Sunday, August 13, 2000

Speak out - but don't get too far out

Young poet punished for performance that some of her elders found offensive

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An 18-year-old Mason woman who participated in a Cincinnati arts agency's summer poetry project called Speak Out spoke out this week and paid a price for it.

Nina Caporale
Nina Caporale
        ArtWorks, a non-profit agency that sponsors the popular Big Pig Gig Public Art Project, awarded Nina Caporale a $500 college scholarship this week at the closing ceremony for its eight-week summer job training program for young artists.

        But minutes later, after Ms. Caporale read a poem called “You Ass,” Tamara Harkavy, executive director of ArtWorks, pulled her aside and told her she was revoking the scholarship.

        She said the poem was excellent, but was very inappropriate for the occasion and the audience.

        Ms. Caporale was one of 11 teen poets who read at the closing ceremony Thursday at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park, the summer home of ArtWorks.

        “The word "ass' is not necessarily a heinous word,” Ms. Harkavy said. “But she used the word with a whole lot of graphic images.”

        Ms. Caporale had used worse profanities in a public poetry reading in mid-July at the Seasongood Pavilion and had been warned about it.

        “Nina made a decision Thursday to use her voice in an inappropriate manner,” Ms. Harkavy said. “She in turn has to take the repercussions of that.”

        She was representing ArtWorks on the stage, not just herself, Ms. Harkavy said.

        Ms. Caporale defended her poem as a legitimate satire of artists who write to please others instead of expressing what they feel.

        “It was a poem about speaking out and the boundaries between when you can and when you can't,” she said. “This is an issue I feel very passionately about.”

        Ms. Caporale and her parents, Michael and Jan, said they believe Ms. Harkavy's action was unjustified and violates the spirit of the eight-week program, which they said encouraged outspoken self-expression.

        “To punish someone for speaking out is a contradiction of the program,” Ms. Caporale said.

        “Censorship of the arts definitely reigns at ArtWorks,” Jan Caporale said. “All the effort the program put into teaching the kids to use their pens and voices, stand firm and proud and speak out intelligently on issues was all garbage.”

        Her parents, her father a filmmaker and her mother a teacher, admitted that their daughter's use of profanity in the mid-July performance was inappropriate and that they talked to her about it at that time.

        But they said the performance Thursday might have been offensive to some, but did not merit yanking her scholarship.

        Nina Caporale is a graduate of Summit Country Day and plans to attend Sarah Lawrence College, where she will have a multi-disciplinary major in creative writing, painting and theater. There, she will study with Carolyn Serrell, a short-story writer and novelist famed for speaking out on artists' freedom of speech.

        The scholarship she would have received through ArtWorks came from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a Cincinnati agency.

        Ms. Harkavy said a representative of KnowledgeWorks sat next to her at Thursday's performance and was shocked at the language in Nina Caporale's poem.

        “It really broke my heart to have to do that,” Ms. Harkavy said. “I am not trying to take away Nina's voice. She is a very talented young lady. But that award was for somebody who was a positive role model and showed leadership. I don't think she made a very good decision.”

        The Caporales believe Ms. Harkavy's removal of the scholarship teaches the wrong lesson to the other young poets in the Speak Out project.

        “For eight weeks, the program encouraged them to speak out against the evils and hypocrisies in society,” Jan Caporale said. “But the director's action tells them they will be punished for it.”


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