Read my exclusive interview with artist JeanPaul Mallozzi for art & entertainment magazine Scene360.
Somewhere between the Big Bang and the Big Gulp, the universe lives silent and cunning in her unstable mink suit. Somewhere between the atoms that create us and the atoms that will destroy us, the universe lives benignly unaware of our prayers and promises. Somewhere between the cosmos and the comic book store, the universe lives in the smile of a boy and/or a girl standing on the southwest corner of 42nd Street. In a blizzard. In awe of the universe. Wearing mittens and Long Johns. Somewhere between the crucible and the last dance, the universe lives in every elementary particle that powers every disco ballroom from Heaven to Las Vegas. Somewhere between the heavy elements and the light elements, the universe lives in our desire to be prepositioned for entry through the gates of heaven. Somewhere between heaven and hell, the universe lives free of sin and sorrow. Between Ganesha and Goliath, the universe lives in an elephant’s memory of blizzards. Between the belly button and the Achilles Heel, the universe lives with the secret that no one, not even God, can remove obstacles that do not exist in the physical world. Between the real universe and the imagined universe, humans live in a constant state of humming. In a constant state of ah-ha and oh-no and WTF. Between you and me, the universe lives in us. In every obstacle and wound. In every chant and bedroom. And even in the womb sealed tight from the light of the blue moon.
Ma says this is a woman collapsing into a woman collapsing into a background of elegant brushstrokes divined by some god or goddess possessed by a deep love for Jupiter. For real. This is what ma said between sips of gin.
When ma saw the Chagall windows, she shut the fuck up. She bent down on one knee like she was a knight in shiny pink lipstick and prayed. She prayed for the advent of sun. She prayed for the blue and the blues. She lifted her head up as if she were a marionette pulled by an almost invisible string. Blue, she said, belongs to god and windows.
Between us, ma and I understood the power of art and factless wonders like love and Alzheimer’s. We went down to the lover level because the lower level is a level we hope to never return. True love, ma said, is subterranean and foundational. It’s what stabilizes the whole wide world. It’s what normalizes the logic of sequined pants and the smile of a long loved friend.
Paula Kolek is complex like the rest of us. This, of course, makes her interesting and fun to talk to. (Full disclosure: sometimes I doze off when she speaks just to make her mad. But, she doesn’t get mad. She is humane and full of patience and wisdom.) What you need to know about Paula Kolek is that she is a dedicated, hard-working adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and Barry University, a comic (I almost wrote communist) enthusiast, an excellent cook, a semi-expert hula hooper, a writer and a visual artist. She is also an astronaut who has traveled to Pluto and several unmanned moons orbiting the cosmos. I tied Paula up and interviewed her over chicken kabobs and (gross) plum wine at her lovely new home in Hollywood, FL, where I tried to steal two comfy patio chairs. We spoke about her latest art work, a humorous art book, which is on exhibit at Humatorium, an exhibition of humorous art curated by Lisa Rockford at the 1310 Gallery in Fort Lauderdale. FYI: there’s a nude pic of Paula in the book. I swear.Welcome to Paula Kolek. She’s way better than Paula Abdul.
Almost Dorothy: Hi Paula, I hear you’re an artist and a poet. Explain the difference?
Paula Kolek: Who told you that? No really. I want a name, number, address, social security #, pets’ names, favorite breakfast cereal…The Works!
I don’t accede to being either, but from what I’ve observed, artists generally run around wielding oils, chalks, charcoal, newsprint, Exacto knives, old photos, urinals, fake teeth, rubber chickens, and poop (I swear I’ve seen all of the above!). They generally make a mess of any space they occupy. Poets, on the other hand, kill trees.
AD: Murderers! So, tell the United States about your upcoming art exhibition or the one that just passed. It all depends on how fast we get this interview up.
PK: Well, the opening was last week, but the closing is October 15th. The title of the exhibit is Humatorium and it’s curated by Lisa Rockford who based the show on art for art’s sake, whimsy, silliness, and of course controversy! My piece is an artist’s book created for the show, booklets for the audience, and a chance to participate in an art installation. There’s also a giant, blue, well-hung blow-up horse at the gallery. Who doesn’t want to see that?!
