2014-12-31 / Features

Local-Express

Audrey Dimola
BY NICOLLETTE BARSAMIAN

Celebrated for her dynamic presence both onstage and on the page, Audrey Dimola is a proud Queens native and Astoria/Long Island City writer/poet, performer, curator, host, and local arts crusader. Dimola is the author of poetry and prose collections, Decisions We Make While We Dream (2012) and the brand new Traversals, regarded as “a heartrending journey bursting into redemption”. She has performed at Bowery Poetry Club and Brooklyn Museum, curated shows for LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and Queens Museum, and has been featured on NY1 TV for organizing the first ever Queens Literary Town Hall – but what she really wants you to know is that the magic only stops when you say so. Dimola takes great joy in the creative experience of the unexpected – collaborating with fellow artists in various disciplines, creating a fireside reading/live writing series called Nature of the Muse, and stickering/Sharpie–ing her words around the city with her Compass Project. Her work has been published in print and online, she aims always to stay wild and stay grateful – and there’s a pretty good chance she’s Peter Pan.


Audrey J. Dimola: writer, poet, performer, curator. 
Photo JMB Photography Audrey J. Dimola: writer, poet, performer, curator. Photo JMB Photography NB: You recently published a book of poetry called Traversals, what and who inspired the poems in this volume and what are they about?

AD: Traversals is all about cracking open – it’s a collection of my poetry and prose from fall of 2011 to present. It was catalyzed by a series of huge changes in my life: my beautiful Nana’s passing, the dissolution of my longest relationship, a shifting career, a kaleidoscopic sense and loss of identity, and, of course, crossing paths with the gorgeously explosive muse that would strike the broad arc of the book. It’s a love letter to all those moments I’ll never see again – the way I can honor the things I’ve felt, the people I’ve loved, lost, and (tried to) let go. It speaks about the resiliency of the heart through loss and change – how you realize that you have to keep walking, that there’s a beauty in cracking open and breaking apart. If there was a tagline for the book it would be: The Journey is Everything, because it is.

NB: Have you written any other collections of poetry?

AD: Yes! I published my first collection of poetry and prose, Decisions We Make While We Dream, in 2012, which is a retrospective of my work from 2000 to 2012. Both are available via my website, audreydimola.com.

NB: Is it difficult to get a collection of poetry published?

AD: I actually self–published both of my books, one through MagCloud and one through CreateSpace. There are wonderful tools now available for writers and artists to take their work into their own hands and release it into the world without waiting for a submission or approval process from an outside source. The important thing to note is that one mode of publishing is not more legitimate than the other – at the end of the day, the art is what’s paramount, and so is getting your voice heard. For me, the self–publishing option made total sense both times and was extremely freeing, but also challenging. It shows you how bad you want it – you’re in control of the process from start to finish. That said, there are a lot of other options aside from the big presses to submit your work to, like literary journals and small presses. Do your research, ask your fellow artists, try everything – and never take no for an answer!

NB: When did you first realize that you had the talent and desire to be a poet?

AD: I’ve always been a writer and performer, for as long as I can remember. I was always running around singing, drawing, writing stories and plays, making up dances, staging shows, hosting pretend radio programs, or creating my own magazines. All of those things were my loves so early on, and thankfully I had such supportive parents and inspiring teachers along the way (and the graciousness of my little brother and younger cousins who went along with my wild ideas). I had been acknowledged for my writing in elementary and middle school, but ninth grade in Long Island City H.S. was a milestone for me – I wrote my first truly autobiographical poems and was spurred on by my wonderful English teacher. Twelve years later I used them as the beginning of my first book.

NB: Were you formally trained to be a poet or were you self-taught?

AD: I just write from my heart, and I think that’s essential to any art – that it comes from inside you, from a passion, from a burning feeling. I think we all get so caught up in formal qualifications and training, and in my early days going out to readings I let it intimidate me. I felt like the only one who wasn’t a professor or had a master’s degree. Wrestling with the legitimacy of self-publishing brought out other self-doubts. But if you keep walking forward, and keep your mind and heart open, just as quickly you realize – it doesn’t take anything to be an artist, except being one: Practicing your craft, sharing your work, opening yourself to the world and your community. I have always been a tenacious learner, and soaked up everything from my mom’s love of books to Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant performing style to Fitzgerald’s sense of longing in my favorite book since eighth grade, The Great Gatsby. You have to keep learning, keep reading, keep participating and collaborating. I’ll always be a student of the word.

