Listen to an audio recording of this profile by Taylor Johnson, the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Johnson discusses the residency and his work as a poet and artist. 

Taylor Johnson: My name’s Taylor Johnson. We are in D.C. We’re in Northwest off of Georgia and Florida Avenue, and we’re right by the MetroPCS which plays go-go music all day, every day. Um, it’s a really important intersection to me. It feels kind of like a signal that I’m home.

Go-go music is D.C.’s Black indigenous sound. It’s a percussive call-and-response sound. The audience is just as part of the band as the band is. And it’s something that is grown from the earth here, so it’s an important sound to me. It’s an important sound to my poetry. 

[More street sounds and go-go music, then a transition to a quiet space with birds chirping]

Could we just sit over here?

In this moment, I know that I’m an artist. I know that I make things. But I’m always working to be a poet, you know what I mean? Like, it feels like a task that I’m always attending to. I’m never arrived in it, though. If I had arrived in it, that might be boring for myself, you know? 

And that is an everyday commitment. And it doesn’t mean that I write poetry every day, but I will write a sentence or a few words that catch me or, you know, anything that sounds like it could turn into something else.

When I’m thinking about poetry or writing poems, I really feel like a lot of my process is internal in a way. There’s a lot that I do to try to hear myself better and to make myself a better listener of my language. Some of that involves listening to the sounds of others, or reading, or listening to go-go music, for instance, which kind of brings me back into the landscape that we’re in—which is the landscape that I write from.

I felt inspired by just the Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and his persistence in that architecture, you know? The doorways being up to his height, and that people have to physically move their bodies in a such a way to meet the specifications of what he laid out. That’s so interesting to me. I know a lot of people see that as, you know, a very individualistic idea. But for me, I took it as this participatory moment, you know what I mean? Like, you have to fit yourself into this thing that somebody else has designed to fit his body.

And I think a lot of my poems strive for that same kind of participatory element. And part of that is because of growing up around go-go music and being in those kind of clubs where that sound is—like, I have to participate and free myself up to be able to be a member of that sound while it’s happening and to create it collectively.

[Go-go music and street sounds]

I like the idea of community. I like being from people and coming with people. And I think when you hear my poetry or when someone reads my poetry, there’s an element of polyvocality that’s necessary in there in order for the poems to move. So I think community is just kind of inherent like in my makeup. And so I wanted to translate that into the residency as well.

I was really interested in something that would bring people together around, you know, looking at art or being with art in a different way. Things that I’m doing in the museum—like putting up poem signs that are these brief moments of reflection about the structure of the space, and how people kind of reveal their interiority in these quiet moments of looking at art—hopefully will help people who are in the museum, as viewers and guests, take in the art in a more reflective way and not just in, you know, something to pass by and see or maybe snap a photo of, you know what I mean? That it really can be these meditative experiences that you’re in collectively with other people who are with you.

[Go-go music and street sounds]