Los Angeles-based poet Mandy Kahn is author of the 2014 poetry collection “Math, Heaven, Time” and coauthor of 2011 post-modern non-fiction book “Collage Culture: Examining the 21st Century’s Identity Crisis.” She also writes libretti, collaborates with composers by writing poetry to music, and is a writer-in-residence for THE SERIES, a live performance event that pairs artists across genres.
Jacqueline Suskin is a poet who lives in LA and runs the Poem Store, a pop-up writing project which involves composing impromptu poetry for strangers on her typewriter. Suskin is the author of poetry collection “The Collected” and “Go Ahead & Like It,” a book about the empowerment of making lists of what you like.
Los Angeles poets Mandy Kahn and Jacqueline Suskin are carving out a place for their old-world craft in the new world. Jacqueline with her pop-up Poem Store – a folding table, her manual typewriter and a simple sign – where she writes strangers short poems on demand. The customer chooses the subject and price, and Jacqueline takes four or five minutes to punch at her typewriter, reading the poem out loud once before handing it over forever. Mandy’s work takes on more traditional forms with a modern poetic instinct – she collaborates with composers to set poems to classical music, writes libretti (or the text for an opera) and is at work on a poetry book about the life and work of famous composers.
The two trade stories of the secret life behind writing – hoarding hotel pens and paper, appreciating the small details and being ‘pregnant’ with a new book.
A Los Angeles-based photographer by way of Reno, NV, Shelby Duncan’s work spans editorial, art and commercial and has appeared in Jacqueline Suskin’s book “Go Ahead & Like It.”
Poet Jaqueline Suskin’s performance poetry project. She writes spontaneous poems via typewriter, for a small donation, at venues ranging from farmer’s markets to weddings to artist residencies.
Mandy Kahn: I’m so glad to have a chance to have this conversation with you, Jacqueline. You’re both a dear friend and someone whose work constantly surprises and inspires me. I’m always so impressed by Poem Store because of what you can do on the fly – I need to draft everything out, but you’re like a brilliant jazz musician: you can flow in the moment, publicly. It’s like watching a meteor shower, watching you work.
Jacqueline Suskin: Ha! I like this description, a meteor shower… it feels like that, this strange outpouring of something bright to offer up to anyone who wants to take a look at the sky. It’s an incredibly different practice than what I call my “regular writing.” I edited my first book for four years! I love to edit. So Poem Store presents this great practice of letting go.
I wonder if you ever use a typewriter when you work?
MK: No, I’ve never used a typewriter, but if I did, I think I’d get the loud, electric kind that was used in offices in the 80s – that’s the particular clickety-clack that really does it for me. I like the sound of industry.
JS: YES! My next gift to you, the loudest typewriter I can find!
MK: Amazing! You just made my day. I DO commit everything to paper. I don’t save on the cloud, except as backup. I don’t trust the cloud any more than I’d trust tucking a piece of paper into an actual cloud.
JS: Do you have particular notebooks and pens that you prefer?
MK: Yes – I like pens from hotels. To me the most beautiful note is one made with a hotel pen on hotel paper. So every time I stay at a hotel, I call down to the front desk and ask to have pens sent up, and then I take them everywhere. That’s the luxury I tote along with me in my canvas sack.
JS: I adore this hotel pad/pen idea. I have so many myself. I usually write letters on them to show my friends where I’ve been or to thank someone for joining me there. Also, they are usually so unique. I have a huge paper collection. Do you?
“To me, the most beautiful note
is one made with a hotel pen on hotel paper.”
— Mandy Kahn
MK: I have a large collection of hotel pads, but lately they come with fewer and fewer sheets of paper. These hotels must be onto me. So I go through them quickly. But this summer, in Italy, I bought the most beautiful pad of paper I’ve ever owned: it’s been printed across the top with an illustration of 19th century bicycles – the sort with one huge wheel and one small wheel – and its cotton pages are subtly ridged. I find that jotting casual notes on paper like that makes me feel like I’m living a luxurious life, and well.
JS: Oh yes. Wow. Sounds very similar to my favorite pad that is from an old railroad company. It has a train charging ahead at the top and it feels so appropriate to write letters on. I send so much mail. I have pen pals and try to send notes to everyone I love. Do you have a relationship with the mail system?
MK: I wish I had more of one. For me, writing a letter – or an email – draws from the same well that writing a poem draws from. And I have to draw lightly and carefully from that well.
JS: I like this. It is another example in the difference of our pace. Pulling from your first compliment, I can tell that you think my quickness is commendable, but I often wonder what other writers think about the fast nature of it. I suppose I wear the hat of being a “first thought best thought” kind of writer, but with Poem Store I really don’t have any other choice. My friend calls it the “YouTube of Poetry.”
MK: I’m a great believer in artist as sieve – that if one can allow a naturalness to flow through him, he is doing his highest work. So I admire expediency immensely. As time goes on, I’m able to complete things more quickly and with fewer drafts, and I’m glad of that. I’ve studied and studied the editing process not to learn to extend it, but to internalize it so it might happen while the thing is in midair. So when I speak of your process, I speak of it with reverence.
JS: There is something happening there, in that rapid flow, that is far beyond me.
MK: Yes, absolutely. The natural is, for me, always the highest possible expression. But to achieve the natural within form, that is a dance. And for me, that’s always the goal.
JS: It’s funny, having this conversation with you is so enjoyable because, honestly, I don’t know that many poets. I have only a few who I call friends, who I speak with regularly… do you ever crave a poetic clan of sorts? A group to read and write and rejoice in the written word with?