A Conversation with NY-Based Poet and Multi-Media Artist Saretta Morgan

 
 

Mark your calendars: Saretta Morgan will be reading with Natalie Diaz and Joe Jimenez at The Twig Book Shop on December 13. Free and open to the public. 

Gemini Ink recently asked Saretta Morgan a series of questions on her writing process and sources of inspiration. During our conversation, we learned about her “Youtube University,” the challenges of collaborating artistically with a romantic partner, and the importance of literary community.

by Alexandra van de Kamp

 

1) If you had one piece of advice to offer a young, just-setting-out writer, or even an experienced one, what would it be?

Find the literary communities that are generating work that speaks to you, and where writers are relating to one another in a way that nourishes and challenges you. Then do the work of helping those communities grow.

This is one way to put yourself in meaningful conversation with the writers you admire and with your future readers. I strongly believe that such conversations are how we resist the categorizations that relegate many forms of anti-conformist writing to the margins.

 

2) Describe a writing “space” or desk you have encountered in your journey as an artist which was truly fruitful for you in some way. Or feel free to evoke one especially less-than-convenient writing space you had to grapple with!

I work well in tight spaces with low but consistent ambient noise. There’s something about feeling surrounded that helps me focus. Last year I had a studio residency on the 34th floor of a skyscraper in lower Manhattan. The view was expansive. Incredible. In the morning I could watch the sun rise and gold the east river. At night the other buildings made a constellation of rectangular lights throughout the city. I got almost no writing done those entire 9 months. But I loved reading and wondering there. And drawing, sometimes. The long view made everything seem possible.

 

3) Can you name a source you return to for ongoing or periodic creative inspiration?

I like to put on lectures or panel discussions and listen to them while I wash the dishes, or twist my hair. My friend, the poet and photographer Ariel Goldberg, and I have a slowly expanding collection of online lectures (recently podcasts have entered the circulation, but I’ve yet to master that technology). We call it our “Youtube University,” for lack of a better title, which is a solid little archive for me to pull from when I want to engage with something but can’t figure out where my mind wants to go.

Hortense Spillers has two lectures online that I watch a lot. In one, she presents black culture as the ongoing project of saving the planet, which is a pretty rad way to think about blackness. The other is a project of analyzing intimacy under conditions of slavery in pursuit of (one hopes) new forms of love.

Currently I’m listening to Mabel Wilson’s “Other Monumentalities.” Wilson talks about the need to analyze the technology of slave labor as it relates to the Smithsonian’s that line our National Mall—the buildings that come to house and represent national narratives around cultural, educational and civic evolution in the United States. In other words: to think beyond the irony of slaves building monuments to freedom.

 

4) As a multi-media artist who seems to revel in exploring the idea of “text” and how it can be presented in a variety of ways, how do you feel about the role of the book as a physical, page-turning object in our contemporary culture?  

belladonna chapbooksThere are things that I appreciate about books. Holding them. Gifting them unexpectedly. Passing them back and forth with friends. I enjoy printed photocopies of writing too, though they get torn or smushed quickly. I’m not a very careful person (I really USE my literature, bound and unbound—I fold pages, write in margins, carry them in my bags for weeks).

One really great thing about books over most electronic reproductions is all of the extra information relayed through design. I recently received four very small books throughout the course of one day. Youmna Chlala’s Can You See Us, William Pope L.’s Black People are Cropped, and the two most recent additions to Belladonna*’s chaplet series.

Each of those books has a different feel. Youmna’s book has a gorgeous collage which folds out from the center. The text and image on her front cover almost disappear depending on the lighting conditions and the angle you view it from, while at other times they appear bold and definite (an interesting play off the title). The Belladonna* chaplets are printed in limited editions of 126 and bound in a fairly light-weight cardstock—factors that make them feel precious and ephemeral. Pope L.’s little book feels old school. All of these differences have a real influence on how I read the text.

 

5) What is your next project?

I just completed a small collaboration with Natalie Diaz, who, in addition to being an amazing poet, essayist and artist, is my love. It’s our first project together: a chapbook with text from me and drawings she made in response, which is now entering production mode. Most of the artist couples I know admit that collaborating with a romantic partner requires a lot of practice, and we’ve found that to be true. But it also feels rewarding, and important and makes me excited about future projects.

And I just submitted a proposal for a small book + photo essay examining internalized violence as a form of political resentment.

Lastly, there is a small dream of traveling to Waco, TX in the next couple months. My knowledge of my paternal lineage ends there in 1885. I want to do some kind of video work in that area. I have a lot of footage of our farm in Florida (where my father’s family has been for the past three generations) that I shot a couple years ago, and I want to see what might happen if I put the two up against each other.

Comments are closed.