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From the Desk: Provost praises inaugural First Thursdays festival

Sept. 7, 2016

Invocation
& what a sweet through line for the apparitions of the future,
in books & celebratory bricks --
For the listeners & strong learners & loud laughers in party
hooks & late rents --
For ages & ages, returning like records on turntables --
This is an uplifting & collegial space we’re in with our vinyl
& our friends & artist’s nooks.
Welcome to the center of our college, big as the letters
on John Belushi’s sweatshirt -- big & blocked in limestone.

With these incantatory words on Thursday, IU Lilly Professor of English Adrian Matejka bewitched the boisterous crowd of onlookers in the arts plaza, pulling them into an invocation for the inaugural First Thursday.

Provost Lauren Robel

Provost Lauren Robel | PHOTO BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

For two and a half hours, the plaza around Showalter Fountain pulsed with jazz and gospel, through the magic of, among others, the African-American Choral Ensemble, Michael Spiro and Descarga Calle Tres and the Liberation Music Collective.

It shone with the generosity of faculty members like Philosophy Department Chair Gary Ebbs, who dispensed “Philosophical Clarity -- 5 Cents” from a Peanuts-style booth whose line snaked around the fountain. It rang with Shakespearian insults hurled at delighted and bewildered audience members by performers from the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. Energy and curious onlookers filled the galleries of the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the Grunwald Gallery and the Lilly Library, as live radio mixed with African dance mixed with poetry slams.

IU students, faculty and staff, community members, children and babies and even a few dogs experienced the challenge and the transcendence of artistic and humanistic expression in all its many and glorious IU manifestations.

The challenge to the members of our Arts and Humanities Council was to make engagement with these forms of expression and inquiry inevitable on our campus. Wow, did they deliver!

Many many thanks to professor Ed Comentale and the members of the council for the imagination and work to mount this event; to Joe Hiland in my office whose work supported it at every turn; and to all the faculty, staff and students (and Chef David Tallent) whose participation made it such a memorable event. I am confident that this now-monthly festival, which both highlights the rich cultural offerings that define our campus, and affirms the spirit of community that makes IU Bloomington a creative beacon for people throughout our region, will become one of the traditions that sustain us.

Adrian Matejka deserves special thanks for his Invocation. A truly exceptional member of our creative community, he is also a great IU success story. He first came to IU Bloomington as an undergraduate, then returned several years ago as a faculty member in our renowned creative writing program, where he is currently poet-in-residence. His most recent collection, “The Big Smoke,” was named as a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Below you’ll find the full invocation with which Adrian opened last week’s festival. I hope it will inspire you to join us for the next First Thursday, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6. We welcome, as Adrian writes, “Anyone who wants to celebrate, / anyone who wants to paint a picture, / anyone who wants to make things with us.”

Welcome back to this wonderful place!

Hear more from IU's poet-in-residence Adrian Matejka on this week's Hoosier Five segment on the Through the Gates podcast.

Invocation
by IU Lilly Professor of English and poet-in-residence Adrian Matejka

& what a sweet through line for the apparitions of the future,
in books & celebratory bricks --

For the listeners & strong learners & loud laughers in party
hooks & late rents --

For ages & ages, returning like records on turntables --

This is an uplifting & collegial space we’re in with our vinyl
& our friends & artist’s nooks.

Welcome to the center of our college, big as the letters
on John Belushi’s sweatshirt -- big & blocked in limestone.

We celebrate it now -- our college, Belushi, those fond moments
near the gilded tongue of knowledge the first time I walked into
the Lilly Library back in 1992.

I knew I was into something new & what I didn’t know
opened up like the clouds over a brand new planet.

Ages & ages ago, into that sheen of great books & I couldn’t
understand it.

For the parts of the learning under glass in there & Sylvia
Plath’s hair, too, passed along with notes & lists.

We celebrate by listing all of this while the fishes spit
water in wonderful arcs & tails splash in a Venus bath.

This Showalter fountain --
just waiting to get rushed when we finally hang
Banner Number 6.

We celebrate it not far from barn-mounted basketball hoops,
my friends & their fond b-ball tricks, jazz & arithmetic
in doubled-up words & sentences.

Death & life in the tongue.
Art & song in the tongue.

& so we present our songs, our poems, brilliant crossovers,
our throat-heavy bass & our horns: as brassy & bright
as big ears put in reverse.

These tails in front of us splashing forward first.

& -- this --

& -- this --

& -- this --

Mos def, & this invocation of lily paintings & thunderous clefts
of light through museums windows & fists in uppercut swings --

O learners, O dreamers,
we could hang glide off your blue
& adventurous coats here.

O paintings found inside the outside of our heads -- right here
in the center is the best of us.

Romare Bearden, on paper in there & a blessed backdrop
& nothing compares to it
this side of the Mississippi’s muddy bottom.

The neat halos of power fists are here. A whole new
protest to the center’s knee-heavy intentions.

& behind me: stage directions & cosmic implications

& we stand here, at the edge of the steps always looking forward
without oxidizing the ancients.

Death & life in our tongue.
Art & song in our tongue.

It’s here, in our open-mouthed surprise & loud jazz promise.

You see, David Baker taught me that the open heart
of a bass lends her languages, her songs, & the grace

of this place --

-- of our place --

-- of this place --

So we invite the griots, the muses & their muses. Who else
to make the thing complete? We can invite anyone we want:
Roland Kirk & his many horns,
Sun Ra & his many planets,
& Lady her many incomparable
notes of thanking.
Beck, even & his Odelaying.
The poets & story talkers, the dancers & their rhythmic intentions --
O, rhythm & more rhythm beyond dance halls & auditoriums.
We call on Biggie Smalls to shake all of them. It’s all good,
baby, baby! Here in the tree spaces of seeing.

Anyone who wants to celebrate,
anyone who wants to paint a picture,
anyone who wants to make things with us.
This is what IU means to us.
This great community of creation & with us,
under a canopy of sun-setting light & hopeful libations:
we welcome each & every other
to the First Thursdays inauguration.

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