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“Guts. Structure. Surprise.”

December 17, 2012

“Learn all the rules, and then learn how to break them.”

That’s the advice of BMCC Writing & Literature alumni Joseph Quintela, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English at Sarah Lawrence College.

Some would say Quintela has followed his own advice.

His unconventional blend of poetry, sculpture and performance shatters rules such as, “Don’t write in a book,” which can be extended to, “Don’t erase words in a book”—a technique Quintela adopted in his American Blackout Series (which appears in Corium Magazine), by whiting out words in the works of Allen Ginsberg and others.

Another taboo regarding books is to rip out their pages, a restriction Quintela ignores as he deconstructs—and reconstructs—books he buys in bulk from the Strand, a landmark East Village bookstore that then exhibits Quintela’s striking book-based sculptures in its Rare Books Room, taking the transformation full circle.

Recycled worlds

“What I’m interested in, is poetry that is post-productive,” Quintela says, “being creative without making new things from new materials. I’m making new things from old materials. I’m recycling poems, making a collage of recycled worlds.”

Quintela’s most recent “collage of recycled worlds” was the installation Foot Knots, exhibited at the Project Space Envelope gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Visitors made their way through a space thick with shredded paper, “a fully immersive experience set inside of a book-strewn, walled, and sculpted 12' x 20' space,” as the Foot Knots website describes the exhibit, adding that it “spans the divide between poetry, visual art, performance, and sculpture.”

Quintela co-produced Foot Knots with artist and performer Sarah McSherry, who moved through the space in a lavish paper costume—as did Gabriel Don and Lisa Marie Basile—for Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ short film, UnBound.

Short, Fast and Deadly

Quintela credits his last year at Sarah Lawrence—where his writing studies included eco-criticism—for the recycling direction his work has taken, and recommends the school to other new writers.

Some students might think Sarah Lawrence is out of their price range, he says, “but I think people don't realize that it heavily funds undergrads who can demonstrate financial need. I had almost a full scholarship.”

Also while a student at Sarah Lawrence, Quintela founded the literary magazine Short, Fast, and Deadly, which publishes prose not in excess of 420, and poetry no longer than 140 characters.

In an interview with Jim Harrington for the literary blog, Six Questions For…, Quintela says the impetus for Short, Fast and Deadly was “the constraints of Facebook and Twitter,” where the character guidelines originate.

“Our tag line,” says Quintela, “is ‘In the future, 5 words will be a run-on sentence’… The short attention span of the modern milieu guides our tastes.”

He is quick to add that an emphasis on brevity doesn’t negate his appreciation for craft and form.

“In fact, we often err on the side of formalism,” he says, and explains that what he looks for in submissions to the magazine is “Guts. Structure. Surprise. These are the elements of the ‘deadly’ aesthetic that guide our choices…we generally pass on work that doesn't drive through us like a stake.”

New art at the NU Hotel

Another recent art project Quintela took part in was created at the NU Hotel in Brooklyn, which provided one of their Friend’s Suites so that Quintela, along with actor Nick Trotta and dancer Melissa Alexis, could create an art piece together.

The event was sponsored by the Creator’s Collective, through its 3 to 1 ongoing art project, which gathers three artists from different disciplines in one hotel suite for 24 hours.

The collaboration by those three artists is witnessed by a live audience, and often performed later, as well.

Quintela, Trotta and Alexis created DO NOT DISTURB, a performance in 5 acts, which will be presented in a one-night-only re-engagement in February 2013, venue pending. In addition, the NU Hotel is displaying ten of Quintela's sculptures in its lobby through January 15, 2013, and he is creating a permanent installation for one of their rooms.

Where it all began

Joseph Quintela graduated with a degree in Writing and Literature from BMCC in 2010, and earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from Sarah Lawrence College in 2012.

Just before he graduated from BMCC, he won 1st Prize in a campus-wide contest to celebrate Poetry Month, and “the English department really gave me the framework for writing,” he says. “I learned what poetry is, in the contemporary world, and it allowed me to experiment.”

Today, Quintela is still in touch with his former teachers at BMCC, including English professor Carlos Hernandez, “whose guidance was an essential part of my time at BMCC,” he says, “and very much put me on the trajectory I’ve been charting since graduating in 2010. I can't properly express how grateful I am for my time there.”

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  • BMCC alumni Joseph Quintela earned a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College
  • His poetry installations span the divide between language, sculpture and performance
  • He also founded the online journal, Short, Fast and Deadly

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