Issue 35, Final Fringe

Neil de la Flor, on letting go

by Heather Falconer 09.27.2010

Author Neil de la Flor sits down to talk with Fringe about his recently published piece, “Methuselah’s Voice Over,” and experimental writing in general. Neil’s first collection, Almost Dorothy, won the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry prize. He is also the co-author, with Maureen Seaton, of Sinead O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds (Firewheel Editions 2011), winner of the 2010 Sentence Book Award and he also co-authored, with Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass, Facial Geometry (NeoPepper Press). His literary work, both solo and collaborative, has appeared or in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart Pulp, Sentence, Pank, Prairie Schooner, Court Green and other fabulous journals. The work discussed here is in Fringe’s September (de)Classified section.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Neil. I guess my first question needs to be: Do you consider yourself an ‘experimental writer’, or more a writer who sometimes experiments?

I never think about it unless I’m asked. When I’m asked, I think the correct answer is yes, I’m an experimental writer. I’d love to jump on the “don’t label me” bandwagon but labels are cool. They give me one more thing to wear on my lapel. I wish I had a button that read, “Experimentalist, WTF?”. Now that I think about it, I think I’m an experimental writer that loves to experiment. And, by experiment, I mean I enjoy finding new ways of expressing what’s in my head or locked in my body. It’s hard to get things out. I’m not a disciplined writer. What I love is challenge and chaos. Risk. Disaster. Crash and burn. From there, I learn more about myself and what I want to be as a writer.

When you started out writing “Methuselah’s Voice Over,” did you have anything in particular in mind? How did you get to the final product?

Nothing in mind. I just wanted to get to that place of letting go. I’m obsessed with dialogue and wanted to write a piece in which each new line of dialogue represents a new voice, a new character, and each character furthers the story. Each voice was meant to represent a face that is in my grandmother’s photo album. Eventually, the piece transformed, split into two pieces that are tied to that album, which is tied to a longer piece that examines the possible life of my grandmother and her first born son. It’s a long tale. Bottom line: he perished during WWII and I don’t know how or why. All I know is that my grandmother was a spy for the Danish Underground Resistance. Her husband too. They were captured. The whole family. Even her brothers and sisters. She was sent to a concentration camp. They, her son and her husband, were killed. So, in a sense, this piece, the final product, is the letting go or the retrieving of the past. I got there by letting them all speak to me from a photo album filled with ghosts. She never spoke about her past, except for once, and then she passed away. All I have left is a photo album filled with mysteries. I tried to tell them.

Your grandmother’s inspiration is interesting. Do you think you’ve exhausted this source as inspiration, now, or do you foresee more coming out of your imaging of her life?

I’m exhausted, but not tired of it. There’s so much, related and unrelated, to her story that I’m trying to work out, like the fact that my mother was adopted and therefore I have no biological connection to my grandparents or their ancestors. I want to go to Denmark. (Money.) I want to visit where she came from and try to find relatives. Sometimes I want to be part of that history but I know I can’t. But, we are family — whatever that means. This is what it means: family is pure concept, not reality. Just before she passed away she began to reveal secrets about her past to my mother, but she didn’t finish. Thus, her history is a fragment, like my writing, and a figment of my imagination that dug up the ike the lost geometry of z. (I’m going off topic  but it relates to the question below.)

Do you read a lot of experimental writing? What draws you toward it, if so? If not, what do you read for enjoyment? (Favorite authors?)
I read stuff that makes me laugh, scream, screw my head around whether it’s experimental or not.I’m a big fan of graphic novels now, especially the love and honesty of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. I love Cha’s Dictee, Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, and I have my personal heroes and mentors, Maureen Seaton, who taught me it’s okay to say ‘fuck’ in a poem and that poetry can be a hoot I’ve been reading Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality, which is this insane book that covers, in detail, almost every mathematical law in the known universe. I have no idea what’s going on, but math is gorgeous, and I want to be like math one day! I hate naming names. I read everyone, I love people who make me say what the–. That’s what I look for. However, I don’t have time to read much right now. I’m teaching 7 courses so I’m reading lots of student essays,which provide me a lot of solace and inspiration. Seriously.

So you’re a fan of math. Have you read or dabbled in OuLiPo at all? Is that combination of math and literature something that interests you?

Yes, I love math. It forms the basis for the work I’ve been (trying) to do recently. Z comes from a mathematical equation that deals with imaginary numbers. I think? I don’t have my Penrose book in front ofme. In any case, I love to look at equations and trying to figure them out and what they mean, which often eludes me. It’s fun. Keeps me from going out dancing all night,which would probably be a better use of my time. Some days I feel really proud be human. Some days I feel like an idiot. Math is true religion. It’s the magic through which the universe was created. Or maybe N+7 created the universe? And, yes, I’ve dabbled, or wobbled around, OuLiPo, specifically N+7. I’ve done several of these poems but after a few rounds I go off on a tangent and it turns into, say, a play about imaginary numbers/family members (z) and the boy who goes out looking for them. I love to force OuLiPo on my students in my English composition classes. It freaks them out. ”What does this crap have to do with writing?” they ask. “Absolutely everything.”

Do you have plans for a next project? Anything you’d like to give us a head’s up on?

Yes, I have a collaborative book coming out next year, co-authored with Maureen Seaton, called Sinead O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds. It’s hybrid, experimental, wacky, and all heart. I have two working manuscripts of hybrid poetry/fiction/memoir, a thing of fiction, and a new collaborative manuscript with Maureen Seaton. I’m also working on a performance piece with Elizabeth Doud called The Mermaid Tear Factory, which is a meditation on the effects of plastics pollution in the sea. I’m a merman! I swear. And I’m always looking for collaborations in film and the theater. Anything that disrupts my tendency toward complacency and potato chips.

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