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Pablo Conejero López Is The Spanish Poet Haunting the Lower East Side

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

A slender man draped in a long coat and sporting coiffed dark hair descends a set of stairs, strolling along the South Street Seaport in a faded video sequence that seemed straight out of a dream. The man narrates in Spanish while English subtitles roll underneath: “There are things and dreams that disappear by not thinking them/And lovers whose pain is forgotten during each successive sleep.” The man is Pablo Conejero López, a Spanish artist that has haunted the Lower East Side with his introspective poetry and eclectic multimedia music collaborations.

The poem in the video is an excerpt from Lopez’s third book, Cuerpos (“bodies” in Spanish), which will be released in December with Paradigm Publishing. But although López has been prolific on social media—his Instagram boasts 12,300 followers and growing—that’s not how I was introduced to the curious artist. In a way, I first encountered López while I was walking around Great Jones Street and a ragged piece of paper stuck atop a Minnie Mouse sticker caught my eye. The haunting opening lines resonated with me: “Come/take me with you/by the hand down melting pathways/and store windows/so we can see our reflection.” So I looked up hashtag #PabloCL to learn more about my mysterious street poet.

When I met up with López in person a few weeks later on a bench on the outskirts of Seward Park, he recounted the story of how his “sticky paper” poem adventures began. “It was sort of an accident that happened. One day I was printing stuff up, and I used sticky paper instead…so I realized it could be a sticker…Like, why didn’t I do this before? Because if you’re an artist or poet, it’s the fastest way to get your words out there.” He used the hashtag #PabloCL to connect with passerby. Some liked his art and some did not, but the most important thing was that people took the time to notice his art, which could feel like a rarity in a world where writers often faced a steady stream of rejections from literary magazines. “When you’re doing this, you don’t need anyone’s approval. You just post it. And it’s free. It’s more direct. Maybe somebody would never find out or you would have never found out if I was published [in] the Paris Review.”

Upon our first encounter, I immediately noticed two things about the soft-spoken artist, who seemed out of place in this bustling corner of the Lower East Side where the sirens of ambulances mingled with the loud conversations of park goers. First: the intensity of his gaze and keen self-awareness (during a lull in conversation, he sighed and asked, “Am I boring you?”), which I attributed to his background as an actor. Second: his sharp attire (a crisp blue striped shirt, sheer black dress pants and shiny leather shoes), which spoke to his day job (he works in a shoe store now and before that in a tailor’s shop).

The 38-year-old poet-musician was raised as the youngest of four children in the coastal Spanish city of Valencia, where he was raised “in a very conventional and traditional atmosphere because of the area of Spain I grew up in, but also a very unconventional family.”

Although both of his parents were educators before retiring, López spurned the academic life, opting not to go to college after high school. “I didn’t want to be a part of a system in any way. Because I grew up, you know, like many kids that are a bit artistic or the classic effeminate kid, I was always feeling inadequate in a kind of way. That sort of pushed me away from any kind of system.”

Instead, while he was developing his own writing, he set off for London, where he studied drama at the National Youth Theatre. He auditioned for and subsequently starred as Mercutio in a play his father wrote, an adaption of Romeo and Juliet and Two Noble Kinsmen in which Mercutio falls in love with Romeo and Juliet. He split his time between London and Madrid, bartending to earn his keep and also taking voice lessons.

Although he was an actor by training, López felt his true calling lay elsewhere, and he started shifting more formally towards music and poetry in the late 1990s. Of music, he says it “helped me develop an identity as a teenager when you feel misplaced and [have] classic adolescent feelings.” While writing the poems that would comprise his first book, Rock and Roll Jolie, López wound up joining a group of hard-nosed kids from the outskirts of Madrid, among whom the reclusive López found a home for five years when they formed a band called Vice and Vanity, featuring López as their vocalist. Even though their music hewed more to rock and roll, they had a sort of “punk rock aesthetic” that was inspired in part by the music scene unfolding in New York at the time. “It’s more of an attitude or a way of looking at life than a style of rock and roll,” said López.

