Contributed by Sharon Butler / In “Poem Unlimited” a group show at The Alexey Von Schlippe Gallery at the University of Connecticut Avery Point, curator Kenneth Heyne has taken his inspiration from Harold Bloom’s 2003 book Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. A revered Shakespeare scholar, literary critic, and professor at Yale, Bloom divides his slim volume into short chapters, each dedicated to different characters and aspects of the play. In tone and style, it is almost gossipy. Reading it made me feel as though I was joining Bloom in catching up on old friends with whom we’d lost touch. Though some have criticized the book as a disjointed compilation of fragmented ideas and unfinished thoughts, for me – admittedly no Shakespeare expert – its charm lies in its casualness.
Heyne, who is himself a graduate student in the MFA program at UConn, was tasked with curating a show of work by first- and second-year students. (Full disclosure: I teach a seminar for first-year students in the same program.) Fascinated by Bloom’s fan-boy approach to Hamlet, and already an admirer of Shakespeare, Heyne came to appreciate the play all the more as he immersed himself in the book. In the character of Hamlet as seen through Bloom’s eyes, Heyne saw a reflection of himself and his peers as MFA students, especially insofar as matriculating artists are urged to be inwardly contemplative while affecting a certain extroversion.
This is a tricky balance that is not easy to strike. As Hamlet himself notes, “human flesh is sullied with self-consciousness, with theatricality.” Bloom observes that what separates Hamlet from Shakespeare’s other major characters is Hamlet’s self-awareness. “Hamlet is as critical as he is creative, as rational as he is intuitive,” writes Bloom. “He does not listen to the voice of the god, but rather to his own voice, which both mediates and expands his own consciousness of self.”
In the compelling work that Heyne has selected from the UConn studios for the exhibition, the counterbalancing forces of mediation and expansiveness that Bloom identifies are palpable. For Hamlet himself, both emerge in the famous play-within-a-play, through which he – as writer, director, and actor – attempts to flush out his father’s murderer. Like Hamlet in that bit of meta-theater, the artist-students crystallize moments in their lives in which the process of privately contemplating the self and that of publicly exposing it converge. Heyne’s point may be that this – representing your life as you live it – is what art is all about.
“Poem Unlimited,” curated by Kenneth Heyne, featuring Mahsa Attaran, Logan Bishop, Amira Brown, Jennifer Davies, Monica Hamilton, Kenneth Heyne, Hanieh Kashani, Anna Schwartz, Rossie Stearns, and Noah Thompson. The Alexey Von Schlippe Gallery, Branford House, University of Connecticut at Avery Point, 1084 Shennecossett Road, Groton, CT. Through March 5, 2023.