WELCOME TO DELVE INTERVIEWS, A LOOK INTO THE UNIQUE PATHS OF ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS. DELVE IS AN EDUCATIONAL AND COACHING PLATFORM TO HELP YOU GET THE BUSINESS SIDE OF YOUR CAREER IN ORDER. THE ARTISTS WE INTERVIEW ARE POSITIVE FORCES IN THEIR COMMUNITIES AND THEY SHARE TOOLS AND ADVICE THAT THEY'VE LEARNED TO INSPIRE EACH OF US IN OUR PROFESSIONAL AND ARTISTIC GOALS.
Maya Pindyck is a multidisciplinary poet and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of Emoticoncert (Four Way Books, 2016), Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press, 2009), and Locket, Master (Poetry Society of America, 2006). Her work has been recently exhibited at the Lewis H. Latimer House Museum (NY), Chashama Pop Up Space (NY), Gallery 263 (MA), and the Governors Island Art Fair (NY). Currently a doctoral candidate in the English Education program at Columbia University's Teachers College, she teaches at Parsons School of Design and Long Island University. Her language-based installation, “Today I Saw,” opens May 13th, 2017 as the first exhibition at the Milton Art Bank (MAB)* in Milton, PA. Placing the town in a global context, the installation remaps Milton through the lenses and voices of its residents while forming an archive of sights.
*Founded by Brice Brown and housed in a converted 19th century bank in Milton, PA, Milton Art Bank (MAB) is an artist-run experiment and space for creative inquiry. Through exhibitions, performances, and other creative interventions, MAB encourages curious dialogue and engaged participation as a way for people to become active agents of positive change in their community.
Can you describe your path as an artist/writer – from where and when you began, until now?
I remember drawing, painting, writing, messing with objects, and performing as a child and into high school and throughout college and after. And I remember when I was fourteen my mother giving me News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, an anthology I fell in love with and would read each night before bed. I entered college as a theater major, then switched to art and philosophy. I took an inspiring poetry workshop there, but I didn’t have a consistent creative writing practice the way I did with visual art. After college, I moved to NYC and worked for a non-profit while continuing my art practice. I applied to MFA painting programs and got into SFAI, but I felt uneasy about quitting my job and moving to San Francisco. I decided to stay in New York and took a poetry class at Columbia that summer. I was hooked. I wrote & read poetry anywhere I could: at my job, on the subway, at cafés. The accessibility & portability of writing really appealed to my city life—I didn’t need to worry about space or toxicity or the messiness or weight of material.
For years I incorporated text in my drawings/paintings and had an ongoing practice of manipulating found books, but there was something about the limitations of poetry that I loved. What could I make of just language and space? How could I work words—make them move & trigger—as lines on a page? (It felt like a mixed media exercise I could do for the rest of my life!) The instructor at Columbia encouraged me to apply to MFA programs in poetry, and I ended up at Sarah Lawrence. I really grew as a writer there and learned from a range of brilliant & supportive poets/teachers. Now I continue both my writing and visual art practices, often using language in installation and as a form of social practice.
What does a day or week in your professional life look like?
Well, this semester a day might go something like this: Wake up. Record dream if remembered. Get my two-year-old out of bed and bring her to preschool. Then, depending on the day of the week, go teach, or work on my dissertation, or tend to another project. Pick up my daughter at 3pm. Hang out with her until 6pm. Then read, grade assignments, respond to emails, or play around in my studio for a few hours after dinner.
Since writing and drawing/painting are both part of your creative process, how do you see them working together and informing each other?
I see writing and drawing/painting offering distinct materials for thinking and opening up different ways of sensing. I heard William Kentridge say something along those lines in a recent drawing lecture, and it really resonated: There’s an illogicality to drawing and thinking, and each material brings its own thinking. I’d say the same is true of writing. Writing longhand with a pen or with a pencil or through erasure or in between drawings or over an image or on a computer or by phone each activates different ways of thinking/feeling. My creative process brings writing and drawing into relation and works the gap between word & image, between language & gesture, between name & thing. It’s that between-space that tends to activate my process and inform my subject matter. I’ve always been less interested in calling myself a “writer” or an “artist” than in what those materials—text, sound, charcoal, ink, found object—can do, together & alone, in a sociopolitical context.
What is your writing process? How do you set aside time to write?
It depends on what I’m writing & why, but I’d say that with poetry, there’s a process that repeats: First I write with a pen or pencil in an unlined notebook. I’ll then rewrite the poem around 4-8 times. I rewrite each version slowly, feeling out the line, making slight shifts as needed in each rewriting. I’ll also speak the words aloud to measure how they feel in my mouth & body. Then, when the poem starts to click (or when what I’ve written clicks as poetry), I’ll type it up, print it out, and make handwritten changes to the printout.
Sometimes I’ll do an exercise—often in class with my students—to get moving, but usually my subject matter finds me. What I need to write about follows, haunts, & stalks me. It’s a kind of possession. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with something to write down. I’ll be in the shower and suddenly realize that a word in a work that I thought was finished is actually wrong. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go so I can be ready. In that sense, it’s less about setting aside time to write and more about trying to stay attuned, open, and prepared for what needs to get written. But a consistent writing practice mobilizes that attunement. The more I write, the more the writing comes. It’s a cyclical process.
Since you are also a professor, how do you teach writing and inspire your students to want to write? Can you advise visual artists in any writing exercises?
I try to assign exercises that I find engaging and that push different ways of seeing & making. If I’m giving my students an assignment I wouldn’t want to do myself, that can be a sign that it’s a shitty assignment.
Some writing exercises I love that I would suggest to other visual artists:
1. Find a random book and erase its text to make poetry. Try out different modes of erasure: whiting out the words, blacking them out, scratching them out with a thumbtack, crossing them out with a pencil. (And read Mary Ruefle’s amazing essay “On Erasure”).
2. Cento: a collage poem made of lines from existing poems. Start with a poetry anthology or stack of poems and make a poem entirely of lines from other poems. I give myself rules, like only use one line per poem, and/or pick each poem by opening up to a random page in an anthology.
3. Write a visual essay by juxtaposing image and text.
4. Observation exercises: Study an object and, using language alone, record its tone. Shift its scale. Make it into an ominous thing. Now make it a vulnerable thing. Repurpose it. Describe its surface marks in as much detail as possible. Map it onto your own body & history (where/how does this object live in relation to your own life experiences?). Imagine the memories it carries and tell its story based on those memories. Develop a theory of human nature from that object. Place it in a different context and write about what changes.
5. Read Wallace Stevens’ “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” What are 13 ways of looking at your neighborhood, your grandmother, the kettle in your kitchen?
6. Activate chance: Open a book to a random page and begin writing from a word or line. Record the first six phrases you overhear in a café or the first eight things you see on a train.
7. Read Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” and make a written portrait of someone in your family that takes on her/his voice & language.
8. Follow the cadence of a text—its sonic current—and write a poem that follows that cadence.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from managing all your projects?
Saying no can be an affirming and nurturing action. I used to think I had to say yes to most project invitations & opportunities, but I’ve learned that saying no can open other things up and be a form of self-care. I’m also learning how to be still with each project, engage it wholeheartedly (even if just for a few hours), and then give a different project the same careful focus instead of trying to do everything at once in a distracted & thin way.
And where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?
My favorite places to go are books, art exhibitions, readings, performances, the park, the ocean, the woods, the subway, the classroom, cafés, my daughter’s wild & tangled hair. If I had to pick one place right now: your question at this table.