The Poets and Writers Picnic has been spreading out its welcome blanket in Mountainair for 12 years. Started by self-described "poetry nut" Dale Harris when she and her husband owned the Hummingbird Café in the small town, it's become an anticipated treat for city slicker wordsmiths.
What you'll see when you hit Mountainair, southeast of Belen, are sunflowers; more sunflowers than a church bus full of grandmas could ever buy at Hobby Lobby. The town's Sunflower Festival runs concurrent with the picnic, informing the casual outdoor atmosphere of the reading event.
What you'll hear when you lay down your picnic blanket and settle on the lush grass, reportedly free of burrs, is a who's who of New Mexican writers, such as Lisa Gill, Mitch Reyes and Bob Reeves. Harris is particularly excited about the return of Gary "Mex" Glazner, a longtime New Mexico poet who boot-scooted to New York City to serve as Managing Director of the Bowery Poetry Club, a near legendary venue for poets and stuff poets like. "He'll add a lot of excitement," Harris says. "He's a really charismatic poet."
One of his books is How To Make a Living as a Poet, which Harris says the author characterizes as fiction. More realistically, she reports Glazner's next book will be on how to make a life as a poet.
Sharing this insight and common sense of purpose is one of the greatest benefits of these kinds of gatherings. Harris says communing with writers is a "way to grow your craft. Most creative writing has to happen from your own being, but you can enrich the mix you're writing from by getting stimulated from other peoples' work."
One of these people is Kate Horsely. She's the author of the terrific Confessions of a Pagan Nun and says she prefers these sorts of communal events over bookstore readings. "They feel, to me, like they’re a celebration of readers and writers," she shares. "They’re not a commercial event. Of course, that’s a small element, but I absolutely love reading at events like this, or libraries or book clubs or a classroom visit. They sustain me in the sense of I’m talking to, and with, other readers and writers."
In addition to the picnic, which is free and open to the public, interested writers can pay $125 and attend the Sunflower Poetry Writing Workshop Thursday, Aug. 20, through Saturday, Aug. 22. Glazner and other instructors will discuss writing and performance tips, as well as leading an excursion to the Gran Quivira Salinas Pueblo Mission ruins for plein air poetry. As in painting, plein air poetry is writing in place, in the open air. Harris says that though writing can happen anywhere, there's something special about this experience. "It's almost like fishing. A place with those kinds of historic resonances or vibes is a good place to catch a poem."
The Saturday picnic will feature music as well, including the New Mexico Celtic Singers, which Harris is a part of. She encourages Burqueños to carpool down and check Mountainair out. "It's got a lot of genuine charm." And sunflowers.