Reflection: The New Salon at Queens College – Carl Phillips Reading

I love writing. Words, for me, are energy; words are oxygen, light, music, touch. Thus, I write obsessively, read obsessively, and edit obsessively; I pour over every syllable, every metaphor, and every clash of letters. Sometimes, I will even read in my dreams.

Ultimately, I am totally addicted; I am always and already writing. This, for me, is a poet’s life – this is what it means to be dedicated to the word.

However, I am terrified – mortified – of reading my work aloud. This, I believe, is largely due to my infamous shyness; I hate crowds, and I am a poor public speaker. And what, indeed, could be more frightening than sharing your work – your soul! – with a group of strangers? What could possibly be worse? How, indeed, do poets manage?

Readings are an integral part of a poet’s life; eventually, I will have to read. But how will I manage? What will I do? And why should I have to speak, anyway? What is so special about reading a poem aloud? Does anything really happen?

The crowd at Monday night’s Carl Phillips reading was large and energetic – and rightfully so, as Phillips showed us the how, and, more importantly, the why of reading. He taught us the power, the art of the spoken word; he showed us what a reading can be, should be, must be.

Indeed, when Carl Phillips reads his poetry, something absolutely happens; the flesh-tones of the voice mix with the ink, the curves of the written words, and the air of the room thickens; new meanings emerge, and sounds bloom; suddenly, the poem has blood, eyes, a body. This, indeed, is the magic of reading; this is what I had failed to understand.

Phillips has changed my perspective entirely; now, I am fascinated by the prospect of reading. I am even beginning to practice – that is, to mutter poems, to test them on my tongue. I am still nervous, of course; Phillips did not provide me with answers, but rather the sort of questions which are fruitful, which grow and thrive. How can I better myself as a speaker? How can I best perform my work?

At the end of his reading, Phillips began taking questions from the audience; one in particular has stayed with me. The student asked Phillips how he wrestles with the necessity of production – that is, how he manages to keep writing, keep innovating. Phillips answered, in short, that he does not see it as a wrestling or a battle; rather, he sees it as an engagement, a working-together, a project.

This, indeed, is how I will approach reading – as an engagement, as something to be worked with, learned from, and built upon. Now, I will engage with sound – I will add a new, exciting dimension to my work.

* * *

For more information on Carl Phillips, click here.

Phillips’ new book of poems, Silverchest, is out now!

For more information on readings at Queens College, click here! 

Stay Tuned…

Hello all! This coming week, I will be covering two events: the Carl Phillips reading at Campbell Dome, and the opening of The Librarians, a new exhibition at the Queens College Art Center.

Carl Phillips is a brilliant poet; I strongly encourage all of you to go see him! The reading will begin at 6:30 PM. Click here for more information. 

The Librarians will be opening tomorrow as well. Remember: the Queens College Art Center is right in our library, on the 6th floor. Go check it out during a study break!

This week is going to be amazing – I can’t wait to share it with you!

5 Pointz to be Demolished?

Art is what we say it is. Art is what we do, what we live. Or is it?

I am not a veteran of the art world; I admit that I am just a beginner. I do know, however, that art is not a spectator sport. Art is something we work at, something we fight for.

So, it’s official: 5 Pointz is now slated for demolition. All of that history, all of that paint and brick and sheer, unadulterated will – all of this, and more, is to be utterly, and thoughtlessly, destroyed. It will be torn down in favor of a luxury apartment complex; we, the people of Queens, will be left with rubble, with the gutted remains of art and work and dream.

5 Pointz.

5 Pointz. Image from www.theguardian.com.

Will we allow that work, that struggle, to be destroyed? Will we be silent as that monument to “everyday” art is taken from us? Will we allow art to privatized and gentrified? Will we allow Queens to be privatized and gentrified?

Art is something we fight for. Or is it?

If you are at all concerned about what is happening to 5 Pointz, get involved: sign the petition, visit 5 Pointz, and talk to your friends. Get involved – some things are absolutely worth fighting for.

