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Nancy DeJoy Turns Poetry Into Public Art | Lansing ArtPath Profiles

Nancy DeJoy faces away from the camera, looking towards a man handling a machine engraving her poem into the concrete
Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center
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Nancy DeJoy watches the installation of her ArtPath Piece, a poem etched into the sidewalk of the Lansing River Trail

This month, we’ve seen the launch of the annual ArtPath exhibition from the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center along the River Trail.

One piece is an unexpected take on what public art can be.

A machine partially covered by shadow etches DeJoy's poem in the sidewalk
Credit Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center
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DeJoy used a computer-programmed machine to etch her poem into the sidewalk.

Nancy DeJoy calls herself an installation poet.

"I have shows in galleries and museums, and I do public art like we're doing today on the sidewalk," she said. "I publish very little on traditional paper." 

DeJoy and her team have etched a poem she wrote, “Notes on Coming Off the Endangered Species List,” into the concrete of the sidewalk on a part of the trail just south of the I-496 bridge.

When you look at the piece, you’ll also see a line drawing of a bird, the Kirtland’s Warbler.

When President Biden signed in his first executive orders, it struck me that we were coming, so many of us, were coming off the endangered species list.

It’s what inspired DeJoy to write the poem after it came off the endangered species list in 2019, but she said the piece is also about our current political climate.

"On January 20, when President Biden signed in his first executive orders, it struck me that we were coming, so many of us, were coming off the endangered species list the way that so many animal and plant species were."

Dejoy said some people might not think of poetry as a visual art.

"When they think about public art, they think about paintings and sculptures and murals," she said.

But the way a poem looks can be as important as how it sounds.

"Poets have always worried about what the lines look like on the page, right? So, you don't see many straight, you know, top-to-bottom with no indentations or the poem in the shape of something."

Poets have always worried about what the lines look like on the page.

When DeJoy reads her poem, she gives emphasis to changes she saw in America when President Joe Biden came into office. In her words, "delisting discrimination, defunding the border wall, reinstating marriage equity, rescuing dreamers from the brink, rolling immigration back to inclusion."

That emphasis is reflected in the engraving of the poem. Each item of the list has been indented to sit in the center of the piece, drawing focus.

DeJoy said she’s grateful to be able to share her medium of art.

"I have been working to get poetry included in public art movements for a long time," she said.

"This was kind of a breakthrough for doing that."

You can find DeJoy’s installation, “Notes on Coming Off the Endangered Species List” by a park bench on the trail just south of the I-496 Bridge.

"Notes on Coming Off The Endangered Species List," January 20, 2021, Nancy DeJoy, It is true there is much to despair still/ I remember a time when we would chance love at the drop of a dawn/ almost daily dare to hope for paths open to equity...."
Credit Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center
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DeJoy's piece features her poem and a line drawing of the Michigan or Kirtland's Warbler.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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