PK: The closing is part of a larger art festival called Art Fallout where the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale and local galleries are open for free. That night there’s a shuttle bus so people can go from one gallery to another without worrying about parking or the price of gas! It should be pretty cool, so come out if you’re in the area.
AD: Are you a true artist? If yes, prove it. If not, prove that too.
PK: You prove it! What kind of interview is this anyway?
AD: It’s a potty mouth interview, so you should use potty mouth language when answering these questions, ok? How does your writing influence your art or vice versa or are the two mediums inseparable?
PK: What does inseparable mean? Indivisible, Indissoluble, Undividable. Nothing’s forever. Except Twinkies and cockroaches.
AD: In life, we have two choices, left and right. Which did you chose and why?
PK: It’s quite obvious that I chose South; this meant I had to use a precise number of lefts and rights in an exact order. Although I won’t cop to being an artist, I will state that I’m an excellent map reader. When the internet and all the satellites fail (and they will) I’ll be one of a handful of people left who can still read maps. And then I’ll be rich because people won’t know where they’re going and they’ll have to come to me for directions! My time is almost here.
AD: As a poet, you deconstruct memory and turn them into rememberings. Do you remember when and why you started to write this way? Or, am I totally wrong?
PK: Well, it’s your blog, so you’re never wrong.
I learned recently-ish that I don’t have to use personal experience or memories to create (of course you can argue that even our imagination must come from our experiences). Last week I listened to back to back NPR segments – don’t judge me, there were FIVE accidents within a one-mile stretch of 95 and I’d played Tool more times than I could handle. The first segment was an interview with John Lithgow who’s publishing a memoir. The following segment was a conversation about Twitter, Facebook, and blogs and how these mediums are making our world more and more autobiographical. Although I do participate in these mediums (not Twitter, though, I hate Twitter.) and admire writers and artists who put themselves out there, the push to “spill” can be incredibly overwhelming for me.
In my book for Humatorium, I drew from photographs I’d taken, drawings, scientific diagrams, children’s games, and online images (Here I have to thank Wikimedia Commons, a compilation of images given freely by contributors without copyright. This allowed me to use these images without feeling as though I’d “taken” from the work of others). I attempted to create the silliest, most disjunctive pairings possible. And I finished this piece without having to think about high school or grief or hospitals or family arguments!
AD: Which planet inspires you the most?
PK: Pluto! Just because he’s no longer a planet doesn’t mean he can’t inspire. And what about all the moons, planetary dust, supernovas, black holes, quasars, or Dr. Who telephone booths? This is a very narrow question. I object to the insinuation that I have to be inspired by big things.
AD: Have you ever run away?
PK: Yes, and despite rumors to the contrary, sometime running away IS the healthy choice. A dignified walk is better, but sometimes life doesn’t allow for that. In the event you want to run away, I’ve found it helpful to have a waterproof tent, flashlight, some MREs, and a stuffed bunny to take with you.
AD: Biggest accomplishment:
PK: In my artist’s book for the Humatorium exhibit, I have a nude (naked) bookmark of myself which appears opposite the first page of the Instructional. I noticed throughout the night that people (mostly old men) were stroking my bookmark chest.. When one of my friends did the same thing before jumping back and saying, “Ummm…I know you!” I realized the instructions on the opposite page began, “Put your hand to my chest and feel around for the furniture you left behind.” I hadn’t thought through this pairing when I created the book because the instructions largely can’t be followed and I didn’t expect viewers to try to complete them.
I tell students that once we put our work out into the world, it’s never really just ours anymore. It’s open to interpretation by readers and viewers. This, however, was the first time that has happened with my work, and It was super exciting.
Please don’t tell my parents about the naked bookmark; I plan on showing them the book without it.
AD: Mom! So, your biggest disappointment:
PK: Not getting an interview earlier with Almost Dorothy.
AD: Sorry. What would you like to be when you grow up?
PK: I would get paid to be a traveling map-maker (I think they call them cartographers). I’d be sent around the world to hike and kayak and bike new locations and then make maps for that handful of people and girl scouts who like that kind of thing. Sadly I’ve found that there isn’t much call for this.
AD: What will it cost?
PK: A million-billion.
AD: Explain love and/or its imposter and how is that thing communicated through your work?
