Sue Landers at PLAYA Summer Lake Artist Residency
Sue Landers finds inspiration for writing about New York City in the desert landscape at PLAYA Summer Lake, an artist residency in south-central Oregon.
Excerpted from conversation with other artists in residence at PLAYA: Renee Couture, Rachel Zollinger, Donna Henderson.
PLAYA at Summer Lake is a spectacularly beautiful place, in the high desert with a dry lake bed, where the light and color of the landscape change every hour and every day. Looking out into the scenery feels like a hallucination, like my brain is being rewritten after so many years of staring into the concrete, glass, and steel of cities.
For the first few weeks here, I was afraid to go in to the water because I thought I’d get stuck. But the other day I just kept walking. One step I was in mud, the next in water. So, I splashed around in a few inches of water for a bit and then stopped to take a selfie. But standing still caused me to sink into the mud and in trying to get unstuck I tipped over and fell in. I fell into a physical manifestation of a transitional state. But I was solid. Solid in the silt and the shift. It was terrific. And this is an experience I suspect I will draw from over and over again as I work through writing this book.
This summer I was reading George Stanley’s book Vancouver, which details his travels through Vancouver on the bus and by foot. I had just started a similar project in New York where I have been riding every subway end-to-end, walking around the neighborhoods at each terminal, and using the city as my studio to create a book that reflects New York at this precise moment in time. (Though, exactly what time it is, I’m not sure—late capitalism? Peak oil? Middle age?)
Writing a project of such scope can be overwhelming at times, so over the past few weeks of working on this project at the PLAYA Artist Residency I’ve taken great comfort in this quote:
I hung the quote over my desk as a reminder that the long poem, or any big project, or even a giant metropolis, is something to explore and wander. And in that meandering, new connections, insights, etc. can emerge and will be even more likely to emerge if I remain open, associative, curious—and careless.
Photo credit: Sue Landers
Rockaway Beach, Queens
Rachel Zollinger told me this image provides no immediately discernible scale, which I hadn’t realized, but is super interesting since I also like to move in and out of micro and macro level detail in my work.
Because We Need Each Other
F train to Coney Island
Take care of each other, New Yorkers
saxophonists and contractors
mailmen and temps
coders and poets and moms
the looking the not looking
on your way there and back
Look up strangers and neighbors
renters the all set the unhoused
the booted at the turnstile
the bodega and the beach
let them out first
It's showtime dreamers
charmers and smiths
hummers and fairies
the twisted the whistlers
Gazunheit witches and cynics
empaths and cranks
sad sacks and hagglers
take my seat.
Hold the door, drunks,
for nanas, pharmacists,
and other haulers of stuff,
the sweaty, the petty, the sick,
the folks with no fucks left to give
what you came in with is enough
spare some change.
Follow the signs
archivists and librarians,
mapmakers, the rats.
Take care of me, New York
My hand is out to catch or break
one or both
of our falls.
Sue Landers is the author of two books of poetry, 248 mgs., a panic picnic and Covers, and the multi-genre collection Franklinstein. She has an MFA from George Mason University, and recent residences include Saltonstall and PLAYA. Her current project explores New York City and its subway system. Visit www.susanlanders.com.