As part of our “Fellows Friday” web feature, we focus on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges. This week, we speak to 2013 Pew Fellow and poet Emily Abendroth, whose book ]EXCLOSURES[ is newly available this month from Ahsahta Press. Of the book, writer and artist Chris Nagler says, “Sometimes there is a book you love so much you become frightened for the world. ]EXCLOSURES[ is that for me.”
What is your favorite title of an art work?
I’ve always loved the painter Paul Klee’s titles, and the way their presence as text impacts your orientation to his works. For instance, a beautifully intricate, multi-layered, and color-saturated image gets labeled rather firmly With the Egg, suddenly drawing your eye to a single yoke-endowed, ivory splash in the lower center of the image, which gains a different kind of buoyant gravity and hovering importance as a result.
On the other hand, a small, simple line drawing of two elongated, lumpy, and top-heavy androgynous figures—who in their leaning into one another seem to almost merge together—gets affixed with a description that is something far more than merely a “title” for what’s occurring before your eyes. Instead, appended is a mini-narrative that reads: “Occasionally I’d fool people some, / I’d put acid in their drinks, / I’d put poison in their food, / And make it hurt when they mate. / I founded an order with merrily dancing tears on its banner.” I love the joyful labor that necessarily happens as the viewer tries to put those two somewhat incongruous verbal and visual discourses in contact with one another.
How does residing in this region contribute to your artistic practice?
I’ve never considered myself to be a regional writer or to fit into the category of a “writer of place.” For lack of a better way to say it, I’m definitely more a “poet who lives in Philadelphia,” as opposed to a “Philadelphia poet.” [However,] the current dynamics of Pennsylvania politics profoundly shape my understanding of the obstacles that preclude our achievement of individual and collective health, well-being, self-determination, and, ultimately, emancipation (be it cognitive or physical in nature). This, in turn, informs my sense of what art has a mandate to attempt to, first, make legible and, then, to confront. I don’t by any stretch think this is art’s only mandate but, from my perspective, it is a primary one of them. Perhaps since I used the artist Paul Klee as an example to speak about titling, it makes sense to offer his comment that “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” I hope that my work sometimes achieves that.
How has your thinking about the business of your practice changed since you started working professionally?
Given that my primary artistic medium is poetry, I don’t work professionally, or at least not in the way that I think this question implies. That said, I do without question take my own artistic work and efforts seriously and I do situate them as a meaningful center of gravity, experimentation, and potential transformation in my existence. As time, in conjunction with my own writing practice, progresses I find myself working incrementally more slowly and more deeply. I accept that it will likely take me both a long time and a laborious, challenging journey to reach the more interesting and challenging thoughts/results in any given project. Such a process does not map well onto a standard capitalist model of either production or success.
What images or things keep you company in the space where you work?
Immediately surrounding and behind my desk, one will find the following four items plastered prominently before my eyes on the wall:
Pew Fellow and former Philadelphia Poet Laureate Sonia Sanchez leads a poetry workshop exploring the history of Johnson House, Philadelphia’s only intact stop on the Underground Railroad.
In 2003 the Center awarded Pew Fellowships to 12 Philadelphia-based artists, and grants to 63 dance, music, theater, and visual arts organizations and practitioners in the greater Philadelphia region.
Carol Shloss is a nonfiction writer and a 1994 Pew Fellow.
Pew Fellow Geoff Sobelle’s award-winning production of The Object Lesson travels to Ohio’s Wexner Center for the Arts.
People’s Light & Theatre Company’s project brought six playwrights from across the country to the theater’s campus to develop new work inspired by the region’s diverse communities.
We talk to Sherlock, a 2013 Pew Fellow and Philadelphia’s newly designated poet laureate, about his dream collaboration with Yoko Ono and what made him want to become a poet.
The Center’s 2015 Year in Review highlights the outstanding accomplishments of our grantees, and the broad scope of the Center’s funding.
Paula Marincola and Melissa Franklin reflect on a quarter-century of direct support to artists—how we got started, how the program has evolved, and what we’ve learned.
Raphael Xavier presents Raphstravaganza, a contemporary circus-style performance featuring street performers, extreme BMX riders, acrobatic contortionists, and live music.
Poet and 2012 Pew Fellow Kevin Varrone (Pew Fellow, 2012) spent the past few years designing and building an app that traces the history of the Phillies, as well as his personal relationship with baseball.
Richard Harrod is a visual artist and a 1997 Pew Fellow.
A conversation with Pew Fellow Jumatatu Poe, Donte Beacham, and LaKendrick Davis on the underground dance style of J-Sette and how Poe drew on its legacy for Private Places, a new Center-funded work.