Charlotte poet Lisa Zerkle published a poetry chapbook a few years ago titled Heart of the Light. It seems fitting to me that the word “light” is in the title, for Lisa has a knack for shining a spotlight on poets. In 2005 she co-founded KAKALAK: An Anthology of Carolina Poets, an annual collection that she went on to co-edit for a number of years. As the co-editor of KAKALAK, she enjoyed pairing the featured poems with artwork, and this experience caused her to come up with another way to spotlight the works of poets. In 2016, she brought the idea to Charlotte’s newly-created literary arts organization. With Lisa as curator, Charlotte Lit launched 4X4CLT, a poetry/art poster series involving the production and display of posters featuring poems and original artwork. She called it 4X4CLT because she pairs four poems with four works by local artists.
I’ve seen these cool 4X4CLT posters around town over the past few years, but I only recently realized that Lisa is the person behind this project. My curiosity got the best of me, so I contacted Lisa and asked her for more information about the 4X4CLT project. Here is what she sent to me:
When I fell for poetry, I fell hard. But I was acutely aware that this love of mine was not shared by the public at large. When they thought of poetry (if they thought of it at all) it was something rhymed, something written by a dead person, or something they had to learn for a test. That didn’t square with the fresh, timely, heartbreaking, compelling work I came across every time I read a book of contemporary poetry or literary journal. If they could read what I was reading, I figured, they’d love it, too.
4X4CLT sprang out of this desire to share poetry in the community, to get it out of books and into the public arena. It’s a quarterly event that revolves around the release of a poetry + art poster series. Each set of four posters pairs the work of nationally known poets with art by local artists. The weekend of the poster release includes a poetry reading and master class by the featured poet. After the release, the posters are displayed in 100+ places around Charlotte—coffee shops, book stores, libraries, breweries, and the like.
This structure allows for a casual encounter with poetry, perhaps while waiting in line for coffee; or a deeper involvement of attending a reading or class. My idea was to create the kind of programming I myself wanted to experience. But over the past five years, I’ve been grateful for the extent 4X4CLT has been embraced by the public. Charlotte Lit generously gave the idea a home. The Knight Foundation and the ASC provided major funding. Many local businesses agreed to display the posters, and many volunteers have pitched in to help deliver them.
The release events are celebrations of poetry and art, hosted in venues as diverse as Resident Culture Brewing, C3 Lab, CPCC, and Queens University. Often, the local artists attend the release events and talk about their process. We’ve heard about weaving, sculpting, painting, and photography. Over the years we’ve been honored to feature poets Linda Pastan, Sandra Beasley, Lola Haskins, Sarah Lindsay, Jessica Jacobs, Nickole Brown, Tyree Daye, A. Van Jordan, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Matthew Olzmann, Maurice Manning, Beth Ann Fennelly, Jennifer Chang, Cecily Parks, Richard Garcia, Morrie Creech, Terrance Hayes; and two poets laureate, Tracy K. Smith and Joy Harjo. Just last month, the host of the poetry podcast The Slowdown, Ada Limón, was our guest.
4X4CLT has been a labor of love, but the results have exceeded my expectations. As my own appreciation of poetry deepened, it’s led me to embark upon an MFA at Warren Wilson College. There’s one final edition of 4X4CLT this December. Our guest poet will be the newly minted MacArthur “Genius,” Reginald Dwayne Betts. He’ll give a reading at the Midwood International and Cultural Center in Plaza Midwood on Friday, December 3, and teach a master class on Saturday, December 4. Full details are here: https://www.charlottelit.org/4×4/
I wish Lisa all the best as she starts her MFA program at Warren Wilson College, and I am sure that she will go on to write new and inspiring works of poetry. However, as she turns a new page in her career, she should take pride in the success of her 4X4CLT project and her many other contributions to Storied Charlotte.