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Shaping poetic Queens

Paolo Javier. reading March 10, 2011, at Dia Art Foundation. Photo by Paul Salveson
TimesLedger Newspapers

In ancient Greece, poets were honored with a crown of laurel. In 21st century Queens, the borough’s poet laureate, Paolo S. Javier, isn’t taking his noble title lightly.

The young bard says he’s been busy “continuing the rich and sophisticated history of innovative writers and artists emerging from and working in the borough.”

On Oct. 8, the Philippines native introduced his newest collection of poetry, “The Feeling Is Actual,” during a lively book party in Sunnyside.

Through October, the poet is curating events and performances in celebration of Philippine American heritage month.

“Ged Merino, a talented visual artist/printmaker based in the neighborhood, got in touch with me over the summer and invited me to do an event in the fall at his fantastic alternative art space, Bliss on Bliss Art Projects,” said Javier. “It soon blossomed into a month-long, two-artist residency program that also gathered innovative writers, a distinguished scholar, and a notable filmmaker.” In the intimate, artsy studio on 45th Street, walls were decorated with color-splashed abstract paintings created by Merino, and there was a mural created by another Filipino artist. Javier performed a moving poetry reading in a serene, dimly lit space, and gave a thought-provoking multimedia presentation, making the audience laugh when he talked about Filipino humor and the art of punning. “Without it we wouldn’t survive,” he said.

The well-traveled, self-described “once-global nomad” has lived in Sunnyside for more than a decade, and made Queens his home because he had “no trouble finding the world in it.”

“I grew up just outside of Manila, moved to the United States when I was 12, attended college in Canada, and returned to New York in the fall of ‘99. I had family here, and settled in Sunnyside that year to live with my aunt,” Javier said. He believes his neighborhood offers “a fluid interaction between people of different class and national backgrounds.”

A recipient of grants from the Queens Council on the Arts and state Council on the Arts, the poet didn’t come by his distinguished non-salaried position easily: He penned four chapbooks (short poetry books) and three full-length collections, and was expected to have a clearly articulated vision of how he would promote a love of poetry in the area.

“QCA continues to sponsor and promote poetry and arts events across the borough. For the past three years, the Queens Museum of Art has hosted its Poets-in-the-Gallery series. So you don’t need to leave Queens to experience contemporary poetry by locals and non-locals,” said Javier, whose three-year appointment was announced by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Queens College President James Muyskens in a ceremony held in June 2010.

“Paolo Javier is truly a 21st century poet who is recreating poetry as a dynamic literary art form that draws from theater, new media and international cinema,” said Muyskens.

“One of my joys as Queens’ poet laureate is how the position connects me to the diverse communities of poetry enthusiasts in Woodhaven, Kew Gardens, Fresh Meadows, Jackson Heights, and Long Island City,” Javier said. “Since April, I’ve hosted a roving literary series that travels to different branches of the Queens Library.” He has given countless public readings, lectures and poetry performances at important venues in the United States and Canada.

Javier’s literary contributions and profound poetic presence have already sparked a real interest in the beauty of prose within some of the culturally starved areas of Queens, and he will continue to contribute at least until his team as poet laureate comes to an end in 2013.

you were a flame

you were a pleasant sea

you were the word for mermaid in the Philippines

you were a pair of mango-juice stained fingertips

you were a birthday backrub & a lingering kiss

you were chocolate

-Paolo Javier (From poem titled “You Were Delivering a Single,” an excerpt from “The Feeling is Actual”)

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