way of making experiences universal and of elevating language."
A poet in his own right, Brandyn is a grandson of David Evans, South Dakota's former long-time poet laureate. Brandyn's work has been widely published and he was one of four winners of the South Dakota State Poetry Society's 2014 chapbook contest.
A dozen community members attended the free workshop and during introductions, people said they came for many different reasons: To get inspired to finish a writing project underway, to learn more about The Sculpture Project, to connect with other writers.
Echoing Passages Arts Collaborative's coordinator Sara Olivier said hosting the workshop was a way to invite people to share their voices through writing. "All aspects of our work involve community voices," Sara said.
The Collaborative is made up of a group of South Dakota artists creating a series of performance artworks — dance, film, poetry and music — inspired by sculptor Masayuki Nagase's work at Main Street Square, Passage of Wind and Water.
Yuki welcomed participants to the workshop, which was set up at tables under umbrellas next to his work site. Brandyn focused the workshop on the imagery of water, and Yuki talked about his own use of water as a primary visual theme in his art.
"Always I work with the theme of nature," Yuki said. "That is the character of my work. And I have worked with the element of water for a long time. It is fundamental. In this project the visual themes are wind and water, they are metaphors for energy, which changes things."
For the stones that make up the Black Hills Garden along Sixth Street, where Yuki began carving this summer, he said, "I am using water as a metaphor of transformation and change, pull and energy. The wave pattern is used to express, suggest transformation, the project's overall theme."
The first stone, he said, suggests the beginning of life in the Black Hills, similar to the role of the first stone in the Badlands Garden.
Brandyn began the workshop asking participants to create a vocabulary of water. "Flow," "trickle," "soothing," "purifying," "destructive," "renewing," "patience," "reflection," and many others were offered. Then, with Brandyn's guidance, people used the words to develop short poems exploring emotions, experiences, qualities and symbols associated with water, which they were invited to share aloud.
For the final exercise, Brandyn drew out people's senses of humor when he asked participants to write a poem with a title based on a phrase he said he hears every time we get rain in the Black Hills, even when waterways are flooding: "We need the moisture."
All local writers, not just those attending the workshop, will have the opportunity to submit their work to poet Christine Stewart-Nunez, who will choose from words and phrases from these selections and piece them together to create a second choral poem that will be presented at the next Echoing Passages performance. More information coming soon!