Quintessential Queens: Interview with Paolo Javier, Queens Poet Laureate

I’ve always lived in Queens. I was brought up in Bellerose, Queens; I went to high school in Fresh Meadows; I do all of my shopping in Jackson Heights, and a lot of my dancing in Woodside. I’ve taken every Queens subway line, and I’ve suffered for the Mets.

Yet, I can’t say I know Queens – I can’t say I’ve seen it all. Queens, I think, is endless; every day, it shows me a new face, a new set of steely eyes; every day it grows, a protean city. I went to the Quintessential Queens Conference to learn more about my borough – and that I did. I learned, for example, that Queens was, at first, a rural area, and that Queens is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. I learned about the roles Queens played in numerous conflicts, and about demographic changes within the borough.

Indeed, the conference was as abundant, and as diverse, as the borough it celebrated; lecture topics ranged from demographics to jazz music, from The Great Gatsby to environmental science. I, however, was most interested in learning more about the Queens literary scene. I wanted to know where Queens poetry was, and what it looked like; I wanted to know what it meant to write, to work, in Queens today.

I was able to sit down with Paolo Javier, Queens Poet Laureate and presenter at the conference, to talk more about writing in Queens, and also about his own role in that abundant process.

Elena: You are the current Queens Poet Laureate. What are your goals? What do you hope to achieve?

Paolo: I guess it’s still in the present tense, even though I’ve got ‘till December. Well, my goals when I set out to become the Poet Laureate haven’t really changed much. Really to explore and locate poetry in Queens. I mean, where poetry is written, where the poets are, where the venues are that foster poetry. It’s as much a selfish act as it is a selfless act – I wanted to really see where poetry was at in Queens. It’s another way of really understanding the literary spirit of this borough that I have refused to leave for the past 14 years. I remember when Brooklyn was being built up as this cool literary space, and I’ve always been in Queens. My family is living in Westchester, and we didn’t really explore another borough but Queens. What I can do is really try to find poets and poetry, and hopefully present it, represent it, draw attention to it through my visibility as Poet Laureate. But I also didn’t want to be self-important about it: Queens has very working-class roots, immigrant roots. We know what we’re about; we don’t really need to prove it. But did want to know where they [the poets] were… As I said on stage before, I’ve just scratched the surface. It’s a big, big borough; there’s so much poetry across the borough, and so much literary history… I still have to put my feet in that geography.

Elena: What, in your opinion, does it mean to be a writer in Queens today? What does it mean to create in such a vast and disparate borough?

Paolo: I don’t know what it means, generally, to be a writer today, but I can tell you that for me, writing, living in Queens has been nothing but hospitable and generative to my writing. I’ve written two books, two of my three full-length books, in Queens, and most of my chapbooks that have been published… I’ve just finished another book that’s coming out, collaborating with another artist who’s my neighbor. I think this ties in to the second part of the question: I like the anonymity that living in Queens affords you. I think we have a really amazing literary history in Queens; On the Road was written in Ozone Park; we have hip-hop being born here in Queens and Brooklyn; Malcolm X had a house in Elmhurst; The Beats made their way here; Joseph Cornell was in Flushing… I’m aware of that, but I also like the fact that Queens is vast, it is huge, the literary center is not stable… it’s not like everything’s happening in Jackson Heights, everything’s happening in Sunnyside… I like that quality. For me, that is a strength, rather than a loss, that I don’t know where the scene is… and that does have to do with the fact that Queens is vast, it’s huge. I’ve got to tell you, I’m overly familiar with Western Queens; I’m not as familiar with Eastern Queens. It’s been my goal from day one as Poet Laureate… I’ve made my way out to Jamaica, I’ve made my way out deep into Flushing, but I still need to go to St. Albans, and other places. It’s still a borough I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of, even though I’ve been a long-time resident… I like that.

Elena: Awesome. In what direction would you like to see the Queens literary and art scenes grow? How can Queens College be part of that growth?