Inevitably, he made his way to New York in his early twenties. López was visiting a friend at Stony Brook in Long Island, and he would take the train into the city and just roam the streets. But New York cast a spell on López, and he returned every year until 2005, when he met his now-husband, Vincent Michaud. Michaud would soon become a creative partner with López, as he illustrated the poet’s second book, New Reality, and also developed the visuals for many of his multimedia works, including Park Poem, a collaboration with Laloved Magazine that also featured spoken word poetry from López alongside out-of-this world music from López’s current band, Ensalmo (roughly meaning “incantation” in Spanish).

Newly in love and wanting to pursue other creative endeavors, López moved to the city for real in 2006 and split up the band, though in his first year in New York they did play a few gigs at spots like Continental (back when it was still doing live shows) and the Trash Bar in Williamsburg (now the Brooklyn location of the popular Overthrow boxing gym). But eventually, he and the band went their separate ways, separated by more than just an ocean. “They were demanding a presence from me, and I was also withdrawing and wanting to start a life here. I wanted to stay with them, but I also wanted to explore, not only personally but also artistically.”

López’s present-day band, Ensalmo, was eventually born with the addition of bandmates Florencia Zaballa Moon and Jamie Del Moon. All the while, López’s love of poetry grew stronger, inspired as he was by poets like Manhattan native and musician Jim Carroll, who also lived on the Lower East Side for a time. López released his second book of poetry in 2011, and then more recently began to plaster his writings around the city in places like Washington Square Park and the East Broadway subway station. So many of his poems centered on the experience of dwelling in this ever-changing place–whether it was being a romantic in the city or observing a flock of birds and meditating on their significance in one’s own life.

Image posted on Instagram by Pablo Conejero López

He was particularly inspired by the Lower East Side, where he’s lived for the past 10 years. In fact, it was in part due to the diversity of his surroundings that he decided to write his next book of poetry in both English and Spanish as a way to fully embrace his native tongue. “For this book, I really want to develop my love for my mother language. It’s the first bilingual book [of mine]. I wrote it, I translated it,” said López. “That’s what I like about New York—the diversity and the language diversity. The cultural diversity is something I identify with. Especially in this neighborhood,” he said, gesturing to the small storefronts and residential walk-ups on Essex Street.

We chatted for a little bit about the shops of nearby Orchard Street and the gentrification of Chinatown. In the process, I discovered that López had more than just a personal connection to the Lower East Side—it was a historical one that spanned generations. His grandfather and great-grandfather moved to New York, and it’s possible they may have at one point lived on Cherry Street, settling in among the influx of Spaniards that flocked to Lower Manhattan in the early twentieth century. “It makes me feel subconsciously that I ended up here.”

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Black Art Matters and More Exhibitions This Week

(image via Con Artist Collective)

August Summer Residency Showcase
Opening Wednesday, August 29 at Con Artist Collective, 7 pm to 11 pm. On view through August 31.

It’s the end of the summer, which means people are scrambling to get the last of their leisure time in before it feels less justifiable to do so. This often means less events and other artistic goings-on. After all, it’s hard to have an art show when you don’t want to leave the beach. But the restless vigor of Con Artist Collective continues—on any given day (including in the midst of the end-of-summer lull) you can probably find them up to something, whether that be the party-filled unveiling of a new art exhibition or something else entirely. Starting Wednesday night, the Lower East Side art space’s summer studio residents will be showing their latest creations. Keep Reading »

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The Jazz Age Lawn Party Packs Up Its Picnic Baskets For Summer

Michael Arenella (top, eighth from right) with his Dreamland Orchestra and his audience at the finale of his August party. (Photos: Nick McManus)

The Jazz Age Lawn party said farewell to its 13th season on Governor’s Island last Sunday with gorgeous weather to aid in the transport of their attendees back in time. Party founder Michael Arenella joined his Dreamland Orchestra alongside fellow classic jazz bands Queen Ester and her Hot FiveGelber and Manning Band and Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society. Dancers from resident Dreamland Follies and Roddy Caravella’s Canarsie Warblers warmed up a crowd that filled the classic parquet floor when they weren’t picnicking, enjoying throwback cocktails or even taking in a magic show from The Great Dubini.

