Months before Tom Gardner’s new book hits the shelves, “Poverty Creek Journal” will sprint to life in a theatre reading and accompanying movement piece as part of the Summer Arts Festival in Theatre 101. 

Patty Raun, the director of Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts, will give voice to these lyric essays.

The public is invited to the spoken word performance, art installation, and accompanying movement piece as part of Virginia Tech’s Summer Arts Festival at Theatre 101 from July 10 to 20. Tickets are free but reservations are required.

An Alumni Distinguished Professor of English, Gardner is a lifelong runner and a marathoner. His training routes skirt the trails at Pandapas Pond, a national forest area just 10 minutes from campus.  

With an attentive eye, Gardner details the wooded paths along Poverty Creek while mixing in the physical pangs and surges that runners share. He also invokes multiple voices – of poets and ghosts – intertwining his words with those of literary giants such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. He reflects on past and pond, Frost and dust, loss and leaves, brothers and cadets – all in a year of journal entries from 2012.

Raun admits “I never thought of myself as the voice of a male or the voice of a runner but the prose is not limiting as it also explores creative worth and human relationships.” According to Raun, who audited one of Gardner’s “incredible classes,” his writing relays “the physical manifestations of the spirit.”

Raun also connected Gardner with Master of Fine Arts degree candidate Vince DeGeorge of Pittsburgh, the director of the piece. 

DeGeorge was already developing a contemplative art installation in Theatre 101 when Raun noted the synergy between the works. "Life in the Trees" will serve as the staging background for both the reading and a movement piece entitled "Down to Breath," which features Sanam Hashemi of Herndon, Virginia, a junior majoring in theatre arts and international studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; Carter Gaylord of Blacksburg, Virginia, a senior majoring in theatre arts and philosophy; Trey Tetreault, of Chester, Virginia, who graduated in May with a degree in theatre arts; and Nathan Jackson of Woodbridge, Virginia, also a 2014 theatre arts graduate who earned a dual degree in human nutrition, foods, and exercise. These three works serve as DeGeorge's final project and report. 

DeGeorge’s graduate committee member became a collaborator as he and Raun worked through the theatre reading. 

“As artists we seem to process things quite differently in rehearsal,” says DeGeorge, “which is exciting. I learn from her, she learns from me, I challenge her and she challenges me. Any healthy and productive actor/director relationship is one of give and take on both sides.”

He takes particular pleasure at the moment “when we discover physical images that embody Tom’s wonderful words and illuminate and communicate them in ways that only live theatre can do. It is in those moments that I am most joyful and thankful to be a director of theatre.”

DeGeorge, with a Master of Fine Arts degree in hand, will serve for his second year as visiting professor and Joseph Weinberger Chair of Acting for the Lyric Stage at Cincinnati-Conservatory of Music this fall.

On the Virginia Tech faculty since 1982, Gardner has written a series of books on contemporary American poets that explore the way writers think. His two plays, “Ear, and I, and Silence,” and “Eurydice,” both collaborations with Raun, examine poetic thinking from another angle.

"I've learned so much from Patty, over the years," Gardner remarks. "Years ago, in our first collaboration, she helped me see the different ways my mind and body took in the world. This new book, in many respects, is built on what she showed me then. I've been amazed, this go around, at what Vince and Patty and the performers in the movement piece have seen in my words. I am very appreciative of how deeply they've read me.”

Gardner, who ran track and cross country at Bucknell University as an undergraduate student, earned graduate degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin.

“Poverty Creek Journal” will be released by Tupelo Press in November.