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Words By Wire: Artist David Zalben Manipulates Metal to Create Poetry

Zalben's other creations.
Zalben's other creations.

When he enters a display window at the ArtCenter/South Florida on June 6, artist David Zalben will reveal how he alters time. For 45 nights straight, he plans to work in view of the public to produce a poem in his preferred medium: thick metal wire. Beginning after nightfall, Zalben, a thin, elvish man who stands just over 5 feet, will manipulate hundreds of feet of 16-gauge wire by hand to give physical form to his stream-of-consciousness poetry.

As he bends the wire to form one letter at a time, he also bends time as a writer. Molding the stiff but flexible metal tube allows him to enter a zone where time slows to a different, almost other-dimensional pace. While people in the world beyond the window type at computers, tap out text messages on their phones, or scribble in notepads, Zalben will need several minutes just to finish a single word.

He has already begun this poem, he says, pointing out several phrases in a coil of black cursive words sitting on the floor under his desk in his second-floor studio at the ArtCenter. "I'm going to have a lot of wire in [the window] to start," he says from behind his worn, dark, wooden desk filled with clutter. "I think, visually, it would be unfair for people to look in there, and it's just nothing, so I want to give a sense of what I'm creating."


His poetry usually begins in a small hardcover notebook, which sits

among the detritus covering his desk. He gives it a long, firm pat,

covering it completely with his small but rough hand. Though he does

start his poems in longhand in the notebook, it does not match the place

of creation he finds himself when he writes by wire. "Sometimes when

I'm writing I'll slow down, and I'll stop and have to think about what I

have to say next that relates to what I just said, so the pace is

haphazard," he explains.

Once he has the poem written in his notebook, the part he looks forward

to most comes when he has to spell it out using the wire, which hardware

stores sell by the pound. "I just use my hands and clippers to cut it

and crimp it in certain areas," he says, noting that working in the

medium does not hurt his hands at all. However, he says, he has been

producing his wire art, which also includes imagery, for over a decade.

Fresher hands should be warned.

Though his poems mostly end up neatly laid out in short lines mounted on

a wall, the creation of this stream-of-consciousness poem will happen

in the wire. In the moments he is aware of earth time, he considers 15

minutes long enough to finish a longer word. However, he says, "other times I'm

in this wonderful zone, and it's just flowing so perfectly."

Words By Wire: Artist David Zalben Manipulates Metal to Create Poetry

His creation often trumps grammar and spelling. Though he admits it

sometimes frustrates him, he is more excited to find himself capturing

the emotion of the idea in the way the words look. "For example, I was

doing this one," he says and turns to a poem mounted on the white wall

behind his desk. "This is a love poem about a woman I am crazy about,

and I started getting drunk, and I saw that the letters were getting

bigger ... so my state of mind at the moment connects to what the words

look like, and I just find that fascinating."

Though he has a starting point in that jumble of ideas and phrases

coiled under his desk, how he will fit the final piece into the small

window on the corner of the ArtCenter, facing the parade of visitors to

the Lincoln Road Mall, remains unknown. "It's going to be ceiling to

floor and wherever which way it goes," he says. "Wire has a life of its

own sometimes. You can bend it and manipulate it the way you want, but

when you undo it, if it goes in a certain way, I'm going to let it flow

like that. I'm not going to try and manipulate it too much ... so it's

just going to keep growing like a jungle vine of wordage."

Zalben begins his wire poetry project in the ArtCenter windows June 6, and expects to finish by July 16.

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