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New York Comedy Club Replaces EastVille: With Gaffigan We Can Laugh Again!

(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

Excuse me, do you like live comedy? Well, good news!

The EastVille Comedy Club– a low-key spot frequented by Janeane Garofalo and other downtown comics– picked up and moved to Brooklyn in July, leaving its home of 10 years empty but for the lingering odor of a thousand Long Island Iced Teas. Lucky for the East Village, the subterranean space at 85 East 4th Street was quickly taken over by the New York Comedy Club, which gave it a quick touch-up and has now soft-opened an outpost of its Gramercy club there.

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Photos: Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson Block Party Was a Real Thriller

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Michael Jackson would have been 60 years old this Wednesday, and as has become custom in Bed-Stuy (for the past eight summers, anyway), Spike Lee threw a massive birthday block party for the beloved King of Pop. The setting was Do The Right Thing Way–Stuyvesant Avenue between Lexington and Quincy, where Lee filmed much of his seminal film, and still the only street in town named after a movie or any other work art–and on a glorious afternoon the neighborhood came out in force for the occasion.

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B&H Dairy Celebrates 80 Years of Being the ‘East Village Cheers’

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

Green and yellow banners and balloons festooned the doorway of B&H Dairy on Wednesday night as it celebrated 80 years in the East Village. And the swarm of customers flooding the narrow hallway of the restaurant showed that the place had more than withstood the passage of time. While the Jewish patrons who frequented the diner in its early days may no longer be as strong of a presence in the East Village, this small diner with a medley of vegetarian/kosher/Eastern European fare and fewer than 30 seats (most of them classic lunch counter stools) has continued to soldier on throughout the decades, surviving economic downturns, a gas explosion and ongoing gentrification.

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Mister Rogers Is Getting Roasted, Just in Time For Sweater Weather

If you’ve seen the touching documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the words “The Roast of Mister Rogers” might seem like an oxymoron. Roasted? The national treasure who stands for everything good and pure in this crazy, mixed-up world? But that’s exactly what Character Assassination– a comedy troupe born in Louisville, Kentucky that has previously roasted Luke Skywalker, Freddy Kreuger, Walt Disney, and many others– plan to do at The Creek and the Cave on Aug. 30.

Not only that, but the roasters who’ll hold court at the Long Island City bar will be some other beloved figures from our childhood (or stand-up comedians playing them, anyway): Kermit the Frog, Pee-wee Herman, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. (It’s unclear whether Tom Hanks, who is playing Fred Rogers in an upcoming biopic, will make a cameo.)

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First Look at NYC Ferry’s New Line, Cruising Into the LES Next Week

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

With the hotly anticipated Lower East Side ferry line finally set to launch next Wednesday, Aug. 29, we took advantage of this breezy, sunny day to board the Friendship Express and preview the new route. Verdict: It was worth the wait.

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Tribeca TV Festival: Anthony Bourdain, Tracey Ullman, Rosario Dawson and More

The Tribeca TV festival, from the folks behind the film festival, is returning for its second installment Sept. 20-23. De Niro et al just dropped this year’s lineup and among the highlights are a chat with the East Village’s own Rosario Dawson; a conversation between Meryl Streep and sketch comedy queen Tracey Ullman, who will premiere the new season of her rebooted show; and the premiere of the final season of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, followed by a conversation with some of the show’s makers, including comedian/director W. Kamau Bell. (Oh, and an appearance by Law & Order producer and human meme Dick Wolf.)

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