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Batten Professor of English Vivian Teter’s poem, inspired by a tree on the Wesleyan campus, to be part of permanent public art installation in DC Metro station
By Leona Baker | March 11, 2011
There is a lone gingko tree at the entrance to the Godwin parking lot on the campus of Virginia Wesleyan College. Its distinctive fan-shaped leaves turn brilliant gold in the fall, a breathtaking transformation that caught the attention of Vivian Teter, Batten Professor of English at Virginia Wesleyan and an award-winning poet.
Teter’s “decade-long love affair” with the trees on Wesleyan’s grounds, as well as those at Norfolk Botanical Garden, inspired a series of poems. But it was an homage to the lone ginkgo that Teter chose to enter in a contest sponsored by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the Poetry Society of Virginia. In late February, she was informed that her poem had been chosen to be immortalized in a public art installation at the still-under-construction Tysons Central 7 Metro Station outside of Washington, DC.
The poem, which Teter reworked and condensed into a “starker, stronger” six-line form in order to fit the contest constraints, will be incorporated into a sculpture by visual artist David Dahlquist along with the work of seven other established Virginia poets as part of the ongoing Metrorail Public Art Project.
The prestigious selection panel for the contest included past and present Virginia Poet Laureates as well as Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner, Claudia Emerson. It is a bittersweet honor for Teter.
By Vivian Teter
Quick wind lifting fan after
fan: stripped, going: ginkgo
now gone utterly
utterly gold! When the hour
comes, let us be so grandly
“The poem is, of course, about much more than a gingko tree,” Teter explains. “It's partly about how we live this life and how we leave this life.”
Teter has served as legal guardian for her younger sister throughout her sister’s lengthy battle with brain cancer and is currently offering her support during her hospice care.
“Ironically and fortunately,” Teter says, “I find my own earlier writing prompting me to have courage.”
The theme of transition is presented simply and powerfully in the poem, titled “Utterly.” The work will become a permanent fixture and enrich the lives thousands of Metro passengers who will inevitably encounter it on a daily basis once the new station opens in 2012.
“I'm very happy to have my work presented this way,” Teter says. “It's every artist's dream to have others see your work. To have the work in stone in a much travelled public place like the D.C. corridor is like getting a sneak preview of heaven.”
Vivian Teter began teaching at the Virginia Wesleyan College in 1987. In 2007, she received two Pushcart Prize Nominations, one from The Spoon River Poetry Review, and the other from Toadlily Press. Another one of her poems, "Hunger of No Tongue," about the fig tree in VWC's arboretum, was published in Green Mountains Review in 2004. Teter received her B.A. in English from Hollins College and completed her M.F.A. in poetry at the University of Arizona in 1982.