CHAMBERSBURG – This Sunday, March 8, poet and MFA candidate Sarah Taylor-Foltz will present her thesis project “Darning Arachne’s Stockings” at the Council for the Arts (103 N. Main St).
The event will run from 2:30 – 4:00 p.m., and it will include a reading by Taylor-Foltz, a poetry workshop and a pop-up art exhibit.
The presentation is both a celebration of International Women’s Day and a culmination of Taylor-Foltz’s two-year journey through Wilson College’s MFA program, which requires candidates to publicly present their theses in order to graduate.
Taylor-Foltz is on her way to becoming the first writer to complete Wilson’s MFA program, which has already produced a number of visual artists and choreographers.
Following the reading, Taylor-Foltz will guide attendees as they compose their own poems dedicated to a woman who has made an impact in their lives. Paper and writing utensils will be provided, but attendees are welcome to bring their own notebooks or journals if they are more comfortable.
The pop-up art exhibit will consist of five pieces provided by five artists, three of which were made specifically for this event.
The artists include Chambersburgers Barbara Randall and Andrea Finch along with Nicole Jackson from New York and two anonymous contributors.
Tarryne West, creative coordinator with the Council for the Arts, felt that it was important to include a visual element to the event that would complement Taylor-Foltz’s poetry and inspire participants during the workshop.
She added, “Since it’s Women’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to try to feature some exclusively female artists.”
This will be West’s first event as creative coordinator, and it is also an excellent opportunity to see the Council’s new gallery space, which opened its doors to the public during IceFest (January 30 – February 2). An official grand opening gala event is scheduled for May 1.
Refreshments for the event will be provided by Brussel’s Cafe.
Being an academic thesis, the poems in “Darning Arachne’s Stockings” originated as an investigation into a practice-led research question:
“How do cultural mythologies inform our lived experiences, and how can we work to change cultural mythologies to reflect more diverse lived experiences?”
Taylor-Foltz’s answer – “Darning Arachne’s Stockings” – is a deeply personal work of poetry.
Which makes it all the more surprising to hear that it was intended to be a work of prose about mythology.
“I actually tried really hard not to be a poet,” she says. “I wanted to work on a novel for my thesis project, but that’s not what ended up happening. All of this poetry just started showing up. I had a choice: either you can repress it or you can deal with it. So I dealt with it.”
She continues: “The book that I wanted to write had more mythology in it than the book I wrote. The book that I wrote is almost an autobiography, but not entirely. It’s very confessional…which is not what I wanted to do.”
Despite not wanting to be a character in her own work, she discovered that the more vulnerable she made herself, the more it resonated with people.
Even with the personal vulnerability turned up to the max, the mythology is still very much present in the mix.
“Darning Arachne’s Stockings” is steeped in mythology, both ancient and modern, and its diverse cast includes Scylla (“The Odyssey”), Dorothy (“The Wizard of Oz”), Morticia Addams (“The Addams Family”) and Jesus Christ.
Of particular interest to Taylor-Foltz is a character named Lilith, and the final section of the book is dedicated to her.
“Lilith” is also the name of her cat and the title of a piece of short fiction that she recently published.
Midrashic tradition holds that Lilith was created before the Biblical Eve, but, as Taylor-Foltz tells it, “she wouldn’t do anything that anyone told her, so they kicked her out and made her go live at the edge of a river.”
From there, Lilith is known as a sea monster that would eat children.
“I’m a big believer in the retelling,” said Taylor-Foltz. “One of the things I wanted to do was play with those archetypes and see how their boundaries could be pushed so that maybe the way that we understand ourselves as individuals and as a society can be changed.”
Taylor-Foltz uses Scylla, a minor character in “The Odyssey,” as an example. Scylla bathes in water that has been poisoned by a witch, and then she is transformed into a sea monster with 12 tentacles and six arms. She lives out her days in rocky crags devouring ships.
One of the traditional interpretations is that as we grow older, we become monsters.
But Taylor-Foltz turns the story on its head.
“The way that I interpreted it poetically was, ‘No, she’s coming into her power.’”
And once you see it that way, it’s hard to argue that extra arms and the ability to send crews to their watery graves aren’t upgrades.
With the successful completion of Sunday’s reading, Taylor-Foltz will be in the home stretch of receiving her MFA.
It will be her second masters-level degree as she already holds a Masters of Humanities with a concentration in critical and cultural theory from Wilson College. This is in addition to her undergraduate degrees in English and Art from Shippensburg University.
“I’m a professional nerd,” she says laughing and giving full permission to quote her on that.
Taylor-Foltz was initially drawn to Wilson College’s MFA program because of its interdisciplinary nature.
For two years, she has been a writer studying alongside – and learning from – visual artists and dancers in a program that encourages students to develop their own aesthetics.
“The classes are actually really geared towards self-exploration,” she says. “I feel like most people I know who have earned an MFA talk about the intensity and the difficulty – which it is that – but I also feel like I’m walking out a saner, happier person than when I showed up.”
Adding: “So much of it has to do with digging deep within yourself and figuring out what you want to do with that. What is it that you want to say and how do you want to say it? And how can you tell stories in the very best possible way that you can? I think that’s revolutionary as far as the MFA is concerned.”
Taylor-Foltz will continue working on “Darning Arachne’s Stockings” through mid-April. Much of that time will be spent developing what she calls “connective tissue” that will connect each poem to the next.
As she’s flipping through her handwritten preliminary drafts of some of the poems (by the time she’s typing them up, they’re in at least their third iterations), she stops on one.
“Some of these didn’t even make it into the project because maybe they wanted to go somewhere else,” she says. “They, maybe, wanted to go to a future project.”
She doesn’t think that anything will be cut from “Darning” between now and then, but every so often a new poem emerges, and she must decide whether or not to include it.
Like one that she wrote a few days ago about house plants:
Will it become part of “Darning” or does it want to go somewhere else?
[Main image caption: Poet and MFA candidate Sarah Taylor-Foltz poses on March 2 with a notebook containing an early draft of one of her poems. On March 8, she will hold a reading and a guided poetry work shop at Chambersburg’s Council for the Arts.]
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