“A poem is wonderful because you can take a moment of your life and spin it around in a million directions. But with a play you could look at a week in your life, or a year, and . . . connect all the dots.”

That’s playwright Dwight Okita speaking, in a monologue that’s his contribution to In One Art, Out the Other, a collaborative performance piece by six poets. The show, which runs this weekend at Live Bait Theater, is an attempt by the contributing poets to connect their dots–to turn their moments of poetic inspiration into an evening of theater.

In One Art, Out the Other is both a declaration of love for poetry and an exploration of each artist’s attempt to transform his or her poetry into theater. The poets read their poetry, but they also use individual poems to examine the process of creating poetry.

Directed by Shelly Carlsen and adapted by Okita, In One Art, Out the Other makes up the first weekend of “Poetry Under the Lights,” an eight-weekend series produced by another collaboration–this time between Live Bait and City Lit Theater. The aim of the series, say the producers, is to present poetry as theater.

“I was very interested in all the poetry readings going on in the city,” says Sharon Evans, artistic director of Live Bait, “and I thought it might be exciting to match poets with directors and designers to create theater pieces inspired by their poetry.” She brought together a diverse group–actors, architects, musicians, dancers, playwrights, performance artists. But they all had three common bonds: a love of poetry, an interest in moving back and forth between poetry and other art forms, and a curiosity about their motivation for doing so.

Some of the performances in In One Art, Out the Other are about staying true to your art and still paying the rent. “Look, poetry was ruining me–it had taken up residence in my heart and wasn’t paying any rent. . . . What was I to do?” asks Susan Namest. “Well, I went commercial.” Namest worked six years in public relations and as a free-lance writer to support herself, but still dreams of finding a job that’ll let her pursue her poetry.

But most of the artists don’t so much complain about the demands of commerce as confess and explicate their driving need to write poetry no matter what the cost. The understated yet feisty Michelle Fitzsimmons, a former Playboy bunny, recounts her transformation from actress (she didn’t like auditioning) to poet. Onstage, she rocks to a rhythm that suggests the beat poets of the 50s and then transcends them by straying farther off the beat. She arhythmically snaps her fingers to shifting tempos in poems like “Naked Aggression,” in which she proclaims: “Revolution / should be / a quiet thing. / The soul of each / one striving. / You cannot tell / another what / to think unless / you want to use / a gun and shoot / them if they blink.”

Other cast members include James Cornolo, who blends poetry with jazz and world beat music; Belle Kerman, architect-playwright-poet; and Todd Martin, schoolteacher turned poet. All poet/performers explain their defections from pure poetry and inclusions of other art forms in their repertoire.

During the last four weeks of the series, Live Bait will stage the City Lit production of Mark Richard’s play The Hero’s Journey: The Poetry of the Late Raymond Carver. Based on Carver’s last book, A New Path to the Waterfall, the play dramatizes Carver’s transition from short fiction to poetry. Before he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1987, Carver dabbled with poetry; after learning he had only a year to live, he stopped writing fiction and wrote nothing but poetry.

The Hero’s Journey, like Carver’s book, uses narration to link Carver’s poems; the end result provides details of his love affair with another poet, his recovery from his near-fatal alcoholism, and his battle with cancer. It also depicts Carver’s struggle to finish his last work. “The question hanging over Carver the whole year,” says Richard, “was, ‘Are we going to finish this book?'”

In One Art, Out the Other plays tonight and tomorrow at 8 and Sunday at 7; tickets to it and to “Poetry Under the Lights” shows for the next three weekends are $7. The Hero’s Journey runs December 13 through January 6; tickets are $10. A pass to all five shows is $35.

Other offerings include 9/9/90 by the Neo-Futurists, November 23 through 25; Hero Worship by Michael Warr, November 30 through December 2; and Of Bats and Men by Sharon Evans, December 7 through 9. The Live Bait Theater is at 3914 N. Clark; call 871-1212 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.