It’s high noon on Friday when I enter the Hyatt lobby bar to meet Neil de la Flor, author of the Marsh Hawk Prize winning hybrid work Almost Dorothy. De la Flor is decked out in a tailored grey suit and a pensive look that says, “Bug off.” I sashay to the bar and order a giant chocolate milk – no ice – and turn to shake hands with De la Flor. Instead, I’m greeted with an eyebrow and a quick nod at my chocolate milk. “Make that two,” he says, “And I’ll make you a star.”
Wait, that was Guy Ritchie in Esquire. Or was it Jeff Walt at AWP? It’s hard to keep these things straight. Thinking back, I interviewed Neil de la Flor via email, but throughout the conversation I envisioned him to be wearing a silver fedora with his feet propped on a stone statue of Buddha or Guy Ritchie.
Neil de la Flor is the creator of Almost Dorothy, co-author (along with Maureen Seaton) of Sinead O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds (Firewheel Editions) and winner of the 2010 Sentence Book Award. He also co-authored, with Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass, Facial Geometry (NeoPepper Press). Neil teaches at Miami Dade College and Nova Southeastern University. His favorite word is ham, but he insists on ordering the cod. Here’s what he has to say about formulas, hats, gloves, and 4-dimensional manifolds:
The Rumpus: There is a black fly in your chocolate milk. I just though you should be aware. Anyway, there are a lot of reviews about Almost Dorothy that describe the book in terms like playful, trickster-esque, hilarious. There is that element to the book, for certain. So what’s the deal…are you a jester? And, are you a queer debutant?
Neil de la Flor: I think there is an e at the end of debutant, but I won’t hold it against you, for now. Yes, I’m queer, Almost Dorothy is queer, the whole world is queer, even the anti-matter that litters the universe is queer, but nothing is queerer than the squirrel eating a palm tree nut outside my window in the rain in April. I don’t know what I’m talking about 90% of the time, which makes me a jester, I think, or an imposter.
Not-knowing is enough for me and that is fine because it releases me from convention, even though I love conventions. As far as the jester, or the wise-ass question goes, I am not a jester or a wise-ass. I’m more like an ass-jester. There are wiser things out there than me, like lions and bears and bees, and they all lead me way out there beyond the Thunder Dome. A jester seems so Shakespearean to me. I’m more Scary Movie and la te dah.
Rumpus: Interesting. What exactly is out there past the Thunder Dome or Drone?
Rumpus: The detached voice of the “Introduction” grows into its acknowledgment of love and loss in “The Elegant Universe. I think “The Elegant Universe” illuminates the blood/bone/bond between the speaker. “Joey”. The “Introduction”, “Memoir of a Barbed Wire”, and “The Elegant Universe” are like the three massive phases of expression of transformation. Do you think?
ND: The “Elegant Universe” is the messy release. It also contains that episode when I bought a few pieces of extra crispy KFC, peed and then left. It’s the simultaneous acknowledgment and release of guilt.
Rumpus: Do you consider pieces in Almost Dorothy to be tributes to Joey? (You don’t have to answer.)
ND: I must answer. The book is a tribute to Joey and “Joey”. By “Joey” I mean the multitudes. I’ve became attached, for some reason, to the concept of blood brothers and sisters, familial and/or otherwise. “Joey” is my Wonder Woman Comforter.
Rumpus: Who is the bartender who dies in the “Introduction”?
ND: The bartender who dies.
Rumpus: Are you paranoid?
ND: Getting close has consequences. Distance too.
Rumpus: Are you a clown, a doberman, or a statue?
ND: I assume you are referring to the poem “He Tries His Tongue” in which I’m the statue of a clown posing as a doberman, but I’m also a doberman posing as a clown posing as a statue.
Rumpus: What does it mean to pose as a statue, as opposed to being a statue?
ND: You have to have difference to see no difference.
Rumpus: Tell a story with these words: horn, musk, credenza, parakeet, dry hump, last night.
ND: Once upon a time there was a horn and Billy Goat. Billy Goat hated musk cologne because so many men wore musk cologne. Hello, Drakkar Noir. Billy Goat hated musked men, especially if they were also parakeets. One day termites ate Billy Goat’s credenza. They blew past him and flew for cover beneath an avocado tree of blooming gardenias. Billy Goat was like whoa, that’s weird, like a poem about madness. A dry hump is humping while dry. Like last night.
Rumpus: That was a good story. It leaves me wondering what happened to Billy Goat, like a Raymond Carver story. It’s also metaphysical, since Billy Goat comments on the very poem he’s inside. I think I’ll write a conference paper about it and get grant money and buy cod.
From your Introduction you wrote: “To be honest, I figured I was gay, but I wasn’t sure if I liked gay sex.” What formula did you use to figure you were gay?
