Where are we? In the middle, at the beginning, the end? Who is we, is it you plus me, or something else expandable, explosive, the salt and pepper of our thoughts the something that may outlast our divinities?
– Etel Adnan in There (The Post-Apollo Press, 1997)
This Winter the Guggenheim presented Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure, an exhibition that explored Etel’s artistic practice over the span of sixty-years, from tapestries and leporellos to small-format oil on canvas works and, of course, Etel’s writing.
The exhibition concluded with An Evening of Poetry for Etel Adnan organized by the Guggenheim and The Academy of American Poets, bringing together a cross-generational cohort of New York poets to offer readings and reflections in honor of Etel. Participants including Ammiel Alcalay, Omar Berrada, Stephen Motika, Asiya Wadud, and Anne Waldman read selections from Etel’s writings alongside their own work, making felt the reaches of Etel’s touch beyond her lifetime.
The event began with Ammiel Alcalay reading from his epistolary exchanges with Etel, whose life long commitment to cross-atlantic correspondences can be traced throughout her entire body of work. Asiya Wadud read from Surge (Nightboat Books, 2018) asking what it means to return to the same site through color and language. Stephen Motika read from Of Cities & Women: Letters to Fawwaz (The Post-Apollo Press, 1993), in addition to his own letters to Etel. Omar Berrada dedicated his reading to Simone Fattal and read the Arabic version of Five Senses For One Death (The Smith, 1971) as well as excerpts of his afterword to the Second Edition of Journey to Mount Tamalpais (Litmus Press, 2021). The evening concluded with Anne Waldman reading from The Arab Apocalypse (The Post-Apollo Press, 2007) evoking Etel’s quest to evoke ruin and fragment through grammar.
An Evening of Poetry also marked the release of the 2nd edition of Journey to Mount Tamalpais, a book that sits at the meeting point of Etel’s verbal and visual practices. Journey to Mount Tamalpais and the works on view at Light’s New Measure locate the mountain, Etel’s “best friend,” as she called it, as a metaphysical center in her life which lacked a geographical center due to displacement and exile.
More than ever we are humbled to continue Etel’s legacy through the publication of her writing. Over the course of 30 years, The Post-Apollo Press released eleven books of Etel Adnan’s poetry and prose. The Post-Apollo Press catalogue is now under the stewardship of Litmus Press, and we are working to make sure these vital avant-garde publications remain an active part of literary scholarship and discourse.
Light’s New Measure started as an exhibition of a living artist but became a retrospective, closing with the heartbreaking knowledge that there will not be any new work by Etel Adnan. But the marks that Etel continues to leave on each poet and artist, who has had the privilege of meeting her, whether that be through a decade long epistolary exchange, a book of poetry or a recent encounter in her painting, continues to vibrate like the unending pigments of Etel’s horizon line.
You can watch the full recording of An Evening of Poetry for Etel Adnan through the Guggenheim’s website:
– Amanda Monti