Making Waves: Artists and writers tell stories, explore different sides of water themes through their creativity

Among the promotional placards lining the interior of Rapid buses that cater to the Grand Valley community were pieces with artistic water scenes and prominent titles such as "Fish are Jumping" and "Summers with Martha."

Contained within each was an excerpt from a poem about water, part of a project, "Poetry on the Grand," to help promote the beginning stages of the Making Waves initiative. The project was funded by Making Waves, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence.

Placed in a sea of advertising materials conveying straightforward information, the pieces designed by Vinicius Lima, associate professor of graphic design, instantly invited reflection and contemplation. 

An award-winning placard
An award-winning placard
The award-winning pieces were created to coincide with the early stages of Making Waves.
Courtesy photos
An award-winning placard

That effect is exactly what the creative works tied to the Making Waves initiative are meant to evoke, according to GVSU artists and writers. The creations help convey the imperatives of Making Waves by prompting deeper thought or feelings about issues surrounding water, thereby complementing the scientific or data-driven aspects of the initiative.

And the work is also a testament to Grand Valley's liberal education foundation, they noted.

Lima's designs were recently recognized with an American Inhouse Design Award by Graphic Design USA. He said he used a similar color palette, shared fonts and other elements to build a cohesive set using excerpts of poems curated by Patricia Clark, recently retired professor of writing. He also needed to ensure the pieces worked with variables such as lighting and different placements within the bus. 

And yes, he rode the bus a few times to see how they looked.

Vinicius Lima and Patricia Clark
Vinicius Lima designed the pieces for buses, while Patricia Clark curated the poems that were excerpted.
Image Credit: Courtesy photo and Kendra Stanley-Mills

"One of the things I was considering in contributing to the initiative is, 'How do we make sure we can promote the art and design and engage in this type of conversation?'" Lima said. "How can we use our skills and knowledge to communicate ideas coming from writers and other professionals? How do we represent Grand Valley and university values?"

While water as a visual element is inspiring to him as an artist, Lima noted creative work also helps advance the thinking for issues such as water pollution.

Clark, the one-time Grand Rapids poet laureate and former GVSU poet-in-residence, said it is critical for poets to address the tough parts of any issue, including water, which takes on special significance because it surrounds us and is so basic to our everyday living.

While a gifted poet's words can remind us of water's beauty, Clark said those words are equally important to address threats to this life force. That tension is evident in her poem "Wrack Line," which is posted on the Making Waves initiative's website in both written form and in a video done in collaboration with Kirstin Strom, professor of art history, with Clark reading her own work.

"We’re drawn in by some trouble and some threat and some menace and it makes us value the beauty all the more when that beauty gets threatened," Clark said.

Clark said she wants to have an emotional element in her work along with leaving a sense of wondering in a reader, rather providing a message or answering a question. "I want to throw it back to all of us and ask, 'What should we do?'"

Indeed, poetry has a unique ability to reflect the human condition, said Amorak Huey, associate professor of writing and a prolific poet. An excerpt from one of his poems also appeared on the bus pieces.

"The job of poetry is to bear witness to he world and give language to the world," Huey said.

The essence of poetry, with its precise language used in fresh ways to explore life, makes it appealing, never more so than when times or topics are complex, he said.

"Poetry isn’t an argument, it’s more exploring what it’s like to be human, what it’s like to be alive," Huey said. "There’s a reason why society and humanity turn to poetry in difficult times. It's part of the way we record our histories. When we're struggling poetry gets read more, for that sense of empathy."

He said water is often part of his poetry, which he attributes to his personal history of growing up near a river but also his life as a Michigander, since "water is core to who we are in Michigan."

Amorak Huey
Amorak Huey
Image Credit: University Communications

The full poem by Amorak Huey that was excerpted for the bus project


The family moved to town after all the bridges had been replaced, skeletons of the old ways looming beside the new. The rivers dried up. The family tried to understand where they had arrived, what their neighbors did for wonder. So much rain in the spring. So much death in the summer. Hard to see both at the same time. They hired a dowser. Where his stick bobbed they dug a well, then dug another. It was not the stories they needed to understand, it was the space between. Learning to use that space is how we keep our species alive. At the edge of the dry riverbed, a great blue heron stood each morning. Waited, for fish that had died a full season before. The sun sustains what it cannot destroy.