Stay Tuned…

Tomorrow, I will be presenting some of my new work at Latin@ Cultural Studies at CUNY: Past, Present, & Future alongside my QC MFA colleagues. The conference will be held at LaGuardia CC, right off the 7 train. But if you can’t make it, no worries – I’ll be liveblogging the event.

Cheers, and siempre pa’lante! I can’t wait to share this event with you!

Another trip! (And art news!)

I really, really enjoyed my last trip to Manhattan; I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’m doing it again!

This weekend, I’ll be covering Silence Unbound, an exhibition and talk on silence, writing, and book art at The Center for Book Arts.

But what, you ask, is book art? Basically, it is any sort of art which takes on a book format, or which incorporates books. For example, you might create a book object consisting of both painting and poetry, or you might incorporate a book into a larger, mixed media installation (a sculpture with books, perhaps, or a mound of torn papers).

Book art is incredibly versatile; indeed, it can take on any format, and incorporate any muse. Take, for example, Jen Bervin’s work:

Detail. Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Fascicle 28. Sewn cotton batting backed with muslin. Taken from www.jenbervin.com.

Detail. Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Fascicle 28. Sewn cotton batting backed with muslin. Taken from www.jenbervin.com.

Indeed – through cotton, thread, needle, and mutilated book, Bervin explores Emily Dickinson’s fractured, passionate world. To see more of this fascinating project, click here. 

I am really, really excited about this trip; I’ve always wanted to create book art. Who knows – maybe I’ll get inspired!

The exhibition will be up through March 29, 2014. Definitely go check it out! And remember: Manhattan is only a 7 train ride away!

* * *

To learn more about The Center for Book Arts, click here. 

Comments? Recommendations? Ideas for a trip? Let me know!

Review: Ballet Hispanico

As you know, Latin music has always been a huge part of my life; it’s my standby, my comfort, and my internal rhythm.

Now, dance is an integral part of Latin music and, of course, Latin culture. In fact, I can’t even imagine Latin music without dance; it’d be like imagining summer without sun, or winter without cold, dry air.

Indeed, I grew up with mambo, salsa, and the silky guaguanco; I still remember my grandmother’s regal dancing. Hence, Ballet Hispanico was, for me, a revisiting of my past; it was my grandmother, my family, every taste, smell, and beat of my childhood. And yet, it was more – it was a re-imagining, a new, exciting way of entering that vivid and tumultuous world.

Ballet Hispanico is, in short, a riveting fusion performance of Latin dance forms; it is daring, innovative, and endlessly charming. Here, I’ll review two selections from their fascinating repertory.

First up is Club Havana, a beguiling Cuban-inspired dance. As the men lept, women craned, and deep lights flashed, I felt myself transported back to Cuba la bella, or la Habana vieja, or, in short, my grandmother’s beloved country. Ultimately, I was carried into a dream – and yet it was not simply a dream of the forlorn past, but of the sparkling, imagined, and fought-for future. Indeed, Club Havana is a work of memory, place, and boundless hope.

Second, we have Destino Incierto (translation: Uncertain Future), a fiery tour de force of strength and rhythm. Again and again, I was stunned by the vast flexibility of the body; I was taken aback by how deftly, how powerfully arms and legs can convey a search for passion, for harmony and happiness.

In closing, I urge you – yes, urge! – to check out Ballet Hispanico; they will be returning to New York City in April. I will surely be seeing them again (and again; this was actually my third time). Yes – they’re that good. Click here for more details.

Do you love dance? Have any recommendations? Let me know!

Oh, and by the way – stay safe out there in the snow!

Stay Tuned: Ballet Hispanico!

As you may know, yesterday’s poetry reading was cancelled due to snow – yikes!

I, for one, hate the winter. It’s just not in my blood. I do, however, enjoy the fact that I get a lot of work done – I guess cabin fever has its perks!

That being said, stay tuned – I’ll be covering the Ballet Hispanico performance this weekend.

Haven’t heard of it? Definitely check it out! Ballet Hispanico is a gorgeous and passionate celebration of Latino/a culture and dance; I’m really, really looking forward to going.

What’s your favorite type of Latino/a dance? For me, it’s got to be Cuban mambo. Take a look:

There goes my childhood!

Anyway, I strongly encourage everyone to check out Ballet Hispanico. Cheers, and don’t fall on the ice!

Hello again!

Hello all! Welcome back!