Paolo: I think poets – I’m very poet-centric, because poets, we are so marginalized in this society, and yet we’re so fundamental to this culture, so I will always champion poetry first. I say poets should stand up and say they’re from Queens. I should also say that poets who do stand up, who do have access to capital and to cultural institutions, should be about their neighborhoods, should be about the communities that these cultural spaces are in, and not try and match Brooklyn or Manhattan – which I see with a lot of new organizations and poets who are coming to Queens. But not all of them. And I think that having a child’s view, a beginner’s mind about being an artist and a poet in Queens, and responding to Queens and allowing Queens to be in your work, in whatever way, shape, or form that takes, is critical. And explore Queens – don’t just be in Western Queens! Try and read out in St. Albans, or locate the Polish center in Ridgewood, or the Guyanese community in Richmond Hill, and reach out to them, and work with the Queens Library… I don’t want to say this sounding prescriptive, because to be honest with you, as Poet Laureate, I realize I still have a lot more to know about this borough. But those are a few things, and I think, more importantly, just create in this borough, write in this borough… and avail of the resources in this borough, like the Queens Council on the Arts, reach out to Queens College. I think you have an amazing MFA program, and I know you guys do wonderful things. Seeing the MFA program connect with the Queens Council on the Arts or even the Queens Museum… which is easier said than done, it’s hard… But I see it. And I think, more than anything else, trying to be aware of the history of this borough, the literary history.

* * *

Paolo Javier is our current Queens Poet Laureate. Check out some of his work here. Also, he has a new book out – definitely look in to it. Paolo is amazing!

Also check out the Queens Council on the Arts, and the Queens College MFA program, for information on writing in Queens.

Source Material

Art is not a leisure activity. Art is something we do – something we struggle with, something we form out of the raw materials of our lives. Art, simply put, is a process.

Source Material is ostensibly an exhibition of still life works, but it is so much more – indeed, it is a celebration of that artistic process, of that struggle. Here, artists show us how they respond to their worlds; they show us how art emerges from everyday materials, from the building blocks of myriad lives.

Xico Greenwald’s “Source Material Dioramas” are fascinating insights into the artistic process; here, indeed, the artist brings us in to his own worlds, his own responses, his own ways of living and seeing. In the first “Diorama,” we encounter a bottle of Goya peppers, a couple of shells, and a worn brush; we see here a universe, a place of collision, an artistic process in and through which raw materials – source materials, perhaps – collide and are changed, thereby producing art, a reimagining of worlds.

The second “Diorama” is also a process. Here, indeed, we encounter sketches of plants and flowers juxtaposed with actual plants, and actual flowers. We see, then, how source materials interact with each other, and we see how the artist has drawn from his world the materials with which he will experiment, with which he will struggle. He responds to those source materials; he changes them, molds them; he pours his own mind into their winding leaves. Ultimately, he makes art of them, and they of him.

The “Dioramas” are, fascinatingly, stationed outside of the exhibit room; inside, we encounter paintings in various stages of completion. I am drawn, especially, to Despina Konstantinides’ “Thanking Z,” which is a whirl of color, texture, and process. The artist has poured her paint, her arms, and her body onto the canvas; raw materials collide, and art is formed, unformed, and challenged.

And just nearby, Kim Sloane’s “Pale Flower” is engaged in a different, yet related, process. This, I believe, is a breaking-down, a vivisection of source material, of natural properties. Sloane’s flower is distilled, is torn down to its constituent elements; the artist has shown us how she, with cutting eyes, sees and responds to the objects, the world with which she is confronted, and in which she creates.

Source Material is indeed beguiling – it is a rare and exciting look into the lives, the vision, and the processes of artists. As I leave, I feel my own eyes changing; I feel that I, too, am engaged in a process, a world-building exercise, an artistic endeavor.

* * *

Source Material is located right in our Library, on the 6th floor, at the Queens College Art Center. Go check it out!