Banner Poems: P. Scott Cunningham

By Armando Bellmas

A few months ago, as a lifelong lover of poetry and looking for ways to re-engage our alumni artists-in-residence, I asked poet P. Scott Cunningham, who was in residence in 2011, if he would compose a short poem that we could feature on the two vertical banners that hang on the front exterior of McColl Center. 

He agreed, and began work on an ode that fit the parameters of the space: The poem would have to be in two parts (one part for each banner), each part between 15-20 words, and each word (or no more than two) on its own line.

(This commission is similar to the one we did last summer when we featured a poem by alumnus artist-in-residence John W. Love Jr., “Betwixt.” That poem, in turn, inspired Leah Rosenberg’s first color, “The Blue Hour,” for her fall 2017 exhibition, Color for the People.)

Several weeks later, Cunningham delivered “Song of the Dead Apple Tree,” adapted from Federico García Lorca’s “Canción del naranjo seco.”


P. Scott Cunningham, left side of “Song of the Dead Apple Tree,” adapted from Federico García Lorca, 2017. Courtesy of McColl Center for Art + Innovation

“It’s an adaptation of a poem by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca that I started in 2015, but that only came to fruition with this project,” Cunningham wrote via email.

“I say ‘adaptation’ and not ‘translation’ for a few different reasons, the most important being, one, I've changed key images in the poem in order to replicate Lorca's rhyme structure in English, and two, the line breaks and site-specific nature of the piece is, I think, too far away from Lorca's intention to claim the realm of translation.”

“One of the reasons I decided to present this poem is that Lorca was very much a believer in poetry as a part of the experience and identity of everyday people,” Cunningham adds. 

“I think he would approve of his work hanging in such a public setting, and especially on the face of a cultural center that believes so strongly in art's role in lived experience.”


P. Scott Cunningham, right side of “Song of the Dead Apple Tree,” adapted from Federico García Lorca, 2017. Courtesy of McColl Center for Art + Innovation

P. Scott Cunningham’s “Song of the Dead Apple Tree,” adapted from Federico García Lorca, will be hanging on the front of McColl Center for Art + Innovation's building through late January 2018.

Armando Bellmas is the Director of Marketing + Communications at McColl Center. His favorite poets this month are Frank Báez, Claudia Rankine, and Wallace Stevens.