PK: I think that love in all its incarnations (anger, grief, ecstasy…) has to be passionate, even if it’s a slow burning or difficult love. And since anyone who creates must be passionate (few writers/artists ever make enough money to make up for the long hours of hitting your head repeatedly against the wall of I’m not good enough and What’s the point), so love has to be a driving force.
However, love also has the potential to make us fearful of failing or hurting those we love. I have a poem published in Collective Brightness about my brother and I coming out to one another in the food court of a mall that contained the chapel I would take him to to fulfill the promise to my parents to bring him to Sunday mass when he stayed over with me. The poem is harshly blunt about my feelings towards religion and contains quotes from conversations with my parents where they talk about their opinions towards us queer folk. Although they’re often incredibly supportive of me (they’ve never asked how I intend to support myself by writing), some of their stances make me incredibly angry. I don’t think they, or anyone who knows them, will read this poem, and it isn’t damning of them, but it does have the potential to be hurtful. So I had to weigh how important this writing is to me. Every time I put writing or art into the world, I get nervous about what my family will think about it.
Plus, there’s that naked bookmark floating around!
Paula Kolek is a recent transplant from Boston and has already been stopped by the Coral Gables police three times: most notably for sitting on the curb and riding her bike at 2am in the morning. She graduated from Emmanuel College with a BFA in visual arts and from Umass Boston with an MA in literature, after which she taught undergraduate lit. and creative writing at Umass Boston and Framingham State and worked security – since adjunct teaching pays very few bills. Her poems have recently been published in Ditch, Otoliths, and RECONTRUCTION: Studies in Contemporary Culture and have been accepted by New Letters and EOAGH. Her monologue was presented in The Krane’s production of Monologues Lingus and her artwork accepted for publication in Fickle Muses. She thanks her fellow students and professors at Miami for allowing her the space and encouragement to experiment with the visual in conjunction with language.
My alter-ego is back. He (or she-he) spent the week writing brilliant stuff at BAP, Bad Ass Poetry, I mean, the Best American Poetry blog. By brilliant stuff, I don’t mean turkey stuffing. I mean semi-well lit and deranged writings that are luminous (because they were written by candle light), goofy, sad, stupid, smart, funky, discoish, totally gay, impersonal, way too personal, problematic, polemic, prosthetic, hectic, corny, cheesy, divine, trashy, semi-soft pornographic (not really) and, most of all, honest (more or less).
I’m glad my alter-ego is back. I’m glad he has taken over my body again. I’m glad because I think he may have learned something about himself that he didn’t know before, but knew, but didn’t want to accept. Anyway, hopefully he’ll treat me better and not make me write stupid things on this blog too often. But, I won’t hold my breath, because a breath is really hard to hold in one’s hand.
Here are the links to this weeks postal posts at BAP if you wanna read. Don’t take it all too seriously. Please.
July 10, 2011: “Oprah, Mood, Swings, Set, Go, (Dis)order”. Excerpt: “Last night I took the “Mood Disorder Questionnaire” at http://www.oprah.com because I believe in Oprah, polar bears and the accuracy of self-diagnosis on the Internet at the witching hour while moderately depressed. In other words, I had nothing better to do.”
July 11, 2011: “Kazaky, Wonder Woman, Pedicures, Lago Mar, & Other Stuff”. Excerpt: “I need a pedicure. I need to spend more time Little Miss Sunshining my ass on a hammock on Fort Lauderdale beach. I need to live in the present tense. I need to stop caring about my presence in the present tense. Ghosts exist in every tense–past, future, present and inside the tenses that exist in between these.”
July 12, 2011: “Mama Mia, Chiquitita, Sinead O’Connor, Ladytron and Pegasus“. Excerpt: “Resistance is futile, so I bought tickets to see (the best damn) ABBA (tribute band in the world) next week at the Hardrock Casino in Hollywood, Florida. I’m super excited because “Mama Mia” may go with us. She is a “Super Trouper” and a “Dancing Queen”. We invited “Fernando”, but he has to work, which is too bad because he does the best Cubano rendition of “Chiquitita” never recorded.”
July 13, 2011: “Florence + The Machine, Piss Christ, War, Little Miss Sunshine, District 9 & Then Some”. Excerpt: “This is what I taught this semester while wearing a fedora: Florence + the Machine: I’m obsessed with Florence and her red hair. I’m obsessed with her cosmic voice. I’m obsessed with her lineage and her Celtic robes. I think she is an extraordinary terrestrial.”