My break was fantastic – I wrote poems, visited family, and held a blue sea urchin – but I am nevertheless ecstatic, truly ecsatic, to be here.

As always, there is plenty of art on campus; below, you’ll find a tidy list of great events.

I know – we’re all terribly, terribly busy, not to mention tired. I, for one, just lugged a mountain of new books across campus. (Ouch.) However, I really urge you to drop in on a few of these events – art, as we all know, is refreshing, inspiring, and life-giving. And who knows – maybe you’ll get an idea for that paper!

Cheers, and see you around! Also, feel free to recommend an event!

Literary Legacies: Terrance Hayes and Lynn Emanuel

What: Hayes and Emanuel will read from their extraordinary poetic repertoire. Don’t miss this!

When: February 5, 2014. The event will begin at 6:30.

Where: Godwin-Ternbach Museum.

Queens College Art Faculty Exhibition

What: A showcase of art by members of the Queens College Art Department. Come out and support your professor!

When: The exhibition opens February 13.

Where: Godwin-Ternbach Museum.

Vikings | In Perpetuum III

What: An exhibition that explores the Vikings through the lens of contemporary trade.

When: The exhibition opens February 3.

Where: Queens College Art Center (6th floor of the Rosenthal Library).

Ballet Hispanico

What: A performance of classical, Latin, and contemporary dance. You know I’ll be there!

When: Saturday, February 8, 2014 through Sunday, February 9, 2014, 8:00 pm.

Where: Goldstein Theatre at Kupferberg Center for the Arts

Note: This is a ticketed event.

E.L. Doctorow with Leonard Lopate

What: The pre-eminent writer E.L. Doctorow will read from his work, and will be interviewed.

When: Tuesday, February 25, at 7pm.

Where: LeFrak Concert Hall.

Thanksgiving: The Art of Cooking!

I love Thanksgiving – that is, almost as much as I love cooking!

Today, I’ll be making one of my favorite dishes – un potaje de frijoles blancas con chorizo y morcilla (that is, white bean, chorizo, and morcilla stew).

Here’s my recipe; try it out sometime! I’ve added pictures for extra deliciousness. =]

Alright – let’s go!

Elena’s Potaje Recipe:

Ingredients:

– 1 green bell pepper

– Olive oil

– 1 onion

– 3 cloves of garlic, mashed with olive oil and a dash of paprika

– Azafran (preferably in leaf form)

– Red sweet peppers

– Sazon Goya (without coloring)

– Adobo Goya (with pimiento)

– Chorizo (chopped up and de-skinned)

– Morcilla (chopped up)

– 1 bag of dry white beans

– 3-4 Bay leaves

– Oregano

– Black pepper

– Red wine (preferably dry)

– 1 can of tomato sauce

– Salt and pepper, to taste

– 1 potato (cut)

– 1 chile pepper (optional)

Note: you need to soak the beans overnight, preferably in a large pot!

Alright – let’s get started!

1) First, add olive oil to a large sautee pan. Then, drop in your garlic/paprika mix. Let it simmer briefly.

2) Now, add green peppers, onions, red sweet pepper, black pepper, oregano, bay leaf, Adobo Goya, Sazon Goya, chorizo, and a few spoons of tomato sauce. If you’d like, add some paprika and/or a single chile pepper for extra spice. This will be your sofrito (seasoning).

Sofrito. This is your key ingredient! Make sure to taste frequently and add spices as you go along. Cooking is an art, not a chore! =]

Sofrito. This is your key ingredient! Make sure to taste frequently and add spices as you go along. Remember: cooking is an art, not a chore! =]

 Note: make sure to leave a bit of sofrito in the pan! We will use this again!

3) Stir. Let everything simmer for a few minutes.

4) Now, add the sofrito to your pot of beans. Stir well, and bring your stew to a light boil.

Sofrito and stew. Stir well!

Sofrito and stew. Stir well! Also, don’t let the stew boil excessively; we want the beans to be tender, not limp!

5) Do some tasting. Add spices and salt to your liking.

6) Add a few teaspoons of flour to the remaining sofrito and mix it all up. This will thicken the sofrito.

7) Add the flour and sofrito mix to the pot. The flour will give the stew a lovely consistency.

After you've added the flour and sofrito mix, your stew should begin to thicken. Make sure to stir very well - you don't want the flour to form lumps!

