About The COLA
The City of Los Angeles designates a fellowship for artists and writers. The COLA, an endowment of $10,000, is awarded to exceptional mid-career artists with connection to Los Angeles to create a new body of work. The Los Angeles Press Questionnaire is a simple prompt sent to the awardees to inspire responses around their work and process. The Los Angeles Press hopes to interview all of the COLA artists in this grants cycle (2018 / 2019), to report on artwork being made, and how each artist is processing. These artistic renderings/posters accompanying the Questionnaire are intended as amuse bouches heralding further interviews and updates.
Text of The Los Angeles Press Questionnaire for Suzanne Lummis
Meanwhile, back to your question. I write poetry, make things, because I feel in myself the presence of talent. I first felt it as a child and began writing then lost it altogether as a teen, and began to feel the ghost of it again when I discovered T.S. Eliot, age 17. Then, in the first part of my 20s, I recovered it–the presence of that. However, it took years to develop. Years. And I worked with some of the best poet-teachers of the second half of the 20th century. But that’s why I write. Some people would refer to this as a calling, but I don’t. That’s sounds presumptuous. I call it talent. Some people would find that presumptuous also, but, well, too bad — what can ya do?
No doubt people like it to different degrees and understand it to different degrees. I have a reputation for being an engaging reader and some of my poetry has humor or a lively quality, so I tend to get warm responses from audiences — most of the time. I guess my favorite response is when a listener, sometimes a young person, comes up to me afterwards and they’re excited. They heard something or experienced something through the reading that surprised or moved them, and you can feel it.
But then, quite suddenly, I wrote a strikingly personal poem–where’d that come from? It’s a strong poem, though– one of my best in quite a while. Then came a couple poems inspired by movies–I love the movies. So, I’ve had to expand my project: Now my sheath of poems for the COLA fellowship engages the Political, the Personal, and The Movies. It makes sense in a way, three points of a triangle: the individual life and archive of memories; the outer world and conditions affecting and surrounding the individual; and movies, which offer a reflection of the personal and societal.
I’m solitary by nature but I need to be solitary in a big city–a big, Big city. Four million people’ll do it. I could Not be in a small town. Even San Francisco felt too small for me, and I adore San Francisco. I like to be surrounded by places-to-go, lots of lights, and multiple options. And people. I just don’t want them all over my house.
To who? Who are we talking about? It doesn’t matter in the least to millions. It matters to me, and it has for as long as I can remember. I would not want to live my life as someone to whom art, any kind of art, didn’t matter. I love the movie About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson, because in my interpretation it’s a story about that — this dim, perplexed, hapless, simple man who’d led a life of little purpose. He had a basic salary making job in a banal environment and now, newly retired, he doesn’t have even that. He’s limited in his perceptions and out of touch with his emotions, not able to respond emotionally to the death of his wife, and not able to read social cues of others. So he stumbles numbly along making social errors. (As you might be able to guess the movie was adapted from a novel, so it has the texture of a literary novel.) But at the very end, he opens an envelope and takes out a child’s artwork — big sun in the middle of the sky and a crude sketch of a man with his arms outstretched, the way children draw them. But it’s art. He starts sobbing. The credits roll.
I saw it with a poet friend. We walked out of the theater — I said, Now That was a story about a man who has no poetry in his life.