poetry

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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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Performance Picks: Bats N’ Rats, Comedy Music Fest, + More

WEDNESDAY

(poster by Jack Sjogren)

Little Gross Guys: An Evening of Comedy About Bats and Rats
Wednesday, August 9 at Babycastles, 8 pm: $5

The last time I saw Joe Rumrill and Andrew Tisher pay tribute to quirky creatures, it was at Little Green Guys: An Evening of Comedy About Frogs and Lizards. Though sadly no actual frogs or lizards were in attendance, the show went swimmingly (do lizards swim?) and it appears they are continuing on with this charming theme. This time around, they’re dedicating it to the little guys often misunderstood or feared by the human species: bats and rats.

The two hosts have assembled a mighty group to sing the praises and oddities of these furry and beady-eyed critters. Expect creative concoctions of all sorts from Patti Harrison, Ike Ufomadu, Alyssa Stohona, Phil Meister, Brian Fiddyment, and Joey Dundale. This may be the only time you see someone screaming at the sight of a rat in a positive and encouraging way. I was once walking and a rat scurried across the sidewalk and ran straight into my boot on his way to his destination. Maybe he was heading, slowly but surely, to this show. Keep Reading »

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Sasha Velour on 4/20, The Postmen Move to Bushwick, and More Performance Picks

THURSDAY

(image via Sasha Velour / Facebook)

Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns
Thursday, April 20 at National Sawdust, 8:30 pm doors, 10 pm show: $18 advance, $22 doors

If you live in Brooklyn and are watching this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, there’s probably a pretty good chance you’re only a degree or two of separation from some of the queens competing. One of these hometown heroes is Sasha Velour, who has continued to host the unique drag variety show Nightgowns on a regular basis. The show is typically at Bizarre Bushwick, but is making the move to dear old Williamsburg and its funky, classy music hall National Sawdust.

Given that they’re moving to a bigger, swankier space, the lineup is pretty big too. You can see shows after fabulous show from Francesca, Hystée Lauder, Kandy Muse, Olive d’Nightlife, Pearl Harbor, Severely Mame, Scarlet Envy, Untitled Queen, and Vigor Mortis. And hey, it’s 4/20, so there’ll probably be some sort of relevant performance themes going on. Keep Reading »

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Something ‘Terrifying’ and Four More Performance Picks

WEDNESDAY

(image via Maude Gun / Facebook)

Maude Night #4
Wednesday, March 15 at Muchmore’s, 9 pm: $5-7 suggested donation

This is decidedly not the UCB showcase, but a queer/femme/POC space for variety performance and expression helmed by witchy, culty performance-art band Maude Gun. The lineup includes “Mountain Moving Witch of the West Coast” Carissa Matsushima, “Ritualistic Serotonin Poem Witch” Tara Jayakar, “Nose Bleeding Drama Queen Healer” Holly Simple, and a closing piece by Maude Gun themselves. Though it is the name of their band, they seem to be rather generous with the term “maude,” referring to their booked performers and potentially everyone in the room by the moniker. In the event description is a reminder: “let’s mind our pronouns! (call everyone a MAUDE if you’re lost)” Keep Reading »

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Performance Picks: Murder Mystery, Spaghetti Puppetry, and Poetry Marathons for the New Year

WEDNESDAY

(image via Future Forms / Facebook)

(image via Future Forms / Facebook)

Future Forms
Wednesday, December 28 at Throne Watches, 8 pm: FREE 

Mary Houlihan, Joe Rumrill, Sam Taggart, and Julio Torres’s recurring comedy show Future Forms is a tasty treat, and probably one of the only shows you can say you’ve seen in a watch showroom. I mean, with the impending closure of spaces like Cake Shop, and DIY spaces getting all hush-hush for fear of getting shut down, perhaps we’ll all soon be watching shows in the aisles of grocery stores or something like that. Which could be fun, but the lighting leaves something to be desired.

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Before the Puerto Rican Poets, There Was the Polish Violinist

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

(Photo: Shanna Ravindra for NY Mag)

(Photo: Shanna Ravindra for NY Mag)

The entrance to the Nuyorican Poets Café dissolves into a mural of faceless men standing in line, all dressed in white-hat-and-suit ensembles, hands stuffed into their pockets. The painting is based on a black and white photograph from the 1980s of spectators waiting outside the Café. To the right of the entrance is a detailed portrait of the Rev. Pedro Pietri, one of the Nuyorican’s founding poets. The murals replicate the artistry of what goes on inside the walls.

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Performance Picks: Colorful Comedy, Wilderness Therapy, Taboo Poets

THURSDAY

(flyer by Chandler Moses, via Facebook)

(flyer by Chandler Moses, via Facebook)

Comedy Cunt
Thursday, November 3 at Bluestockings Bookstore, 7 pm: FREE. 