After you’ve added the flour and sofrito mix, your stew should begin to thicken. Make sure to stir very well – you don’t want the flour to form lumps!

8) Add a cup or so of chicken stock. Stir.

9) Add a dash of red wine and sherry vinegar. Add azafran to color the stew. Keep stirring!

10) Now, using the same sautee pan, fry up some morcilla with a bit of garlic and olive oil. The morcilla will cook relatively quickly. You can add some extra spices here if you’d like.

12) Add the morcilla to your stew. Cover the pot, and lower the heat.

13) Let the stew sit for at least an hour. Check it regularly – you don’t want it to overheat.

14) After an hour or so, add the chopped potatoes. Taste, and add spices accordingly.

The potatoes will soak up water, and give your stew a nice, thick consistency. We're almost there!

The potatoes will soak up water and give your stew a nice, thick consistency. Don’t worry – we’re almost there!

15) Your stew should be done in 2-3 hours. Just before you finish, bring your stew to a final boil.

All done!

All done!

Enjoy! Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Love,

Elena

5 Pointz Is Gone – Is Queens Next?

5 Pointz is gone.

5 Pointz, today. Image from nypost.com.

5 Pointz, today. Image from nypost.com.

White paint, dead art. Gentrification at its finest.

5 Pointz was desecrated as we slept; the words, the colors, and the faces, defiant, were wiped away as we curled into our dreams. We are left with a dry, bleached shell of a museum; we are left with a sanitized emptiness.

The destruction. Image from stupiddope.com.

The destruction. Image from stupiddope.com.

But soon, even this will be taken from us; eventually, the shell will be torn down, and a luxury condominium will take its place. A bruise on top of a bruise.

I’ve lived in Queens my whole life; I’ve watched it grow, change, and ripen.

Now, I am witnessing a sort of disintegration – that is, a wiping away, a banishing of art, of unruliness, and, most importantly, of working class neighborhoods, institutions, and landmarks.

To whom does this borough belong?

I am no longer certain.

* * *

For more information about 5 Pointz, click here.

For more information about the demolition, click here.

Stay tuned: I will be following this story closely over the coming weeks.

Angry? Sad? Unaffected? Have any ideas for action? Let me know!

Exhibition: The Librarians at the Queens College Art Center

Friday is my library day. I wake up; I come over, I look for a quiet, comfortable spot; I settle down, and I read for hours. Plots unfold, and characters grow; before I know it, I’ve reached the final pages, and it’s already dark outside. Time flies when you’re at the library.

What is a library? For me, it is a place of imagination – a place of books, of discovery, and of endless time. Of course, everyone has their own definition; everyone has their own library experience.

Few, however, have much experience with librarians; they, indeed, are a mystery to many. What does a librarian do? What is it like to work in that bustling point of imagination?

The Librarians does not try to answer my questions; rather, it complicates them, destabilizes them. Indeed – this dizzying conglomerate of objects, paintings, and assorted installation pieces challenges our understanding of libraries, and of their keepers.

I was struck, for example, by a number of rough, colorful paintings of faces; they are bruise-like, deep scars on an otherwise smooth surface. Are they smiling? Sneering? Are they librarians? Or are they patrons? Students? I am unsure; I begin to question my own place within the library. Am I merely a patron? Or am I also part of the library? Am I, by virtue of my gaze, my reading, a librarian? Are we all librarians?

I was also intrigued by an installation of thin, multi-colored papers, all of which bore names and titles; as they progressed, slowly, from left to right, their colors began to fade, to run, as though the printer had run out of ink.

Is knowledge, then, fading? Are books a relic? Are they, and libraries, doomed to obsolescence, to blankness? Or will that printer be restocked? Will the vibrant pages return? Again, I am unsure.

Sprinkled throughout the exhibition are the tools, the trappings of the librarian; diagrams litter the glass windows, and an entire apparatus – a desk, computer, stack of books – sits, idly, by the exit. I wonder why they are here; I wonder if they are an anchor, a point of reference, or if they destabilize my experience further.

Ultimately, I am left puzzled – and wanting to speak to a librarian. Indeed, I want to know more – I want to know how that apparatus works, and, more broadly, what a librarian actually does.

This exhibit is a treasure; it has drawn me in to a world I had always overlooked. Definitely go see it – and go talk to a librarian!

* * *

To learn more about this exhibit, click here.

The Queens College Art Center is located on the 6th floor of Rosenthal Library. Go visit!

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.