NB: You have curated shows for LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and the Queens Museum. Tell us about those shows.

AD: In April 2014 I curated my first hugescale show in LaGuardia Performing Arts Center’s 200-seat Little Theatre, called World of Words: Queens. It was a celebration of the word for National Poetry Month that encompassed multi-disciplinary performance and various expressions of language – music, dance, monologues, mini-plays, spoken word, prose, and poetry. It was an absolute carnival of local talent and I can’t wait to do it again! It was also the debut of my first poetry and dance collaborations, catalyzed by myself and choreographer/dancer Kymberly Nolden. The month before, in March 2014, I was asked by the Queens Poet Laureate, Paolo Javier, to curate the local program of his massive ETERNiDAY festival at Queens Museum, dubbed “Meanwhile Back in Queens...” after the Mobb Deep lyrics. It ended up being a five-hour reading/performing marathon that I also hosted, featuring individual local writers and poets, as well as representatives from Queens reading series and literary organizations. After it was over, I was floating!

NB: You organized the first ever Queens Literary Town Hall, what exactly is this event and how often does it occur?

AD: The Queens Literary Town Hall was a one-time event I curated and hosted at Queens Council on the Arts in October 2013. It was part performance, part soapbox, and part networking opportunity, and served as a platform for people to connect to each other and to the literary organizations and reading series in Queens. After a talk with QCA, I realized that I really wanted to bring the brightest lights in the local literary community together at a pivotal moment, when the momentum that I had watched building over the past few years had really come to a head. I was featured on NY1 TV before the event (thanks to a lucky shoutout to a reporter on Twitter), and the room was packed with writers, lit lovers, local folks, bookstore owners, reading series organizers, writers’ group participants, and more. It was an amazing feeling to know that these people from all over Queens were coming together to introduce themselves to each other, perform, make friends, and share their love of words. Things have just continued to grow in the Queens literary community since then, and it’s because of the people working every day to create these spaces and opportunities. I feel like there are now so many more chances for local writers and lit fans to perform, workshop, attend open mics, see curated shows, and meet their fellow artists in their own neighborhoods, which is crucial. In a borough as widespread as Queens, connection and camaraderie between the arts cannot be underestimated. You can find a list of these local literary opportunities and organizations at tinyurl.com/queenslit.

NB: Besides being a poet, you are also a performer. Tell us about some of your performances.

AD: My poetry/prose and performance go hand in hand – I’m also a singer and aspiring movement artist and aerialist. I do some acting and improv too. I’m basically a wildchild who sometimes can’t sit still. The direction my work is traveling in has me collaborating more and more with artists of varying disciplines. Also, when I’m solo, I wouldn’t say that I ever just stand and read my work – I use the page most of the time but I’m more in the vein of performance poets with a the- atrical slant. I just love mixing things together

– dance, music, poetry, singing, especially when it’s unexpected. I’ve been lucky enough to perform at some amazing places like Bowery Poetry Club, the New York Aquarium, Brooklyn Museum, Flushing Town Hall, Dixon Place, and the NYC Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island.

NB: Where did you grow up in Queens and where do you live now?

AD: I grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, which will always have my heart no matter where I go. I spend my time there in my childhood home with my family, and in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn with my Texas-born boyfriend, who is a visual artist and musician.

NB: What are your favorite places and things to do in Queens?

AD: I love visiting new spaces where artists can share their work, like Q.E.D.: A Place To Show & Tell, where I had my book launch for Traversals, Coffeed, where Mike Geffner’s The Inspired Word Open Mic is held, or Terraza 7, home of the First Tuesdays Reading Series, with its unique “floating stage” in Elmhurst, (and on the border of Jackson Heights). I adore my lifelong main drag of Broadway all the way up to Steinway Street in Astoria, walking under the “el” train, getting lost in the libraries, and visiting the Astoria Bookshop. I love being outside so I really value that “hidden gem” quality so many Queens locales have – one of my favorite places to be is on the waterfront at Astoria Park or Socrates Sculpture Park in LIC, or taking that crazy walk or bike ride over the Queensboro Bridge. There is such an exciting amount of art, culture, and food in our borough – all it takes is some exploring and reaching out. When I worked for an LIC blog some years ago, I’d walk my beat day after day and always discover something new.