Now that this show’s title has your attention, let us give you some details. Unless you don’t want them, and wish to blindly saunter into a show called “Comedy Cunt.” That’s admirable. For the rest of you, this is a recurring show, hosted by Arti Gollapudi, where marginalized individuals harness the medium of comedy to delve into their own life experiences. This time around, they’ve got Joe Castle Baker (who recently delivered perhaps the most memorable and manic riff on infomercials I’ve seen, which is impressive, as I love work about infomercials), Ayanna Dookie, Chandler Moses, Katie Fay Behrmann, Amy Zimmer, and Mamoudou N’Diaye, who used to teach science to youngsters. Plus, a “video performance” by Amanda Justice. Might I say, justice is served? Keep Reading »

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Performance Picks: Muskrats, Menstruation, And a Trip to Jupiter

(image via New Ohio Theater)

(image via New Ohio Theater)

WEDNESDAY

The Annotated History of the American Muskrat
Continues through July 16 at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street, West Village. 7pm. Tickets are $18 ($15 students/seniors). More info here.
Originally developed in Boston, this play-slash-experiment was written by John Kuntz in collaboration with the show’s original cast of performers, and now will have a short run as part of the New Ohio Theater’s annual Ice Factory Festival. It follows a group of 8 people who must prepare and give a presentation about muskrats if they would ever like to sleep. American muskrats, specifically. Yes, these guys. Will you learn a lot about the muskrat? Will you learn anything at all? Is this really happening to these people or is it all some sort of wild rodent dream? Find out all this and more at the theater…

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This Summer, Go to the Park and Toss the Ol’ Typewriter Around

(Photo courtesy of the Typewriter Project)

(Photo courtesy of the Typewriter Project)

Back in 2014 I was exploring Governor’s Island when I came across a strange little wooden cabin on an isolated stretch near the water. Curious, I stepped inside to find a brown typewriter with a long ribbon of paper sticking out. I had no idea what this random typewriter was doing there on its lonesome, but its surprising absurdity– a noisy retro throwback next to my sleek iPhone–was both refreshing and irresistible. Soon I was clacking away, devising a whimsical stream of my thoughts (and, of course, getting frustrated that I couldn’t erase my typos).

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Howl’Ya Honor Ginsberg? By Going to This Beat Poetry Fest

Police cadets reading "Howl" (Photo: Gordon Ball, courtesy of Howl!)

Police cadets reading “Howl” (Photo: Gordon Ball, courtesy of Howl!)

If Allen Ginsberg were still croaking around today, he would’ve just celebrated his 90th birthday. I can see it now– the old man and his expansive beard, its gnarls wafting gently at the rims of coke-bottle glasses. He’d invariably be rocking sandals (whatever to the people locking eye-to-fungi) while boy servants fan him with palm leaves, gently though, so he can still roll those double-sized fatty spliff-spliffs from pages ripped out of On the Road and intermittently flash people from underneath his dashiki. Inevitably, James Franco would be VJing a Howl ft. Grimes remix and everything, everything would be lost.

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Blurry Backpage Girls and Liquor Bottle Swirls: Paintings for Bukowski

"Bather" (2014) by Walter Robinson (Image courtesy of Owen James Gallery)

“Bather” (2014) by Walter Robinson (Image courtesy of Owen James Gallery)

We’ve all seen the “massage girl” advertisements lurking at the back of alternative weeklies and the grainier budget versions of escort ads spamming the nether regions of the internet– signs that a legitimate underworld of body-business is still solidly stuck to the underside of the white market. It’s ever-present, and in some ways unchanging. These familiar “backpage ads” are the source images for art-critic-turned-artist Walter Robinson‘s blurry acrylic renderings on view at There’s a Bluebird in My Heart, a new show opening Friday, April 8 at Owen James Gallery in Greenpoint.

The paintings depicting doe-eyed girls wearing slinky loungewear, long tresses, and pouty demeanors, account for about half the show, while the rest consists of still-lifes of liquor bottles, cigarettes, and pill bottles. “It’s basically a two-artist show,” explained Owen Houhoulis, owner of Owen James. “One is a longtime New York artist and the other is the well-known poet Charles Bukowski.” Really, though, the show is a three-way effort between curator, painter, and the late, great drunken poet, as well as a way for Houhoulis to realize a longtime dream of putting together a curatorial homage to Bukowski.

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TFW, A Reading Series That Welcomes All Genres and All The Feels

Nina (L) and Gabriela (R). (photo: Eli Lehrhoff)

Nina (L) and Gabriela (R). (photo: Eli Lehrhoff)

Ever wonder what your writer friends get up to in their spare time? Do you have some old journal entries or essays collecting dust in a drawer you’ve always secretly wanted to share with the public eye? If so, The Silent Barn could have just the thing for you. TFW is a new monthly reading series co-curated by writers Gabriela Tully Claymore, 22, and Nina Mashurova, 26, that celebrates and welcomes material untried and unexpected: journalists reading their poetry, musicians reading their essays, and so on.

Both of TFW’s curators write predominantly music-centric cultural criticism (Gabriela is an assistant editor at Stereogum and Nina has edited for Impose Mag and written for outlets like Pitchfork). They have both consistently written poetry or prose for years, but found their professional identity as writers could sometimes make it difficult to share that work.

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