I have not connected yet to my local poetry scene in the ABQ. Being slightly hermitish, I need a somewhat more outgoing friend to assist in my branch out. In Santa Fe I did attend two or three readings given by a local poetry society but it was always a trial to drag along Monsieur Big Bang and I never felt comfortable going alone. It's not like poets are overly friendly at such things. Mr. BB did attend a recent Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) author’s event with me to see guest reader Arthur Sze.
CNM is not an art or liberal arts school. The school started as a technical college and has retained its core identity as a trade school. However, the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the resulting riots against police violence did manage to inspire an art piece here that captured the attention on local news. To repeat, the controversial art piece came not from the Art Institute of Santa Fe, or the Institute of American Indian Arts or from the big boy, UNM. No, the controversial piece came from CNM. Joshua Gonzales was one of the artists who made the piece out of plastic and tape. View the news piece.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working with a CNM English professor on a large web-content project and recently came across some recent video work he’s been involved in with his poetry students. Patrick Houlihan hosted a well-made video poetry reading called Cyber Nimbus Melodies.
Seven or so students read about five poems a piece in our production studio. Some awesome green screen backgrounds were used (explosive lightning, fire explosions, a pastoral kitchen scene). The sound quality and lighting gave these readings some pop. The fact is I would have loved the opportunity to practice reading during my undergraduate OR graduate school years. But YouTube wasn’t even a gleam in the Internet’s eye back then. Forget about having a full production studio we could have access to. Imagine this being a class requirement!
There are also some interesting poems here. Donald Seals’ piece “The Voice of Slavery” has a surprise ending. Elements of mindfulness and lives transforming populate his pieces. Dennis Noel had a great reading delivery and I loved his poem about pride and false self-esteem called “A Deadly Sin.” He also invoked Edward Munch, fractals and Zoloft. Fabulous!
Some of the poets became emotional while reading, including Tanya Gonzales (who quotes Marcel Proust about suffering in a poem that ended strong called “Good Grief”) and Reynaldo Garcia. I liked his poem “I Am Learning.” Claire Rutland had a strong one called “Buried Alive” and a untitled poem about issues of communication. Will Vega did a poem in Spanish and talked about willpower. And Josiah Ruanhorse was full of piss and vinegar in long pieces about ancestry and sobriety. Of all the poets, I probably disagreed the most with the content of his pieces (being a working woman and all), but I’d like to check back with him in 20 years and see where he's at then with his political views.
Many of the poets covered themes appropriate to young college students: pressing on, perseverance, failed love relationships, loss and students composed plenty of formal pieces for those naysayers who believe that kids today aren’t learning their forms.
As a poetry reader or writer, it’s important to hear the sounds of different voices, literally. This is the most powerful aspect of an open reading for me. In this "me-me-me" culture—we should always try to practice the art of seeing another person and listening to their physical voice.
The Literary Magazine Reading
CNM’s production studio also posted a video recording of the literary magazine launch.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in New Mexico, poet's here love marathon readings. Each one I’ve ever attended has stretched to at least 2 hours. But this video gives you a good sense of what college poetry readings are all about. A prominent ABQ slam poet named Don McIver begins the reading after Patrick Houlihan does an initial introduction. Houlihan speaks of poems as “brain prints on paper,” as unique as fingerprints. He also talks a bit about the project of putting the magazine together.
I guess I'm beginning to recognize poet faces. I’d just seen McIver a month ago doing a reading at a local showing of the 1980s William Burroughs biopic.
As far as readings go, I like to see what people wear. I saw everything from a Scorpions band t-shirt to sparkly party tops. I don’t know if it’s the Spanish influence here in New Mexico but a lot of the kids invoke the element of blood in their poems. This reminds me of the Spanish poets I like who tend to be more fully connected with ideas of the body and mortality.
While I was at IAIA, there were no student readings that I can remember. This might be because the student literary magazine had to be recalled the year I was there due to egregious layout issues. I managed to keep my copy and blogged about it. I haven’t read the CNM magazine yet but will post more about that soon.