On Saturday, June 13, some of Albuquerque's top slam poets met at the KiMo to battle it out for the title of Albuquerque Slam Poet Laureate. Danny Solis, longtime slammer and dreadlock connoisseur, emerged as the winner. Solis talked with me over expensive coffees at Flying Star about what the future holds for this newly made-up position.
As the Albuquerque Slam Poet Laureate, do you have special powers?
Yes, I do. But I can’t disclose them. ... Sounds like “Do you have super powers?” No, I’m not really granted the right to run red lights or anything like that.
Can you write tickets?
What about for bad poetry? Can you cite people?
Again, only in my mind. Yeah. That’s a very touchy subject. That’s a keg o’ dynamite!
Gene Grant wrote an opinion piece in the Alibi about wanting to see the poet laureate write about Albuquerque [Re: “Slamming Slam,” June 18-24, 2009]. Do you feel like that’s within the scope of what you’ll do, and to a certain extent, is it something you’ve already been doing?
I’ve written a lot of poems about Albuquerque and New Mexico. ... Gene and I had really discussed the idea of how you can decide on a poet laureate in five poems and how ridiculous that is on some level. And yet, in his article he wanted to decide on it in one poem, so that was kind of confusing. You know, I’ve already been doing that. I feel like there are a lot of ways to go with this ... and in a body of work, hopefully you don’t have poems about just one thing.
It also sounds like you’re going to try to function as a kind of liaison between art and cultural organizations and The Man.
I would hope so. I feel that, in some ways, I’m uniquely qualified from everyone in the competition. ... I can do a poetry show for 45 minutes for preschoolers that will keep them happy and excited and will have them walking out and loving poetry. I can also work with graduate students on fine-tuning their work, working on their craft. I can work, I have worked, with professional poets fine-tuning their writing and performance. ... I feel like it just gives me another key to open those doors and spread literacy and love of literature through literary arts in our community. ... It’s a great place to be in my life, to have climbed to this place. It wasn’t always the case that I was even interested in community. Back when I lived in Boston, I was kind of a dunce.
Do you think it’s maturity that got you to this different place, or is it something about Albuquerque?
It was both. Part of the reason I came to live here was that I had visited and had seen the poetry slam community and thought it was really amazing. Very, very talented, and yet free of much of the infighting I had seen in other places. And then I did my first feature here at The Dingo Bar, and one of the things I had missed in Austin were a lot of brown faces in the audience ... and right in front of the stage were tables pulled together filled with nothing but Chicanos, Mexicanos. And I don’t think that’s my only audience ... but it was great to see that after having missed it for so long. I had lived in Boston, North Carolina, Austin. There are plenty of brown faces in Austin, but they’re not necessarily at the slam venues, sitting around listening to slam poetry.
This raises a point I’ve heard: It comes across in slam as if the only authentic Albuquerque experience is the Chicano experience, or that it tends to dominate. Do you think that’s a problem, or do you think that’s the way it should be?
I don’t know that it’s a problem. ... Perception is just perception. I think a lot of people write about the Albuquerque experience in a lot of ways. I hate the idea that it’s just “Chicano experience” ... but this doesn’t only come from Chicano poets. It comes from white people, black people. Because a lot of times, people are more comfortable when people of color fulfill their expectations, whatever those are.
This is a thorny subject. People who have a narrow view of gay people are more comfortable if the gay person they meet is an interior designer and all this stuff, as opposed to: What if this person they met was an MMA (mixed martial arts) professional and for a living was a literature professor, not meeting their stereotypes? When somebody gets on stage and sings part of a corrido and talks about green chile and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and all that stuff, there are people who are going to cheer because that’s their heritage and their culture, and there are going to be people who cheer because they are relieved that more is not being demanded of them intellectually. ... That the Chicano experience is viewed as the only authentic experience, is that really a problem? I think it’s mostly a problem for the people who view it that way.
The people who view it as the only authentic experience?
Yes. It’s mostly their problem that they're so narrow-minded they can’t see that there’s an Asian experience here, a Native American experience, a German experience here. And the other thing, I don't know if you're going to leave this in or not, there's a gay and lesbian experience here. We've only ever had one openly gay member of an Albuquerque slam team in the 15 years of having Albuquerque slam teams.
Why do you think that is?
I think there are a variety of reasons. One is, probably the biggest, is that we've never worked hard enough, as organizers and hosts, to create an LGBT-safe space in the slam.
Is that something you'd like to do in this position, to create that space?
Yes, I would love to, I would love to. I would like to see the culture of slam change so that rather than think we're protecting the First Amendment rights of bigots, we're creating a safe space. ... As a city poet laureate, I think I need to partner with slam organizers and hosts to aggressively create this safe space for the rest of our community.