A House Divided: Stefan Bondell and Bob Holman seek unity in poetry
Interview by Sam O’Hana
SO: Tell us about yourselves and how the idea for A House Divided came about.
SB: I’m Stefan Bondell, I’m a painter and poet. I’ve been wanting to do some sort of reading that would address these divisive times before the election, but after the election feelings were so raw that we had to wait until the right moment. Cooper Union had approached me two years ago; they’d been hearing about some of the art performances I’d been doing in the neighborhood and of course I turned to the main man of the hood, Bobbie, godfather of poetry in the neighb’ to do this with me.
BH: I guess I should introduce myself to the Bowery Poetry Medium as the founder of Bowery Arts + Science! I’m a poet and all I do is in service thereof, to further the work of poetry. I met Stefan at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe when he was a teenager — we had to do a work-around to even get him into the room where he was an utter pest, and nothing has changed! I tell you, when you look at the landscape of social and how information flows these days, it’s inspiring to find someone like Stefan who still gets the importance of the Event.
SB: And that helps because I’ve boycotted social media.
SO: Why Cooper Union, why poetry and why now?
SB: Bob and I have always used poetry and art performances to speak to the times and this is not the first social justice reading we’ve done together– and hopefully won’t be the last!
BH: Cooper Union is where Lincoln spoke during the time of our nation’s original House Divided. Stefan’s collaboration with Cooper Union allowed us to bring that history to life in a time where the nation is the most divided since the Civil War. There is no more appropriate place to speak out. Poetry is the only opposition to capitalism that remains– the only thing not been eaten by capitalism. The poetic economy is what we are celebrating here, the gift economy. Cooper Union donated the space, so the event is free for the community to attend. Why now? Because it’s time for artists to unite the House Divided. If we can get Downtown artists to unite, we should be able to do OK with the Red states as well.
SB: We chose these artists because they have a history of activism and of speaking out.
SO: What’s the thread that links these acts together?
BH: There is no thread. The arts scene in New York is in a state of constant explosion, so attempting to fit together the fragments is to create a jigsaw puzzle using the techniques of Jackson Pollock.
SB: I would also say that these are very political and outspoken artists and writers. A lot of them have a real history of activism for many years, even the young ones.
SO: Do you have any plans for future events?
SB: We might do a John Giorno tribute for his event that’s coming to New York. House Divided has been quite an undertaking in itself: we have PEN, we have Cooper Union, and this was all put together in quite a short amount of time.