Mandy Kahn: Poet-At-Large

In the days of digital downloads, unlimited data, and dubstep, it might seem that you only have three options when it comes to how you consume content; loud, fast, or loud and fast. As tempting as that proposition may be to accept it is far from reality. The truth is that the contemporary means of capturing our attention have added to, not replaced the tradition mediums we’ve always enjoyed. This means that culture and art can be found not only on the screen, but on the canvas and the page as well. Poet, Mandy Kahn proves and addresses this subject in her work. She is an accomplished artist and advocate of the written word, embedding poetry where it isn’t always expected but where it can certainly be appreciated.

Not unlike any other creative professional Mandy enjoys the energetic flow of the local coffee shop as her transitory office but she is as likely to be seated at the kitchen table in her home when working. Tucked behind a stack of books she pens first drafts in long form, allowing for her thoughts to flow freely. What’s interesting about her process is that Mandy considers everything correlated to her work day as a part of her job. Beyond just the practice of writing, if a walk around the neighborhood feels like the right way to clear mental space that is attributed to the work as well. “Those are things I need to add into the work day to be able to produce whatever I am commissioned to make,” she says. Since the bulk of her writing is for specific projects, this ensures she is fed with inspiration—either in the form of words or nature—throughout the day.

As could be imagined there is an ebb and flow to the amount and type of work that a poet is called to do. Whether teaching, traveling, speaking, or reading there is more than one way to “make a living” as a poet and each project has it’s own set of freedoms and constraints so one particular method can not necessarily be applied to produce what she is looking to create. Mandy uses her technique to serve her natural impulse. After giving way to her more whimsical side, she takes the time to edit and refine. This is not to alter the messaging of the first draft but conversely to enhance it. She finds herself writing shorter poems more often, ” To me, a short poem is this beautifully crafted gem,” Mandy explains. “As a reader, I prefer short poems because of how much weight each word must earn. Writing a small poem is a particularly large challenge, but also an inspiring one.”

Along the lineage of great poets Mandy tends to fall into the ilk of Emily Dickinson as opposed to identifying with the style of Walt Whitman another prominent American poet. She enjoys the work of both poets but speaks fondly  of Dickinson,”I deeply admire her economy and precision. I’m drawn to the sculpted side of things.”

The technical work of a poet is to deliver emotion and thought through their use of language into pieces that speak to their audience in profound ways. Mandy does this through a refining process, first channelling emotions and ideas and seeking to capture the truth of a feeling, before starting to edit. Once the first draft is complete she retypes the piece making minor edits to the work along the way. Much like taking sandpaper to a rough stone, smoothing its surface but preserving the integrity of what lies beneath. This happens rather quickly, in fact less than an hour but next part of the process is longer she states, “Over the course of six months or a year I revisit drafts regularly, continuing to bring out the original music that came out in the first draft, helping it to be as plain and available as possible.”

It is not so much that she seeks add, but instead clear away excess from the sentiments that are being presented. Mandy speaks of her work like a burning fire, and the job is to stoke the fire and clear away brush from its path. The fire itself seems to come not from her intellect,but from her intuition. “If a natural inference moves through you and you are able to use your technique to frame that—to set it off and present it—you are doing your best work. I aim have a technique that is ready to serve the natural impulse.”

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This moves us into the parameters of a profession, having to support works already created and pursue and investigate other opportunities is a necessary part of the job. In busy times when there is a lot of commissioned work a larger portion of what she is making is geared towards fulfilling the needs of the project. Mandy admits there is a bit of stress involved with making a career of art that isn’t there in the early stages of exploration, this is something that young creatives often overlook when envisioning a creative life. To grow and mature as an artist is to develop the skill to create for a world outside ourselves. Achieving a balance between personally explorative work and commissions for projects is something every artist must manage in their own ways but Mandy enjoys collaboration and uses these projects as a vehicle for learning. “With every new piece that I make there is something I’m trying out that I haven’t tried before,” she says. “But I learn as much from a piece that doesn’t come together in the way that I’d hoped as a piece that does. I am humbled every day by the process of experimenting in public.”

This ability to create, on demand as well as from within speaks to a particular sensitivity Mandy feels. A sensitivity to the environment around us, our reactions to them, and to ourselves. This allows her to source whichever context she is given as inspiration for her work. In addition, the “muscle of vulnerability” as she calls it, can be put to use to make observations about society and culture. “Part of the job as a creative professional is ,” Mandy states, “to be available help make sense of the world around you.” And with this in mind her personal works range from collaborative art productions, authoring opera librettos, and has published two books. Collage Culture, a prose collaboration with author Aaron Rose, and more recently Math, Heaven, Time  a collection of poetry released in July of 2014. She is currently working on a libretto for Yuval Sharon’s Hopscotch, which will take the audience in cars, and across the city to experience the performance.

Beyond poet, Mandy Kahn is a intuit, a technician, and a craftsperson. Her works can be found through out the United States and Europe and she has chosen to make Los Angeles her home.

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