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The Betty Oliver Poetry Project on United States Artists

Poet and sculptor Betty Oliver

Buddha in a birdcage, Buddha on a plate,
Buddha stuffed with rags in a reliquary state,
Buddha under glass in a red metallic shroud,
Buddha wrapped in paper, twelve times on twelve shelves,
Buddha in the sketchbook, Buddha in the words,
Buddha as the first name of the ex-husband of a hairdresser from Burnsville named Priscilla,
Buddha as a friend of friends who study on his ways,
Buddha as my uncle, noodling in my dream
on an ever-dwindling chopstick held between his knees,
Buddha on 109th street, leaning out the window on a red pillow in a red brassiere,
Buddha as a child’s shoe, washed up on the beach,
Buddha as the chicken I ate last night,
Buddha as a line drawn, followed, and erased,
Buddha as the case I make for nothing, a space,
Buddha sitting shiva, Buddha kicking ass,
Buddha watching TV, Buddha cutting grass.

Buddha in a Birdcage, by Betty Oliver

Betty Oliver at Haystack Mountain School of Craft

The goal of this project is to publish the poetry of Betty Oliver, a New York artist and poet who passed away in October, 2000, after an extended battle with breast cancer.  When Betty died, she left all of her creative work in the care of Burnsville, NC glass artists and Penland instructors Billy and Katherine Bernstein. An accomplished mixed-media sculptor, Betty began to write and perform poetry around 1990, and created a powerful body of written work. Though she performed her poetry quite actively at New York venues such as Dixon Place and the Knitting Factory, her work has never appeared in printed form.

As a poet, Betty was an engaging and compelling performer, often beginning readings by fighting her way out of a giant paper bag. As a teacher, she was very effective and sought after, and led many classes and workshops, primarily here at Penland and at Haystack Mountain School of Craft on the Maine coast. The book will be edited by Haystack director and poet Stuart Kestenbaum, designed by Robin Dreyer and Leslie Noell of Penland’s communications office, and marketed jointly by the two schools. Any profits from the sales of Betty’s book will be given to the scholarship funds of Haystack and Penland.

As with all USA Projects, the Betty Oliver Poetry Project must reach its monetary goal by a self-chosen deadline (June 6) in order to receive any funding. If you’d like to read the project proposal, watch the video, and consider supporting the project, you can click here to visit the project page at United States Artists.

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