July 14, 2011: “Do Not Disturb Rocks & Other Things I Saw Today”. Excerpt: “I took a coffee break. I passed by Saint Anthony’s Church. I saw this statue and took a photograph of it to remind me that I am not a statue.”
July 15, 2011: “Disco”. Excerpt: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to disco.”
July 16, 2011: “Goldfrapp, Stepmothers, Scissors, Brandon, Depeche Mode, & Why I Was Born (More or Less) This Way”. Excerpt: “I’ve walked into strange places where, say, a DJ spin spins beneath a canopy of scissors and walked out because I am afraid of heights, of danger, of people and places that take me out of my center of gravity. When danger enters my life like an uninvited ghost with scissors, I use to run. No more. Because there is beauty in danger if you give it enough time to reveal itself.”
A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins
(excerpt, “Vowels,” Arthur Rimbaud)
Sometimes poets are gigantic kids in sheets with eyeholes who appear at your door on Halloween. They stand, gawky and silent, pillow case in hand, hoping you won’t ask them how old they are. Which you do, of course: How the hell old are you? You can’t help yourself. Still, you drop a Snickers in the giant kid’s bag.
The first live adult practicing poet I ever met (she’d just hopped dramatically off a swing at the local playground) produced a sheet of paper and a #2 and wrote the entire alphabet down the left side of the page, just like my kindergartner, then proceeded to compose a poem on the spot—an instant listy riff, from Adorable to Zenobia. For me?—how charming! I thought. And so I got hooked on that ubiquitous, infamous, deliciously peculiar phenomenon known as the ABECEDARIAN. Or Abecedarius, or Abecedarium—take your pick, poets and pals. Whatever you call the schema itself, you’re about to approach that mysterious bridge between right brain and left, to illumine symbols tucked deep in our DNA. You’re about to tase and be tased by the alphabet.
(Edward Gorey’s classic, The Gashly Crumb Tinies, 3:04 mins)
Some poets decide to make their entire book an abecedarian (Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary). Some dismantle the alphabet only to mantle it again (Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life). Some play with pop culture (Conway/Crosbie/Trinidad’s Phoebe 2002.) And some turn their abecedarians on their heads and start with Z, or create (whew!) double abecedarians, waving their poet’s license, going all Oz on us:
Over the Rainbow
(a double abecedarian)
Aeons of apes get stomach aches because
black-and-white sight can’t see ripeness. The sky
changes gradually. Primate eyes coax
dull gray into light blue. First to see how
Eden’s apples blushed like flesh, ape-girl Eve
fed all of us from God’s green grove. Can you
guess who saw the first pale rainbow? A rust-
honey monkey named Dorothy. Ancients,
in their mosaics, lacked purple. They were
just unable to see it. An opaque
kaleidoscope with gaps, our vision’s map
lags behind birds, bees, fish, rats. Half the zoo
moves through an ultraviolet realm un-
known except by UV lens or a storm
on the way: lime clouds, blood grass, gray hail. Hell
posing for its pink-lit portrait. A crack
quivers in the window. A dazed bluejay
reverts to gray. Colors bleed from my eyes,
stick to my cheeks like rainbow syrup. Bosch
triptych landscape minus sinners. A gong
undulates. Stars shift across a red gulf.
Evolution revokes rainbows from some
white males, 8% of them color blind.
Xanthic, now, the Golden Age. Myopic,
yawning, I water the lawn, the rhubarb.
Oz fades. My hose’s rainbow dims, goes gray.
—Michael Kriesel (previously published in North American Review)
Some alphabeteers zero in on a beloved letter and exploit the possibilities. They’re cartoonists, digital artists, font junkies, alphafreaks. Judy Natal scavenged letters from junkyards in New York and LA for years before setting them against the landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Here’s E (from her series, EarthWords).
And here’s poet and visual artist Paula Kolek with a section from her engaging “personal R-chive,” a coming-of-age story inspired by the hundreds of fonts she’s collected.
Perhaps you yourself have tried an abecedarian. Got a favorite letter? I’m curious—how did you personally handle the X-Factor? Did you resort to X-Ray or Xylophone when you got to the letter X? Couldn’t think of anything else? Don’t feel bad. It’s a well-known fact that X is the hardest letter to get poetic with.
