In August, Nigerian-American poet, sculptor, and avant-garde chef Precious Okoyomon led students in PLHRT 2010: The Art of Horticulture in an immersive poetry workshop at Cornell Botanic Gardens. Okoyomon’s three-day visit to Ithaca was sponsored by the Johnson Art Museum and Global Cornell as part of the campus-wide Migrations Global Grand Challenge, and with support from the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative.
Okoyomon brought to the workshop their artistic focus on the entangled fate of humans, plants, and animal species as they move from place to place across the planet. Okoyomon’s quiet warmth and passion for the powerful, complex relationships we have with plants was evident as they read aloud favorite poems from The Arab Apocalypse by Etel Adnan and guided students through the creation of their own poems.
The 27 students sprawled across a grassy rectangle at the Botanic Gardens, staring at the sky. After taking a bite of chocolate, Okoyomon began “…close your eyes, and make a low hum from deep inside you. Don’t worry, everyone is humming so no one can hear you. As soon as you feel safe, write nine words as fast as you can…”
The Art of Horticulture, taught by Cornell Botanic Gardens Director of Horticulture Emily Detrick, is composed of students from diverse disciplines and with varying levels of experience in horticulture and art. The experiential course offers a deep exploration into self, the classroom, community, and the world by engaging with plants in a creative context. They discover the ways in which plants can be used both as a medium and as a subject of art.
Artistic projects completed throughout the course include creating plant-based dyes, weaving with cattail and willow, soil painting, living moss sculpture, cyanotypes, papermaking, and gourd carving.
Here are two of the poems created in the workshop with Okoyomon. After the students completed their poems, Okoyomon brought them back from their contemplation with: “You’ve just emerged from the underground, rumbling, and grumbling, and there is something waiting for you to discover it. Relax with it, see what you’ve made.”
Ode to the Botanical Gardens
By Carl Chen
Life moves fast
you say it and you think you understand
but do you really?
until you look back and realize the friends you made
are now just fragments of your memory
and you don’t know what you miss until it’s gone
and you don’t know when you’ll ever be back
eating raspberry chocolate, watching Coraline in bed
head thumping, concert-going, earning tattoos under midwestern skies
restless lying, breathing under pine needles, writing bareback on tall grass
Bowl and shrub
Round pine cloud
Light – then less, then more
Humor rather than Irritation rather than Distraction
Observation is lost without Analysis
Go around, circle back to the pine cloud, to the empty bowl, to the leafy shrub
Let the quiet in
Curiosity — then less, then more
The tips of a hemlock tree scrape light – then less, then more