Last Thursday, which was serendipitously National Poetry Day, CCAD MFA students were treated to perhaps the greatest art gift of all – spending an afternoon and evening with the one and only Susan Howe. Over the past 40 years, Susan has become one of today’s preeminent poets through her inventive use of word (both visual and verbal) combined with historical archives and texts. Her love of language is unparalleled, as is the world’s love of her.
The day began with a special session of MFA Faculty Carmen Winant’s honors undergraduate course, The Poetics of Failure. Graduate students had the opportunity to join Susan and the class in an intimate discussion that examined the productive properties of failure. Howe spoke early on about the dangers of final intentions in art, and then later transitioned into speaking of the importance for spontaneity to exist alongside habit. Perhaps her most poignant advice on the subject came from her quoting Gertrude Stein by saying, “If you know you’ve made a masterpiece, you’re dead.”
Following the class session, as part of CCAD’s Visiting Artists and Scholars Series, Susan performed an artist talk in the Canzani Auditorium. Her lecture featured over 40 beautiful slides showcasing archived pieces from William Carlos Williams, Jonathan Edwards, and of course, Emily Dickinson. And although she has predominantly built her career focusing on fragments – her talks are seamless, as is her voice. While treating attendees to readings of her own work, she traveled through the isolated letters and segmented texts with a smoothness and care that can surely not be taught – but can only be native.
To cap off the day, CCAD MFA students and faculty were invited to join our OSU equivalents for a dinner with Susan held at HamMer Studio, the art studio of Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil. The environment was perfect for a night of camaraderie with creative individuals and educators. After finishing our meal, Susan graciously held a Q&A wherein she was able to discuss her personal history, process, and influences. During which, she revealed that her favorite part of any book is usually the footnotes. When thinking in terms of Susan’s legacy, this observation is a funny one. Once you become aware of Susan Howe, only then are you fully aware of what the complete opposite of a footnote is.
To view Susan’s artist talk in the Canzani Auditorium in its entirety, please visit the CCAD Contemporary Art Space website here.
*Artist talk photos courtesy of CCAD Design Group | Dinner photos courtesy of Mary Skrenta