Meet the Press: Nin Andrews in Conversation with Didi Menendez, Editor of PoetsArtists and iARTistas and interactive iPad books (with a few questions for Denise Duhamel)..
NA: You do so much: you’re a poet, an artist, a painter, an editor of books and online print journals and so much more. I’d like to begin by asking for a brief description of all that you do.
DM: I am a parent first. I have four children, two of which are grown up, and two still living at home. I am single parent and I guess you could say that my work outside of the home (my publications, art, etc.) is my husband. If I were still married, I don't think I would have found these creative outlets. Although I started drawing portraits as a child and into my teens, I stopped when I got married at 21 and art stayed dormant until after the divorce(s). I found myself alone with four children all under the age of ten. I had my mother to help me then. She now has Alzheimer's but that is a different story. My sister, Ivonne, also was there for me but finding a way to release my creativity in publishing and writing poems was one of my saviors. It helped me become a happier person.
NA:You are also curating an exhibition with Sergio Gomez at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago next spring. Could you describe that event? http://poetsandartists.com/fixation-2014/
DM: We had such a success with this year's show "From Motion to Stillness" (/) that we wanted to do it again. Sergio Gomez invited me to participate and by doing so it allowed the publication PoetsArtists to become a living artwork. We could say that the publication became a performance piece.
I am surrounded by such great talent 24/7 that it became evident that this had to be the next step and somehow Sergio Gomez also gathered that (being such a great curator and artist himself), and so it happened. Since the show is based on figurative arts and poetry we went back and forth with ideas for next year and finally settled on Fixation.
I wanted to have some artists from this year's show and some new artists and poets which were not in this year's show such asand more. We had such a great time in Chicago, getting to meet each other, and we were invited to view the Tullman Art Collection at Flashpoint and the art collection at the loft by Howard Tullman who has acquired many of the artwork published in PoetsArtists.
NA: I love what I have seen of the film of Denise Duhamel’s poem, “Sorry, Google doesn’t know jealousy” which will be featured at the exhibit. What made you think of filming her poem?
DM: I wanted to showcase the poems next to the artwork and thought of posters and other ways to have the poems be as present and the art at the show, and Sergio Gomez said that we could screen them in the gallery so I knew that was going to be the best way to get the attention of the visitors.
This year we had a traditional reading and it just did not work out well because of all the excitement in the room. Denise sent me several poems, which I am publishing, but "Sorry, Google doesn't know Jealousy" automatically started getting my attention. I started visualizing the poem and it clicked that it should be read but should Denise read it? How was I going to make this work? And then it dawned on me. As I mentioned above, I am surrounded by artists and poets 24/7 so why not have a line read by each? I didn't realize how many poets I was thinking about until I started to count the lines. There are 65 lines in Denise's poem and that is how many poets will be reading in the film.
NA: Denise, what inspired this fabulous poem?
DD: Didi asked me to try to write something for the “fixation” event she is curating with Sergio Gomez. I realized one of my fixations or obsessions is jealousy. It seems sort of taboo to write about because I always thought of it as such a shameful, immature emotion. But this invitation gave me an excuse to really explore it. I wrote a few poems and then this long list poem “Sorry, Google doesn’t know jealousy,” using googlism.
NA: That is so interesting! In Buddhism one is taught to investigate her negative thoughts and feelings such as jealousy, resentment, and anger. I always want to run away from them. But yet you go right into the lion’s den. This poem and your new book, Blowout, http:// www.amazon.com/Blowout-Poetry-Series-Denise-Duhamel/dp/ 0822962365, about your divorce are cases in point. Do you do this consciously? Are you ever afraid to tackle a subject?
DD: I just saw a hokey church billboard that read, “Courage is fear plus prayers.” I scoffed, but I had to admit that I liked it and could relate. I don’t really pray in the traditional sense, but I say a prayer such as, “please, universe, help me look this monster in the eye” sometimes when I write. That is how I deal with writing about painful things.
NA: Also, Denise, what is it like to see your poem as a film and read by 65 poets?
DD: It was pretty amazing! I loved seeing other poets interpret the lines—yours, Nin, was hilarious, and one of the first ones Didi showed me. Sometimes the clips were so depressing, almost scary, and then other times the clips were goofy or lighthearted. It was very satisfying to see such sentiments about jealousy come out of others’ mouths. Even though the poets didn’t write the lines, their willingness to say them made me feel less crazy and alone in my fixation.
NA: I have this strange feeling that poetry has become like a silent film. Most of the time we are alone with the words on a page. And now Didi is turning this silent experience into talkies. Was it strange to hear your poem in so many voices?
DD: It wasn’t as strange as you might think. I had never read the poem aloud myself when I sent it to Didi. It was brand new, only a few days old, when I gave it to her. So it as though all these poets breathed the poem into life, into a talkie, as you say.
