Many people believe poetry to be refined, pretentious or outdated form of art. Most forget or simply do not realize that poetry encompasses a broader and more applicable group of works that we encounter and appreciate in our daily lives. From song lyrics to slam poetry, words have a power that we mere mortals love to use to listen, speak, and express ourselves.
This power inspired MSU Physics Professor Nico Yunes to collaborate with other professors and artists in the production of a performance that showcases the talents of Chase Templet, Kimberly Pierson, Tara Smithee, Spencer Mirabal and Kelly Mullins. All five of the poets are MSU students at various points in their academic careers and have been working on their upcoming show for months. These spoken word sets will be intertwined with original dance pieces performed by the Headwaters Dance Company from Missoula.
Work began months ago, with Dr. Yunes reaching out to Stephanie Campbell, who has been an acting coach at Montana State for over 31 years, and Zack Bean, the visiting assistant professor of creative writing. Students were asked to use images and concepts found in the field of astrophysics as metaphorical tools to explore issues found in the human condition. The students had the freedom to choose a topic that they were passionate about, with the only constraint that their performance would involve physics through the medium of spoken word.
“It takes a lot of courage performing their own poems,” Yunes expressed. “They are really opening up to the audience. I think it is going to be exciting and original.”
Yunes, who orchestrated Celebrating Einstein in 2013, is a firm believer in cross-disciplinary study and collaboration. “The combination has a much larger value than either of the areas would alone. Poetry reveals things about physics that you might not have thought about otherwise, and physics shows us things about poetry that we never would have thought of before.”
The presentation, titled Rhythms of the Universe, will have two showings: Nov. 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. in the Emerson Cultural Center Theatre located on the corner of Grand Avenue and Olive Street. The event is free and open to anyone, and pens will be given away. Each poem is approximately three to five minutes long, and meticulously polished by each performer working with Adam Love, a writer from Salt Lake City who assisted the students as the Spoken Word Coach.
“I hope the show offers students a new way of thinking about themselves and their place in the Universe,” said Professor Bean, who worked closely with Yunes to develop the show. “Science and poetry are often perceived as being at odds with each other, but they’re both concerned with large questions: what do we know? What are we doing here? What do we perceive, and what does it mean?” He added that working across disciplines had many benefits, saying it “offers us the ability to study from multiple perspectives, to honor different ways of knowing, and to explore the intersections of disciplinary knowledge.”
With 11 poems and six dances, Rhythms of the Universe is a culmination of student work over the last year. “The show is not about black holes, atoms or neutron stars. It is about the real experiences and relevant issues each of the performers feels worthy of exploration. Spoken word is a great way to traverse many of these topics.” Yunes said, “None of the students knew much about physics, but now, after the culmination of 100s of hours from many different people, they are able to show their work to the audience. I would like to thank everyone that made this idea a reality.”