E.M. Forster (Howard’s End) might have been whispering this imperative across time and space into Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito’s ears when they created their artistic enclave in upper Westport. This Sunday, I had the honor and privilege of participating in the 8th Annual Beechwood Open there. My only regret was having missed the previous seven.
Beechwood Arts and Innovation’s mission is “To transform the arts experience for the 21st Century by fostering a collaborative, creative, and connected community across genres, generations, and backgrounds.” Husband and wife team Chiu (an internationally acclaimed concert pianist) and Esposito (a cutting edge artist and innovator) have cultivated more than the stately, 300-year-old Copper Beach that graces and presides over their renovated 1806 farmhouse. They have lovingly curated a creative community.
At a serendipitous meeting at the Westport Library’s Grand Re-Opening, they graciously invited me to compose and read a few “Open Mind” themed haiku poems at the event. Their resident have-typewriter-will-travel on-demand poet had recently moved, so they asked if I’d also like to set up a haiku-on-demand table at the event. I replied with an emphatic “yes” almost before they had finished posing the question. My decidedly more low-tech operation (colored index cards and purple flair pen) sat in the majestic beech’s shade, just at the edge of the frog pond, where I befriended many of the visitors, human and amphibian alike.
I composed haikus about sushi and energy, marriage and uncertainty; for visitors as young as six and as old as 90. While I certainly hope the recipients enjoyed their poems, what I know for sure is that they overpaid me with the joy I felt all afternoon. Each person gave me a glimpse of what mattered most to him or her– in general, or at that moment – and I tried to reflect it back accurately. The exercise just reinforced my understanding of what Westport hopes to achieve through establishing the Poet Laureate position: it illustrated how much we have in common and how deeply we connect when we share it in words.
I read two haikus before the exotic Tribal Fusion Dance troupe mesmerized us with their fluid movements on the ‘stage’ under the tree, and again once the performances moved inside to the spacious, semicircular conservatory. Colin Huggins (Washington Square Park’s Infamous Pianist) and Chiu himself transported us with virtuoso piano performances, Amy Ostreicher read from her new and moving memoir My Beautiful Detour, and Alicia Cobb turned her brother into a walking work of art with body paint.
Artists’ works – paintings, ceramics, and sculptures – decorated the walls and grounds, and culinary delights tempted us in the spacious dining room. And, as Chiu and Esposito had envisioned, people connected, creating community over food, drink, art, and nature.
I am delighted to have been a small part of this enormous event where I greeted old friends and made new ones, and look forward to future events when Chiu and Esposito open their homes and our minds again.
Here are the four haikus I read at the event:
Still sultry and still
Still time to go inside so
Inside can open
In the unleashing
Volcanoes erupt rainbows
In the letting go
Now I dream of words
A pen in my hand
A little ajar
Had a glimpse of what might be
Closed door opened mind
Photos courtesy of Diane Lowman