(Sesame Street Letter X Lecture, 0:59 secs.)
In fact, X has been annoying folks for years.
Next time you have to spell xylophone, use a Z. When someone says, “Hey that’s wrong,” say, “If you think that’s wrong, you need to get your head Z-rayed.” It’s like X wasn’t given enough to do, so they had to promise it more: “Okay, you don’t start a lot of words, but we’ll give you a co-starring role in tic-tac-toe. And you will be associated with hugs and kisses. And you will mark the spot. And you will make writing Christmas easier. And incidentally, you will start xylophone. Are you happy, you fuckin’ X?!”
—Comedian Mitch Hedberg
According to Peter Lamborn Wilson in his abecedarian commentary on Rabbi M.-A. Ouaknin’s Mysteries of the Alphabet, the actual real usurped last letter of the alphabet is “(secretly)” X. When I heard that, as you can imagine, I stopped the presses on this big girl and felt totally glittery. According to Wilson, X is “the ladder of swords that only the inspired shaman can climb in bare feet. The way up & out…of abstraction & alienation & into reality—that is, spirit & matter as one. X the unknown.”
So crack open that letter X, people, that ineffable, that ladder out. Let it loose your imagination. Try Xanthic (Kriesel), Xerxes (Gorey), X-Sex (Mullen), Xiphias (adapted from the Greek for sword(fish) by comic book artist Mike Wendt):
Or try a crafty metaphor within a visual (from Isaac Cates):
Credits, Links, and Fun for Later:
Animated Gashleycrumb Tinies by Matt Duplessie (Warning: Not for the squeamish)
Letter X Song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqzvhxN88Zg&feature=related (32 seconds)
Patti LaBelle Sings “How I Miss My X” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsGbqPp4pmU (3:03 minutes)
Rimbaud’s “Vowels” http://www.mag4.net/Rimbaud/poesies/Vowels.html
Michael Kriesel http://bookthatpoet.com/poets/krieselm.html
Judy Natal http://www.judynatal.com/
Paula Kolek’s work (all four parts) at Euphemism: http://english.illinoisstate.edu/euphemism/issues/vol_5/issue%201/selfportrait_kolek.htm
Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggOdTarlYWY (6:38 minutes)
Isaac Cates’ and Mike Wenthe’s little abecedarii http://satisfactorycomics.blogspot.com/2008/06/two-little-abecedarii-june-2008.html
Abecedarium NYC http://abecedariumnyc.com/
Abecedarian help http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5767
Michael Kriesel’s poem and all contemporary images used with permission of poets and artists.
Maureen Seaton, March 1, 2011
Manuel Zapata graduated from the Academy of Arts and Minds High School in Miami, FL and completed his first year of college in New World School of the Arts. Now he attends Ringling College of Art and Design and he is majoring in Computer Animation. His idols are Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney. In a few years, this dude is going to be super famous or at least pretty awesome even though he was a weird eye! I spoke with Manuel and he agreed to this Potty Mouth interview on the condition that I would help him escape from his self-portrait above. Seriously. He is free now. For now.
Almost Dorothy: You draw, sculpt, sketch, paint, make films, fly, dance, pilot space jets—I don’t know who you are. Who are you?
Manuel Zapata: I’m a creator. I have a need to illustrate my mind from a simple thought to a complex belief. But paper isn’t enough. I might need to sculpt a character, paint a vision, take a photograph, edit a video, or a combination of these. I’m a dreamer, but I dream with my eyes open.
AD: Before we get this show on the road, or blah blah further, what is art and what is the criteria for an artist?
MZ: In today’s society, the boundaries that defined “art” have been broken and forgotten. Anything can be art, and anyone can be an artist. Art is anything that can evoke a trend, feeling, thought, or reaction, whether it has a true thought-process behind it or not. But all bullshit aside, art is the act of consciously creating an idea, and the ability to convey that concept in a way that an audience can not only read it, but Continue reading “Manuel Zapata: Self-Portrait of an Artist”
Celeste Rapone was born on May 1, 1985 and raised in Wayne, New Jersey. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design concentrating in Illustration, and received her BFA degree in 2007. Among many things, Celeste is interested in a child’s understanding of Catholicism, and the effects that understanding Continue reading “Celeste Rapone: Understanding Catholicism”