NB: Can you tell us about any future projects which you are working on?

AD: I’ll be reading at the Queens Library’s main branch (January 11, 2 p.m.); hosting the Boundless Tales Reading Series, where I got my real start in the Queens literary community (January 8, 7 p.m.); and randomly jumping in for the open mic at Mike Geffner’s The Inspired Word (Wednesday nights starting at 7 p.m.). I’m also bringing back my fireside reading/live writing series, Nature of the Muse, for winter and early spring. It features writers sharing their previously written work and then presenting work they write on the spot based on random prompts from the audience! Needless to say, it gets crazy (in a good way). I’ll also be working on some new collaborative shows and showcases, more aerial work and movement, and bringing to life a more theatrical show involving nostalgia and childhood. Please feel free to check out my website for more details or send me an email if you’d like to get involved.

NB: Has the Queens landscape or environment ever inspired any of your poetry?

AD: Queens is in my blood – so even if it’s not outright, it’s always there. This is my landscape, my childhood, the backdrop for my dreams, my hurts, my joys, my sorrows. Where I found solace and where I always return to find myself. I had the very cool opportunity to write some explicitly Queens-influenced poetry for a recent Canvas of Words poetry show in Jamaica, which was all about celebrating your roots: “i am the daughter / of typewriters and paint cans / of astoria, LIC, and my father’s land / i can’t talk without moving / my hands and i / want to feel / everything.”

My father came to Queens from Italy with his family when he was a year old, and my mother grew up a few blocks from where he lived – so my entire history is here. You can especially see Queens urban landscapes, East River influences, and every bit of nature I can find in my work.

NB: What is the Compass Project?

AD: The Compass Project is something I started in 2012 as a guerrilla sticker poetry initiative. I would print my work on stickers and stick them everywhere – on streetlamps, in parks, on bulldozers, on the subway – as an effort to brighten people’s day and get my words out there while simultaneously being detached from the outcome. As a writer and artist you always have your audience in the back of your mind and sometimes that feedback or lack of feedback can start to rule you. I am so influenced by street art and graffiti artists, so I decided to do my own little take on it, subsequently scrawling poetry verses from wellknown and indie poets in Sharpie, as part of my #poetsinthewildnyc project in April 2014 – both projects are documented on my website.

NB: Do you collaborate with any other artists?

AD: Yes! And it’s something I’m very passionate about, as I mentioned. Thus far I’ve done collaborative pieces featuring poetry mixed with music like my work with poet/musician Marc Montfleury, and poetry mixed with music and dance like my work with Kymberly Nolden, Sarah Kit Farrell and Jacob Horstmeier. Valerie G. Keane and I also did an interesting mixed media poetry dialogue/performance at my Traversals launch, and my long-time co-conspirator, Tyler Rivenbark, and I actually created a massive playwriting and performance experiment called Unstaged for LaGuardia Performing Arts Center’s Rough Draft Festival 2014, which paired playwrights with random groups of actors to develop and perform short plays on the spot. My Nature of the Muse series also works in the same way. I’m constantly inspired by the collaborations I watch from other artists, too – there is honestly something so special that happens when people come together to mix their creative energies in that way.

NB: Do you ever work in prose, or is your writing strictly poetry?

AD: My work is always floating back and forth between poetry and prose – I usually like to say that I’m a writer and poet so as not to single myself out to one or the other, but it’s all words at the end of the day and I’m very grateful to be getting them out to the world. My prose work has a poetic feel to it, like “prose poems” in the vein of Baudelaire or even “prosetry”, which is a funny new term I just stumbled upon on the internet! I never formally decide which piece will be what – it just comes out as it does, and I go with it.

NB: Who are your favorite past and present poets?

AD: My favorite writers are the ones I dedicated Traversals to: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kahlil Gibran, Hermann Hesse, Hafiz, Paulo Coelho, Isabel Allende, Mary Oliver, and Pablo Neruda, to name a few. There are also, of course, my Mom, my little sister, my best friend Nick Neon, and the beautiful fellow writers, musicians, and collaborators I’m lucky to call my friends. I am absolutely stunned by the level of talent I see on a regular basis, and it’s all right here in Queens and the rest of New York City.

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