Words in Clay, Words on Paper will be on display on the ArtWalk at the Downtown Library (500 Main St.) through April 23rd.

By Tricia Haggerty Wenz

Ahead of the opening of their ArtWalk exhibit Words in Clay, Words on Paper on Friday, March 11th, we were pleased to speak with poet Jim Finnegan and artist Michelle Cotugno to discuss their unique collaboration that will be featured at the Library.


Jim Finnegan

You are an executive vice president of an insurance agency and you are a poet.

“I get my organization and planning skills from my left brain and my poetry and love of art feeds my right brain.”

You went to school for business. How did you love of poetry begin?

“While in business school I needed to take additional credits outside my major and decided on a poetry class. It was there I discovered my love for contemporary poetry. I realized it was not an antiquated art form, rather poetry could also speak to the times we live in. I discovered the poetry of modern poets such as James Wright, Muriel Rukeyser and Carl Sandberg.

Since then, I have been able to forge a dual path and give equal footing to my business career and my art.”

Tell me about broadsides.

“In broadsides each piece of type is laid out individually and run through a printing press. Invitations, poetry and fine book work are all done through this method.”

And how did this exhibit come about?

“Every year I host a Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash. At one of these events, I met Michelle and saw images of her work in clay. I saw the connection between her work, poetry and broadsides and suggested we propose an exhibit for the Library. While we are sharing the work of poets and art together, this exhibit actually presents the triangulation of three parts – the poet, the printer and the artist.”

You share the work of many poets in this exhibit.  I imagine there may be particular piece that really resonates with you.

“The late poet Linda Gregg’s Whole and Without Blessing piece is very close to me.”

Do you have a favorite word?

“Windowpane is a word that you will see come up in a fair amount of my work.

Michelle (2)

Michelle Cotugno

Tell me about your path to becoming an artist.

“While art was always a part of my life, really my life as an artist began with thwarted plans. I had one idea and the universe had another.”

How so?

“I had planned on becoming a massage therapist, during a time when there was not many of them around. After a couple of years at community college I transferred to Smith College and it was there I began taking classes in book arts, and had an internship at the Center for the Book in San Francisco. It was during this time that I fell in love with the letterpress.”

You meet Jim at the Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash.

“I really love modern poetry and took a poetry class. It was in that class that I discovered my love for Wallace Stevens. During my undergraduate years I began to attend the Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash and meeting Jim there in recent years has been a real joy for me.”

And out of your mutual love for Wallace Stevens came this exhibit.

“This exhibit was Jim’s idea. It was Jim that envisioned the possibility oy my work combining with his collection of broadsides. He saw how some of my work echoes broadsides. I use poetry in my art and most of my work I consider to be books.”

Tell me what inspires you.

“Art museums to me are intellectual, emotional and spiritual cathedrals. I can also find inspiration through travelling, my yoga practice and listening to the stories of my clients.


The universe has been kind to me. I’ve been lucky.”


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