Good poetry in Albuquerque can be heard in at least a half dozen venues a week. In fact, many visitors and residents alike consider the city to be the current poetry capital of the nation. Rarely in the history of U.S. verse has there been a place where poets of so many different experiences, writing styles, ages, and skill levels regularly come together to perform. Most events are free. Sometimes a donation is requested. Occasionally a major performance charges a modest entrance fee.
Major sites include The Winery in nearby Placitas, where a three-event season of Sunday afternoon readings called Duende Poetry Series has been making headlines for eight years This venue showcases local and visiting poets in an inviting space that also provides its own high quality wine and assorted eats. (John Brandi and Renée Gregorio will read there on September 16th, call 505 867 3062 for information).
East of Edith (3614 High Street, just north of Candelaria and east of Edith) hosts featured poets and an open mike at least once a week. The comfortable living room-like atmosphere invites a poetry-loving audience to relax and enjoy the program. Local poets and cultural organizers Lisa Gill and Mitch Rayes are responsible for East of Edith. Upcoming readings and other news can be found on the Local Poets blog (www.localpoetsguild.wordpress.com).
Fixed & Free is a series that began in the bike shop of the same name. Readings now take place on the fourth Thursday of the month at The Source for Creating Sacredness (3538 Anderson Avenue SE). Billy Brown runs this series, and his homemade cookies are an added enticement. A wonderful venue that draws a mostly Latino crowd and is always full, is Andrea Serrano’s second Thursday of the month event at El Chante Casa de la Cultura (804 Park Avenue SW, corner Central Avenue). Poetry also regularly happens at the city’s dwindling number of independent bookstores: Alamosa, Bookworks, Page One, Acequia, and The University of New Mexico Bookstore, among others. UNM Bookstore also hosts a special series during National Poetry Month.
Two unusual venues combine poetry and music. One is Sunday Chatter (formerly known as Church of Beethoven), which takes place at The Kosmos, 1715 5th Street NW. The place is always packed, so come before 10 a.m. and enjoy the complimentary espresso bar where Billy Brown’s delicious cookies are often on sale. The program opens with a piece of ensemble music. A ten-minute reading by a guest poet comes next, followed by a two-minute celebration of silence. The morning ends with a substantial offering of chamber music.
The other poetry and music venue couldn’t be more different but is equally exciting. I’ll Drink to That is slam champion Carlos Contreras’ effort to bring the spoken word, acoustic and underground Hip-Hop, jazz, vocalists and an occasional comedian to new audiences at the city’s brew pubs. I’ll Drink to That has already had a half dozen successful Sunday afternoon performances at Nexus Brewery, Tractor, The Service Station and others. It is happening on the third Sunday of the month (contact Contreras at firstname.lastname@example.org for up to date programming).
Former Minneaplis poet Jules Nyquist, now residing in Albuquerque, wasted no time before organizing an ongoing series of her own. She shows films and has readings by local and visiting poets at her loft at Kosmos on 5th Street SW. Visit Jules' FB page for ongoing details.
Although Albuquerque’s slam poets have their own venues, and individuals and teams from the city have taken national prizes, one of the most interesting aspects of the local scene and one that distinguishes it from what happens in most other U.S. cities, is that slam and page poets often read together. Blackbird Buvette (509 Central Avenue NW) is a micro club with entertainment every night. Although it hosts belly dancing, karaoke, dancing,and a variety of musicians, poetry is featured regularly.
Other Albuquerque venues where poetry readings take place are The Harwood Center, The National Hispanic Cultural Center, The Peace and Justice Center, and the main branch of the Public Library, among others. Local churches, cafes, and parks sometimes also get into the act. Winnings Coffeehouse at 111 Harvard SE also has regular readings with open mikes, and has been especially welcoming to the city’s young LGBT crowd.
The Outpost Performance Space, the city’s outstanding jazz and folk music venue, sometimes offers exciting readings as well. One not to miss is on Friday, September 28th, when the venue will host the reading opening this year’s Albuquerque Cultural Conference. The Outpost is located at 210 Yale SE 2 blocks south of Central. Judging from previous years, this is a program not to be missed.
With such a vibrant poetry scene, it’s not surprising that Albuquerque has a wealth of good poetry publications. The readings feed the journals and vice-versa. Outstanding are Malpais Review, Mas Tequila Review, and Adobe Walls. Gary Brower publishes the first, which has already appeared in six voluminous issues; it focuses on poetry but also features artwork and in-depth essays on some of the poets. Mas Tequila, published by Richard Vargas, is a compendium of excellent work by local as well as nationally known talents. And Kenneth P. Gurney’s Adobe Walls is a twice-yearly anthology of carefully selected poems. All three of these editors are excellent poets themselves, which undoubtedly contributes to their editing skills. These magazines also host yearly readings featuring the poets appearing in recent issues.
The Duke City Fix’s own unique weekly poetry feature is The Sunday Poem, where Jon Knudsen (otherwise known as the Ditch Rider) selects a local poet, introduces him or her with a few evocative lines, and presents one or two poems accompanied by a photograph. Many Albuquerque poetry lovers start their Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and the week’s poetic offering, leaving comments that occasionally become interesting discussions. Another on-line poetry venue is Lisa M. Hase-Jackson’s Two Hundred New Mexican Poems, with one or two new entries appearing weekly. Hase-Jackson plans to publish an anthology in honor of the state’s 2012 centennial.
This year Albuquerque got its first Poet Laureate. The honor went to local slam and page poet Hakim Bellamy. He will hold the office for two years, and promises many special celebrations of the exuberant art form. The secret of the city’s successful poetry scene is undoubtedly its unusual and inclusive mix of page and slam poets, accomplished performers and those just beginning to read in public.
So, seasoned poetry lovers and newcomers to the art, come on out and take advantage of a spectacular but little known part of Albuquerque’s charm.