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A poet and a critic, Alan Gilbert has been staff editor of caa.reviews since 2005. He recently spent three weeks in Marfa, Texas, as a Lannan Foundation writer-in-residence. Gilbert is the author of the poetry books The Treatment of Monuments (2012) and Late in the Antenna Fields (2011), as well as a collection of writings on contemporary poetry and art entitled Another Future: Poetry and Art in a Postmodern Twilight (2006). CAA spoke with him recently about his residency experience.
How did the Lannan Foundation residency come about?
The residency is by nomination only, and I was thrilled to receive an email back in January saying I could come any time during the next year for up to eight weeks. I ended up choosing the first three weeks in July.
What did you work on during your residency?
I was able to finish a new manuscript of poems and prepare it to send out to potential publishers.
How does Marfa compare to New York and did it have an effect of your work?
The primary thing I noticed about Marfa was the silence. There are quieter parts of New York, but it’s still difficult to avoid the sounds of sirens, buses, car horns, stereos, neighbors, et cetera. My house and street in Marfa were incredibly quiet. Some afternoons, a car wouldn’t drive by for hours. I’m not sure of the effect it had on my work, but the effect it had on my psyche and physiology felt transformative, especially after living in New York for fifteen years. More mundanely, I had extended, uninterrupted time to write, which can be harder and harder to find.
Did you come to art from poetry? If so, why?
I did come to art from poetry, but I came to both poetry and art from a larger history of the twentieth-century avant-garde, whether literature, art, music, or film. (Stan Brakhage was one of my teachers when I was an undergraduate.) Also, the current critical discourse around contemporary visual art is much more advanced than the one around poetry, and so I was intrigued to figure out what I could learn from it and take back to poetry and other art forms.
How did your reading at the Marfa Book Company on July 13 go?
It was great. It was part of the series of readings given by Lannan residents, and so the audience has an informed and wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary writing. For example, the writer who read two weeks before me was the acclaimed novelist Colson Whitehead.
What was the sense of community, if any, at Marfa? Did you collaborate with anyone or make new contacts?
In fact, the best thing about Marfa is precisely this sense of community. Otherwise, it’s just a tiny, fairly impoverished town (pop. 2,000) in the West Texas desert, three hours from the nearest major airport in El Paso. Of course it also has some great art. The Marfa Book Company owner, Tim Johnson, is incredibly energetic and supportive and widely loved. His partner, Caitlin Murray, who works at the Judd Foundation in Marfa and writes about Donald Judd and his contemporaries, is wonderful. Fairfax Dorn, who cofounded Ballroom Marfa, has an expansive vision for art. Hamilton Fish V, who helped revive The Nation in the 1970s and is a film producer and much more, has a house there. He was great to talk to. There are easily a half dozen other inspired people I could name and spent time with.
What are your future publishing plans?
To find a publisher for the manuscript of poems I finished.