Power in prose
Born in Valencia, Spain, raised in Kent, England, and currently residing in New York, poet and vocalist Pablo Conejero Lopez’ varied upbringing mirrors the diversity of his talents: previously the frontman and lyricist of Spanish punk band Vice & Vanity, Conejero Lopez has been writing poetry since the age of 22. As he readies his third poetry book, titled Cuerpos (meaning: bodies) – launching 13th January with a special show at 20:30 at The Roxy Cinema in Tribeca – here, Conejero shares an exclusive poem written for HERO and sits down with his friend and fellow poet Jenna Putnam to discuss process, creative freedom and the beauty of embracing change in an ever-evolving city.
Intro by Jenna Putnam:
“I first met Pablo at Anyway Café on 2nd Street in the East Village. I had probably met him hundreds of times before, or at least I felt like I did, in the way that most kindred spirits do when they meet someone of their kind. It was a quiet night after our mutual friend Justin Dean Thomas’ show, and we all sat down at a table outside. After an hour or so of conversation, we went our separate ways.
Three years later, I find myself photographing him and his partner Vinny in their Chinatown apartment. It is summer and we’re having coffee as the boys eat dark cherries out of an antique Moroccan bowl. We take pictures on the fire escape and attempt to recreate a Mapplethorpe photograph they have on display in their living room, all the while piecing together the puzzle of where and how we first crossed paths. After figuring it out, we vow to exchange poetry and keep in touch.
In his third collection of prose, titled Cuerpos, Conejero López explores themes of love, desire, and masculinity, all the while echoing the fleeting feelings of loneliness, madness, and intoxication that come with surviving as an artist in New York City. Cuerpos, which means ‘bodies’ in Spanish, is a bilingual book accompanied by the stunning artwork of Vincent Michaud, who the book is dedicated to. It is the second release from Paradigm Publishing’s Pocket Poet series, and has a page long thank you list at the end in ode to his fellow friends and collaborators over the years, all of who are noteworthy and influential artists ranging from Ethan James Green to Paz de la Huerta.”
Jenna Putnam: What’s the timeline like for these poems? How long have you been working on Cuerpos?
Pablo Conejero Lopez: I submitted the first version to the Loewe Foundation’s International Poetry Prize in 2016. I obviously didn’t win, but I was just trying to impose some discipline onto myself and a deadline worked well at the time. Also the fact that it had to be in Spanish felt necessary. Then I spent 2017-18 writing more, adding, correcting and translating the final selection into English.
JP: You and your work remind me of an old New York that is struggling to exist these days. How do you stay true to yourself and keep the aesthetic alive?
PCL: Thank you, Jenna. The New York I think you’re talking about is really gone. And it really doesn’t matter – there’s something beautiful about letting things disappear. But the essence of this city will always exist, there are so many aspects and versions of New York. I think it’s important to look forward, carrying what’s sacred to you wherever you go. The aesthetic and the work go hand in hand, some objects are eternal – anything that was built, made by human hands with care and dedication holds a piece of that person’s energy and soul. I try to stay positive, passionate and curious about life. I used to be a hopeless nostalgic, but not so much anymore. However, the past is very important because it’s what remains forever and it gives us the perspective we need to keep moving and learning. Even when we feel stagnant. We’re always evolving.
JP: Is it different writing songs versus writing poetry? Which of the two do you feel is more precious to you?
PCL: They are both very precious for different reasons. When I’m writing poems it’s more automatic I suppose. I just do it. Sometimes the idea for a song lyric comes from a poem, sometimes it comes from the melody. I’ve always written songs with other people because I don’t play any instruments, but when I write poems I’m on my own and I feel free.
JP: What is your writing process like?
PCL: I usually need to come up with different routines and exercises to surprise myself so I can stay focussed and motivated. I try to seek solitude, but sometimes I just sit and do it, as I said in the previous question. With Cuerpos I found new patterns I hadn’t experienced before. Starting with translating myself which was a difficult task and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the supervision of my editors Jesi (Bender), Fátima (Masoud) and Flor (Salazar).
Poem by Pablo Conejero López / exclusive for HERO
JP: When performing live, which is more nerve-wracking, playing a show or doing a poetry reading? How are they different?
PCL: Rhythm and melody are very powerful together. They make it easier to sing or recite. But silence can be mysterious and force something interesting out of me because I have to use more of my imagination.
JP: One particular poem that stuck out to me was I Have Come To Tell You (17). People (especially the media) are obsessed with youth culture, however I’ve found that as we get older we become comfortable and confident in our own skin, which is what this poem seems to be about. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist throughout the years and what do you feel you have now that you didn’t possess when you were younger?
PCL: Growing older I’m learning to be more patient, trusting and forgiving, a bit more confident too – both artistically and in my day to day life which I can’t separate. Our paths cross, sometimes they diverge, but we all walk through life at a different pace. That’s why I try not to compare myself with others.
Photography by Theo Constantinou
JP: You’ve been collaborating and creating with certain people for a long time…like Florencia and Vinny, for instance. What is the importance of these relationships in terms of creation and inspiration?
PCL: I never planned on it, but over time it became obvious to me: nothing of quality happens overnight and nobody does anything on their own really. You always need time and dedication no matter how anxious you feel. You need someone’s help, opinion, perspective. It’s truer to life this way. Vinny (Vincent Michaud) and I have been collaborating since the day we met. Our first conversation was the beginning of a spiritual and artistic exchange already – it feels natural to us. The illustration, visuals and videos he’s created for Cuerpos are simply wonderful. Everything I always wanted. He knows me so well, we barely need to talk. His talent and ability to execute it are so impressive to me.
Flor is a great musician and composer. We share the Spanish culture but we come from opposite ends of the Ocean. And found each other at a middle point in foreign territory. So we feel mutual respect and curiosity. Jamie’s (Del Moon) sonic input is very meticulous, intuitive and bold. We all have a similar artistic approach and temperament which makes working easy.
But also, this book wouldn’t be possible without you, Jenna, you introduced me to Theo (Constantinou) from Paradigm Publishing. Him and Christopher (Vanauken), who designs all their publications, are artists as well as publishers. It’s a real pleasure and honor to be represented by them.
Cuerpos wouldn’t be possible either without Javier (Molea) from McNally Jackson who always encouraged me to write and wanted to publish it but supported me unconditionally when the circumstances didn’t allow him to and I found Paradigm Publishing. Or without Pepe (Olona) from Arrebato Libros Madrid who will publish the Spanish edition next September.
So I definitely think it’s always a collaboration. I just write the words. I’m very grateful for all of you, all my friends and family.
JP: Tell us more about the book launch and event in NYC.
PCL: It will take place on Sunday 13th January at 20:30 at The Roxy Cinema in Tribeca. Vinny is producing the event, designed the promotional campaign for the book as well as the Video Art and animation that will be screened throughout the event and show where my bandmates Florencia Zaballa, Jamie Del Moon from Ensalmo and I will perform a special spoken word or music set for the evening’s entertainment.
We will have a few books for sale from the 100 copies of the limited edition Paradigm has made, and after the event, the rest will be available for purchase at selected bookstores and online.