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MASKS INSPIRE POEMS IN MSU MUSEUM-POETRY CENTER PARTNERSHIP

This past semester, the MSU Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry and the MSU Museum hosted West Virginia poet laureate Irene McKinney for a week-long residency that included public readings, class visits and discussion, and a writing workshop. Even though the program is over, the MSU Museum collected the poems and they are now part of a yearlong special exhibit, "MASK: Secrets and Revelations."

Masks are both works of art and powerful statements about cultures and human behaviors; and besides showing the visually stunning masks themselves, the exhibit is a starting point for a core of related activities surrounding masks through photography, performance, digital media, artwork, writings, public presentations and more. McKinney's Poetry Residency was the first event in a series of companion programs and exhibits, many of which are experimental and are new directions for the MSU Museum. Held in the "MASK" gallery, the poetry workshop resulted in new writing by students, faculty, staff and community residents. Poets shared their work aloud in a program of public readings, and they are now installed in an interactive kiosk in the gallery.

"The Museum's partnership with RCAH was a powerful learning experience," explains Julie Avery, MSU Museum educator and curator of rural life and culture. "The exhibit provided the perfect intersection for exploring, reflecting and creating poetry and we're delighted that we have these poems that add another dimension to enhance the exhibit."

The "MASK" exhibition at Michigan State University Museum includes over 240 masks from the museum's global collections on public display for the first time, and the exhibit runs through Jan. 22, 2012. Read the poems online at http://museum.msu.edu/Exhibitions/Current/mask.html (see the "poetry" tab). A video profile of poet Irene McKinney is also available.

"The MSU Museum mask workshop was one of this semester's highlights. Being in that wonderful space, with those intriguing masks, and the magic of poet Irene McKinney, was transformative," says Anita Skeen, RCAH professor.

Since the fall of 2007, the RCAH Center for Poetry has encouraged the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry and a growing awareness of the place and power of poetry in our everyday lives. The center brings prominent poets to campus to share their work through readings, workshops, informal gatherings, and one-on-one tutorials. Poets are also working in the community with public school students, adult learners, and organizations.

Primary funding for "MASK: Secrets and Revelations" is from the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, the Asian Studies Center and the African Studies Center. About Irene McKinney: West Virginia poet laureate Irene McKinney is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and two West Virginia Commission on the Arts Fellowships in Poetry. She is the author of six books of poetry. She is editor of the anthology Backcounty: Contemporary Writing in West Virginia, and has held fellowships at MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Blue Mountain Center. She was appointed poet laureate of West Virginia in 1994. McKinney is professor emerita at West Virginia Wesleyan College and director of the new West Virginia Wesleyan Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines and featured on Garrison Keillor's Public Radio show The Writer's Almanac and on Verse Daily.