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“Letters, Unfettered”

April 8, 2013

Vacations can be works of art, whether by intent or serendipity doesn’t matter.

I flew into Greenville and drove to Asheville and Greensboro, and the gray Carolina landscape was indeed starting to green up, but first came blooms of purple, lilac, white, and yellow.

In the airport, I sat beside an orange-freckled, red-haired man eating carrots. Had I been new to Earth and also seen a pale blond man eating yogurt or a black woman eating chocolate, I might have jumped to conclusions.

Immediately upon sitting down in a friend’s living room, blue jays and cardinals appeared at the window. There were goldfinches and daffodils. Colors were rich under cloudy skies. The Smoky Mountains lived up to their name and even provided hail and snow to echo the cherry blossoms.

Art is more than the juxtaposition of color, of course, and there is nothing artful in these experiences other than, perhaps, my own appreciation. We can argue that another time. More important is the fleetness of time and the fact that the May 1st deadline fast approaches for “Letters, Unfettered,” this year’s library challenge show.

Back when water meter pits were still freezing, we discussed this, but Spring seemed so far away. Now is the time to gather your thoughts. You can find the details from our home page, or go directly to

Here’s the executive summary: For visual artists, the challenge is to create a piece inspired by letters, phrases or the entire body of one or more non-English/Latin alphabets. Writers and poets must use “alphabet” as their theme. See for some inspiration.

The theme may feel more constrained than it really is. Our tendency is to consider “letters” in the context of “meaning,” and if you look at the enormous range of writing systems, you might feel overwhelmed. For example, the idea of expressing something in the Glagolitic alphabet seems futile.

However, this is not the point of the challenge. These alphabets and writing systems are exquisitely beautiful forms. You don’t have to produce an expository paragraph in Bengali or write a poem in Klingon or one of Tolkien’s invented scripts. Of course, you may.

I’ve long admired among my artistic friends the ability to draw lines with an elegance that puts my own best handwriting to shame. They have a calligraphic freedom with every instrument that touches the page (or canvas, or dirt, etc.), while I scratch out a jittery script no doubt unsuitable to the brilliant thoughts expressed. Oh, well.

But one of the great attractions of script, I think, is exactly the fact that meaning can be embodied in such beautiful forms, and I think we are naturally seduced into believing the more elegant the line, the more elegant the thought.

We know this isn’t true, but if only it were so. I have a poem to submit … maybe I should hire a calligrapher? Will Times New Roman do it justice? Then again, poetry is much more than the look of the poem on the page.

Writing is easy, as Red Smith is said to have said; you just sit down and open a vein. No matter the experience of producing art, the appreciation of it is different. And our annual challenge show has been much appreciated.

Previous challenges have included forms of the book; altered books; collaborations between artists and writers, artists and poets, and artists and haiku writers. We encourage collaboration with “Letters, Unfettered,” too, but it is not required.

Remember: May 1st submission deadline, with a final delivery date of May 11th. Contact Sally Mather for more info: 539-9636 or


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