Sylvia is a poet and translator who is currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She recently left her role as the exhibitions coordinator at the Lévy Gorvy Gallery of London and Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but she continues on as their poetry curator — a role she created to launch a reading series, and to commission original work from poets for exhibition catalogues.
In her own words:
“I was born in the East Village, NYC, where I spent my early childhood. My father is a poet and my mother was an herbalist at the time. My family moved upstate to a small town in the Catskills called Phoenicia when I was a child, where I grew up listening to old records and watching Fred Astaire movies, dancing, and acting in the local community theater.
There I studied with Larry Fagin, met many of the poets I most admire, and wrote a book called Seven Poems for Bill Berkson. At 17 I began my BA back at Bard, where I majored in philosophy after discovering Nietzsche.
I spent a semester during my junior year studying abroad at the Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre, and after graduating I returned to Paris and completed a Master's in philosophy, writing my thesis on temporality and eternity in the the work of the young Nietzsche. I subsequently moved back to New York and began working with Dominique Lévy at what is now the Lévy Gorvy gallery. And I recently began a PhD in Comparative Literature at NYU.
‘Art has always played a central role in my life, and I had a very pure love of painting. But after spending three years working at close proximity to the inside of the art market, my perspective has changed somewhat.’
I am now much more drawn to institutional critique and theoretically based art practices that expose an art world ruled by the flow of capital. I think that work which does this, such as that of Karin Schneider and Cameron Rowland is the most interesting and important work being done now. And yet I still have an extremely deep love for certain painters.
Recently, at the Hammer Museum in LA, I broke down at the sight of two Gustave Moreau paintings I had never seen in person, Salomé dancing before Herod and King David. The Musée Moreau in Paris has long been one of my favorite places on earth, and I was moved by these paintings in a deep and instinctual way.
Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx at the Met is very close to my heart, and Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin is also of the deepest importance to me — I once spent a week visiting it every day, and composing a poem for it.
Recently I loved the Hélio Oiticica exhibition at the Whitney. I also adored the Florine Stettheimer exhibition at the Jewish Museum — she has been one of my most cherished artists since I was 16, and seeing so much of her work together was a deeply moving and exciting experience for me.
Last summer I saw an extraordinary exhibition of the poet, artist, and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo that was life-changing. About a month later, back in the New York, I had the privilege of seeing Gozo perform at the St. Mark's Poetry Project — he read his poetry from a sheet of paper which he was painting as he read, while filming himself painting. It was brilliant to see.
‘I started a poetry program at Lévy Gorvy in 2015, commissioning original work from poets for exhibition catalogues, and hosting a reading series. I engage with my community — the poetry community I have been a part of all my life — through this series, and by attending as many readings as I can.’
There was an extraordinary reading at Lévy Gorvy with Tonya Foster and Anne Boyer during an exhibition of Diane Arbus's photographs. Both poets read new work in progress that had a polemical relationship to Arbus. Seeing these brilliant poets read this new work in a room full of Arbus's photographs was an incredibly powerful experience, one that I will never forget. I felt extremely proud to have made that possible.
I am also always reading poetry — recently Bernadette Mayer's Works and Days, which is extraordinary.’
Apogee is, I think, a monumentally important poetry journal for our time. I think every piece of work they publish is proof of the capacity of poetry to change the world. I especially love the work of Joey De Jesus, one of the journal's brilliant editors and a great poet.
I now live in Inwood. My dad grew up in a housing project in Inwood, so in a way, moving here, I felt like I was moving back to a place I had a kind of ancestral relationship to. When my grandfather, who is 98, came to visit me here he said "it's good to be back in the old neighborhood.”
‘Inwood, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the most stunning parts of New York City. When I first moved here a bit more than a year ago, I thought immediately of Nietzsche's Thinking of Altitudes, and sensed a kind of liberation. The air is very fresh and clear, and it has the feeling of a real neighborhood.’
I live in a beautiful two bedroom apartment in a sturdy old apartment building on a tree-lined cul-de-sac that stems off Broadway. My bedroom is my favorite room in the apartment — I have two windows facing the street, and there is always a cool breeze coming through them from Fort Tryon Park.
‘On my walls I have a George Schneeman painting in tempura paints, made in Italy in 2005; a drawing by my friend and roommate, the poet Mary Reilly, called Days, which she made in 2008 in response to a poem of mine; a collaboration I did with the artist Damon Shair in 2015; and a collection of postcards. Out the kitchen window is the fire escape, which is a wonderful place to sit and read.’
Between my full-time job and my studies, I have been making my own days. I do preparatory work for school, reading Foucault, Susan Sontag, and others; I work on my translation of Mallarmé's Le Livre; I work on my own poetry. On weekends I go to yoga at a studio in Washington Heights I love, and sit in Fort Tryon Park reading. I like to get to a museum and see an exhibition if I can, go to the movies, and see my friends as much as possible.
‘I think my friends would describe me as serious and excitable. I can get very worked up and passionate about things I care about, but most of the time I am pretty introverted and I can have a hard time getting out of my head.’
My friends are the dearest people in my life. To name a few: the filmmaker Lilli Canright, the editor Maria Goldverg, the artist Sofia Theodore-Pierce, the scholar Serena Ciranna. I also love poets, who I believe are the angels of this world. Some of my favorite poets and people include Kostas Anagnopoulos, Ali Power, Corina Copp, Cameron Seglias, and Aaron Simon.
‘The hidden bar Angel's Share is one of my favorite places in the city. It's on 9th street and 3rd Avenue, upstairs from where the St. Mark's Bookshop used to be.’
‘What matters to me in what I wear is that I feel held, protected, more like the best version of myself. I have an amazing leather jacket — really a very masculine box-shaped one. I got it because it closely resembles the jacket Pascale Ogier wears in my favorite film — Jacques Rivette's Le Pont du Nord. Ogier is my hero. She embodies everything I would like to be.’
I'm obsessed with Paris in the early 1980s—the overlapping currents of the techno, cinema, and philosophy scenes at that moment. I think it was a singular and unparalleled moment in human history that was also very precarious and disappeared much too quickly.”
English, French, German, and Ancient Greek.
Lucia Berlin's collection of stories Where I Live Now.
A messy mixture.
Korean buffet with my friends Lilli and Vinn in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Reading in the bathtub.
‘The Cloisters is another of my favorite places which is more than a gem… a halo of jewels!’
‘I need to have enough time to myself. To reach conclusions, and to write down the thoughts and poems that are racing around inside my head. I have also learned that it is very important for me to sing and to dance as often as possible.’
Sylvia Mae Gorelick’s chapbooks include Olympians, We Are Breathless (Poetry will be made by all!, 2014) and Seven Poems for Bill Berkson (Kostro Editions, 2009). Her work recently appeared in the anthology In|Filtration: An Anthology of Innovative Writing from the Hudson River Valley (Station Hill, 2016). The University of Chicago Press published her translation of Nietzsche’s Journey to Sorrento by Paolo D’Iorio in 2016, and her translation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Le Livre is forthcoming from Exact Change Press.