The Standard Hotels have long been hubs for artistic types, but lately they’ve become homes-away-from-home. It started with our Paris Review residency at The Standard, East Village, but the inspiration spread, and recently LA-based poet, and Poem Store purveyor, Jacqueline Suskin, took up residence at The Standard, Hollywood. She set out to create a retreat within the city that would give guests a glimpse into the working process of a practicing poet. She also teamed up with artist Skylar Hughes to create a tactile expression of a writer's haven for the latest installation in The Box. The Standard caught up with Suskin to hear about what she’s been up to. [Interview by Nicole Disson, photography by Shelby Duncan]
STANDARD CULTURE: I love the thought of you holed up in a hotel room for two weeks, ordering room service and writing poetry.
JACQUELINE SUSKIN: I wanted to explore the idea of a retreat within the city where I work and live. I knew The Standard, Hollywood was a perfect fit. The hotel is a Hollywood staple, a venue for artists and creative expression. I wanted to live within that, bring my antiquated/nature-based character to mix with the classic minimalism of the space, and hunker down to work on my new book.
Why a residency inside a hotel in the first place?
I saw an article a few months back about The Standard, East Village collaborating with the Paris Review. They brought a writer under contract into the hotel for a week to work on a new book. I got so excited and thought about working on my new book, which is about California.
So much of your work as an artist is in service of others, whether you’re doing Poem Store or speaking at colleges. Will you be interacting with guests during your stay or strictly keeping to your room?
My aim is to always be accessible and I like trying to find different ways for people to interact with Poem Store. I offered hotel guests a special postcard for their one-of-a-kind poem, while giving them a chance to peek into my idea of a writer's paradise. Hopefully it will give people a chance to interact with poetry in a unique way.
And you were taking Poem Store requests from inside The Box the other night!
Yes! I got to see so many people from all over the world.
What’s the difference between the poems you write for Poem Store and poetry you write for your books?
There’s a huge difference. Poem Store poems are written spontaneously, they’re never edited, I never see them again—they’re in a very specific format on this little piece of paper that restricts me. My other poems...well, I edit the shit out of them. I spend so much time crafting each one, and it’s very intensive. Some poems in this new book are ones that I’ve been working on for years.
I did the installation with artist Skylar Hughes and it was an incredible way to give a taste of what the residency means to me, because the poem on the wall definitely expresses what I feel it means for a writer to have a retreat and space to write in. Also, all my belongings that are in the box are a taste of the way I think.
I really like the idea of exploring space in relation to creative process and inspiration. For you, how does this space influence your work?
It’s such a classic thing for an artist to hide away at a hotel. I can stay in my underwear all day, with my papers all over the floor, and no one is going to bother me! A retreat for me is a time to be locked away, to take space, to think and create without disruption.
There is such value to giving ourselves space where we can take pause, reflect and create something new, right?
Throughout history, that has been crucial for artists, thinkers, makers and creators. It’s imperative that someone says ‘settle in, stay here. Here is where you get to do your work.’ I always use Keats as an example—this incredible poet who got to write his masterpieces because a rich family gave him a room and fed him. It was, and still is, important to nurture the people who can take the emotion of a time period and nail it down into a few lines of verse. This work of translating what’s going on within the depths of humanity often happens because a writer is gifted a little room and a desk.
What’s something that inspires you to sit down to write?
A long time ago, an old man asked me this question: “what do you serve?” I answered with ease: “I serve the earth.” I’m an ecstatic earth worshipper, and a lot of my poems reflect that. I do all of my work to help heal and aid human beings so that they will feel better, and then, in turn, hopefully treat the earth better. This is the inspiration behind all of my work.
Any advice for someone new to poetry who may be looking for a way in?
This is what I always say to my mom: look at the poem, read it and stop trying to understand it. Did it make you feel anything when you read it? Did you remember something from your past? Did you have a new idea, vision, or sensation come over you? That’s it. That’s what the poem is about. Whatever the poem makes you feel, is exactly what it’s about.