The wordsmiths at the Academy of American Poets were inspired by the celebrations and events during Black History Month and Women’s History Month, wanting a lunar revolution they could call their own. National Poetry Month was established in 1996 and, according to the Academy, is devoted to “bringing poets and poetry to the general public in immediate and innovative ways.” Albuquerque has a large and multifaceted poetry community—there are lots of ways to get into the art form. The Alibi spoke with a few active artists in the scene to find out what they’re up to, what inspires them and why poetry matters today.
Don McIver is the host of the monthly Poetry & Beer event at Blackbird Buvette and “a general gadfly and pest at too many readings to mention.” He wrote his first poem in junior high. He says he wanted to be a writer even though the influential people in his life didn’t encourage him to pursue it as a career. “I think they were just hoping I'd finish high school,” says McIver, “and trying to grease the wheels so I would.”
McIver believes poetry matters today, even if its dedicated month may be a token gesture.
Poet and performer Carlos Contreras agrees via e-mail. “[Poetry] is a vessel, an outlet, a channel, it’s made to be used, and subsequently serves as a language that people who wouldn't have spoken to each other before use to communicate.”
Both Contreras and Bellamy stress that poetry is particularly important for youth today. Inundated by mainstream media images of what they should be, and often feeling like they’re not heard, members of generations X, Y and younger can find and express their individualism through writing and performing. “I was a high school junior, confused about who I was, where I belonged, what was out there for me—and then Kenn Rodriguez walked into my class room,” Contreras says. “Mind you, I was a private school kid, I didn't even have it half bad, and I was confused. When I saw Kenn perform, things within me that were unexplainable made sense.” In that moment, Contreras says he knew there was something he could, and wanted, to achieve. He began writing poetry and was eventually a member of multiple championship slam teams. He is active in community outreach, is a full-time educator, and encourages youth and adults to improve their lives through writing.
Lisa Gill, recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, started writing in elementary school and believes poetry can connect people. “I love it when something I read trips the wires of memory for someone else and they tell me a story,” she says via e-mail. “I love it when we share empathy and understanding and laugh together.” She has authored five books, including the new release Caput Nili: How I Won the War and Lost My Taste for Oranges, a memoir on her threat to holdup of an MRI clinic and its reverberations. For her, poetry is a way to ask questions and engage people in dialogue, sometimes about difficult issues. “I hope everyone takes a second look at the violence in their own lives, both what they perpetrate and how they've been a victim, and I hope people think about the rampant violence in our culture in general.”