ND: I followed my dictionary. I used the same formula every human has used since humans evolved or landed on earth. Some argue that homosexuality is unnatural, demonic, like Barney or Elmo. No one questions Britney Spears’s or Paris Hilton’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of babies. Heck, they both have their own perfume lines. I don’t want to be fixed.
Rumpus: What would Joey say?
ND: Neil, you big queen. Shut the fuck up.
Rumpus: What would you say back to him?
ND: I suck at comebacks. Yes, that’s what I’d say.
Rumpus: Burn! Do you see “The Invisible Chromosome” as an exit back to the mathematical/magical? I see it as a zoom-back-out. Like the speaker is conscious of the shared story, the ordinariness of the boy in the “Memoir of the Barbed Wire Fence”, the unique/non-uniqueness of things. Tiny variations of the bigger human story, of how small we are.
ND: “The Invisible Chromosome”, which also relates to my new work, The Meta Texts, contains this poorly conveyed idea of how a non-biological family unit was (or can be) forged out of shared experience. My mom, adopted by my grandparents after the war, has so much of them in her, and in my sis and me too, and somehow we got my grandparents DNA. You can’t count on biology alone.
Rumpus: What is the art of the theory of relativity vs. the art of war?
ND: That war can never exceed the speed of light no matter how many people are killed or how fast they’re killed. That art, all art, is the end of war. Make art, not war.
Rumpus: That sounds nice. Are you a lesbian? If not, have you ever thought about being a lesbian?
ND: In high school, I wore a tee shirt that read “No One Knows I’m a Lesbian.” Then I dated a lesbian. Then I figured out nothing. Then I wrote a book. And I’m still dumb, or dumb still.
Rumpus: It’s ok to be dumb. It’s better than being Carolyn Burnham from American Beauty. What does it mean to want hats? (From your poem, “Nineteen Ninety-Nine.”)
ND: I wanted to be loved by a Turk.
Rumpus: OMG I love turkey. Do you still want to be loved, and is a hat the same as gloves?
ND: The absence of war is love. The presence of love is a hat. G(love)?
Rumpus: If “He Tries His Tongue” was set to stage-play, how would you curate the show? Who would play the doberman? What would the audience be served to eat and drink?
ND: The stage would be surrounded by people. The audience would play all the roles, including the doberman or doberwoman. The audience would be served something elegant, like oysters or Baklava or anticuhos. They would drink oxygen infused mojitos. They would never be allowed to leave, not even after breakfast.
Rumpus: I always leave after breakfast, especially when there are waffles. I want to drink wine next time I read Almost Dorothy. What pairings would you suggest?
ND: The only wines I drink these days are the ones made without sulfites. I discovered I’m allergic to sulfites. So, pair your reading of Almost Dorothy with sulfuric acid & cantaloupe. Wear 3-D glasses.
Rumpus: Why is America such a sulfuric ass, and can’t people just elope or elate? Are you allergic to soul fights?
ND: I love America and I want America to love what it stands for. I don’t think of America as a sulfuric ass, but I will do what I can to make sure it doesn’t become one, ever. I heart you, America.
Rumpus: Do you think poetry challenges or furthers the silence surrounding this story, these stories? Like the virus, the poems’ truth is enclosed by language that kisses but doesn’t go all the way, doesn’t enter the body of the reader because through images it remains shielded.
ND: I just want to re-read your question over and over again and not answer it ever because I can’t ever say anything right. If you’re asking me, I like to kiss and go all the way. I don’t like force, or farce, unless the reader wants to come in and play with me, with kid gloves and a beating heart, and be co-pilots, not cheerleaders, yes cheerleaders, of the creative process. (My dog is snoring right now.) The fact that we are here talking (or reading this) is an attempt to break that silence, to end the tyranny of silence surrounding the stories, like a virus that threads itself throughout the book. I am not a dancing bear. And the only shield I bear is Brooke Shields. Audre Lorde said it best: we all share a war against the tyrannies of silence.
Rumpus: Roger that, Maverick. Speaking of snoring, what are you working on next?
ND: Maverick? MacGyver? I’m working on a project that involves Minkowski Spacetime, which has something to do with collapsing 3-dimensional space to form a 4-dimensional manifold. It’s all geometry and stuff and I have no idea what I’m doing, but I do. It involves three characters, Meta, z, and -z, and all 3 are folded into a 4-dimensional manifold, i.e. a family album. Like I never mentioned before, the energy that created them is not destroyed.
Rumpus: Will you gay marry me?
ND: I can’t even gay marry myself, or my lover, and isn’t it ironic that a homosexual can legally be elected President of the United States, or an ax murderer can marry a kindergarten teacher, yet same-sex couples are not allowed to marry in most states. In 2010? GAWD! Don’t get me started. I bet your honey baked ham hocks it will be legal everywhere, America.
MR: I do.