NA: Back to Didi: You have been publishing books and journals for some time now, but you have recently begun to publish interactive books and journals for the iPad. What inspired you to try this new venue?
DM: I love new software and discovering new web sites. They become an online playground for me. Whenever I run into one of these discoveries, I try to figure out how to use it to better my publishing or art. This seemed like a perfect platform for what I do. So I did it.
NA: I had the honor of having you publish The Circus of Lost Dreams, a book I wrote in collaboration with the Rhode Island artist, Emily Lisker. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-circus-of-lost-dreams/ id623295035?mt=11)
It’s such a unique experience to see a book come to life. It’s both auditory and visually rich. What an incredible amount of work it must be to create a book like that! Are you planning a series of iPad books.
DM: I am currently publishing PoetsArtists and iARTistas for the iPad. Your book was the first published specifically for the iPad, although I had been publishing other books in print and digital format in the last years. However I started to lose interest in publishing these in a static format so I stopped for about a year until I discovered being able to publish for the iPad. It turned me on. So I am back to publishing chapbooks and books. I have a few planned out for later this year including one by Matthew Hittinger and another by Diego Quiros. I don’t offer open calls on these, I invite because I want to make sure to publish quality work without having to find one in a heap of manuscripts and only later to find out that the author is not tech savvy.
NA: You publish two online journals, MiPOesias and PoetsArtists, in which you are mixing poetry and art. I am wondering if the poets and artists are beginning to communicate with one another, thanks to you?
DM: MiPOesias is no longer being published. iARTistas is taking her place. I don't really have a reason why MiPO is no longer being published other than it seemed like the best thing to do with her. I felt she needed to be put out of her misery (mine). As far as poets and artists communicating with each other, you bet. I have them collaborate once or twice a year. The whole reason I started publishing PoetsARtists in 2008 is because I wanted to have art mixed in with the poems. I wanted to see them collide.
NA: Many poets I know are not technically savvy. They don’t feel comfortable on the internet, and they don’t know how to access your latest projects. But you are not afraid of technology, and you are not afraid to be ahead of the curve? Is this a frustrating issue for you?
DM: It is not a frustrating issue for me. I am whistling my own tune here literally. I do understand that all this techno babble is frustrating on others but I can't wait for the world. I am almost 53 years old and I realize that maybe I have another 20 to 30 years or so tops before I will have to stop all of this so in the meantime, I will do my thing and hope that those that whistle along with me take advantage of it.
NA: When I first heard of you, you were a poet and editor living in Miami. Now you are an accomplished artist as well, living in Chicago. Tell me about your evolution. Have you been writing and painting for many years?
DM: I am not living in Miami and I do not live in Chicago either. I live in the Mid- west. Close to Chicago but not without a few hours of travel to get there. As I mentioned early on in the interview, I had been drawing and painting up to the time I got married. When I moved here the winters were so lonely that the desire to start painting started to nudge. I was already publishing and trying out new venues for publishing but drawing and painting again really did not stir until the winter of 2007. As far as evolution, what brought me here to the USA to begin with was a (r)evolution so I have had to change many times over to accommodate my life.
NA: You make wonderful biographical videos of artists, which can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/menendez. I particularly enjoyed this one of Cesar Santos
Do you have a video, which includes your own art as well as a mini-biography?
DM: I want to mention that Jack Anders wrote the review on Cesar Santos. He is such a trooper. He normally writes poetry reviews so to have him write one on Cesar Santos one of my favorite artists was a treat for me as much as I am sure it was for Cesar.
Regarding my own work, not really. I did one as an example and briefly posted it online so others can see what I was going to be doing with their videos but then took it down once I started producing the real McCoy's.
NA: I also love the videos of your paintings from start to finish. I was wondering if you would post a link to one of them and talk about your process?
Oh these are just little drawings I do on the iPad. I do these mostly when I run out of art supplies.
DM: How many books and journal issues do you publish each year?
NA: From 10 to 20 depending on whether I have themes or not. Or whether I publish a chapbook or full book that year.
DM: What aspects of publishing and editing, painting and making videos, do you enjoy most?
I enjoy algebra the most. If I publish A what will become of B?
NA: I’d like to close with a poem or perhaps a link to a poem or an issue of that you are particularly pleased with.
DM: I want to close with this issue of MiPOesias which was published in 2008 and edited by Emma Trelles. It is the only publication of mine where you will actually find a poem written by me. Emma and I went back and forth with this call because I was adamant about not including my work because it is a major faux to the credibility and integration of my publications but since she was the editor and I had given her control of who and what to publish, she won.
Didi Menendez is a Cuban born (1960) American artist and publisher. Her publications have been recognized by The Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry and other anthologies. She lives with her children in the middle of the United States of America. She never plans on visiting Cuba. Ever. Not even if it is the last place on earth to live. Not even then.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.