“Everyone is a poet,” says Hakim Bellamy. “What is cool about poetry is that it is like the most accessible artform, I believe. It doesn’t take a lot—a high threshold of cost or education or anything like that to get in. It is not like learning the piano. Most people do it. And most people have done it.”
Bellamy knows what he’s talking about. He’s a celebrated New Mexico poet who teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and served as the inaugural poet laureate for the city of Albuquerque.
“We all get turned off by the word ‘poet,’ typically because most of us don’t understand it, because we feel like we don’t get it. That is something that we do in school: We make you believe there is a right answer and a wrong answer to experiencing poetry, and it is the same thing we do to people with visual art. Somehow you need a degree to appreciate a Van Gogh,” he tells SFR. “And you don’t. You can just stand there. You can walk in a gallery and stand in front of it and say, ‘It makes me feel that way.’ … We believe in American culture that unless I know what it is, what is it, I can’t enjoy it. It can be a visceral experience.”
And that’s why as he sat down to judge the more than 100 entries in SFR’s Spring Poetry Search, Bellamy looked for unique works that reveal interesting thoughts and feelings.
He applies the same approach to his own work, which often crosses into the realm of political commentary. While sometimes his process is about one heave that produces a piece in a single sitting, Bellamy says he often works out the right phrases in a poem as he’s performing, and he typically doesn’t settle on a somewhat final version of a performance piece until years after he writes it. And sometimes he waits to write it. He says he wants to bring something new to the conversation rather than being an echo chamber. While his 2013 book Swear opened with a poem that touched on the national politics of the prior years, and he says he’s a proud “card-carrying, flag-waving, flaming political poet,” he’s yet to publish anything about the current presidential race.
“I think I am still trying to figure out,” he says. “I definitely have my opinions about the candidates that are still in. And I’m like, What do I want to do with that? Some of that is a wait-and-see. Some of it is like, I don’t want to write a Ted Cruz poem and he’s not going to be here in a couple months. … I think when I was younger, I wrote a lot of knee-jerk poems, but in my old age, I do sit with things a little longer. Frankly, that first idea is usually not my best idea. I do want to write about that, but maybe I want to chew on it a little bit more.”
In the meantime, from that ripe old age of 37, he says he hopes the poets he selected for this issue feel encouraged to keep writing. He’s also putting in a plug for Santa Fe to restore its poet laureate program, which officials put on pause after eight years in 2014, when Jon Davis wrapped up his term. Bellamy says having a poet at civic events puts poetry before the people and is valuable for the community.
“It’s important. Because poetry helps us be compassionate. Poetry helps us be kinder to one another,” he says. “I think there are actual tangible outcomes of poetry, not just the poem for the author or aesthetic for the listener.”
So get compassionate. Find your heart. Read the winning poems, and watch for next year’s contest.
-Julie Ann Grimm
Grand Prize-Winning Poem
From Knotted Rope
by Robyn Hunt
Mississippi river, corn, clotheslines; then, dry arroyos.
Parents traveled highways named after cowboys, paying tolls.
Cadillacs on the horizon buried nose down in the ground with
tiny fins in the air. We were tykes then in the back
seat playing I spy, picking license plates
from all these United States.
Snake routes of uprooting, mistakes not really errors just
changes on the dance floor as young mother and father outgrow their
hometowns, that high dive of high school, and generations of expectations.
Newly attracted to the scent of loose tobacco.
A corner booth for whiskey neat or the shimmy
of an exotic girl in go-go boots. Divorce inevitable.
Then, seven more siblings strike, strung like fish on a line in a new marriage,
home team for talent shows. Backyard valley heat. What
will we inherit? I muster an occasional hankering for
heady smoke and drink. One sister sings
a capella as another swims all the way underwater, holding her breath.
We inhabit our outgrown rooms. Barbie dolls with small,
stiff shoes. War always somewhere else, across the water,
on the other side of the street.
Robyn Hunt works as a development and communications director for Las Cumbres Community Services. Her collection, The Shape of Caught Water, was released in 2013 by Red Mountain Press.
by Annemarie Marek
I answer the phone.
My mom, lost in the wilderness of her memories.
She has two homes, she says. But she can’t find him in either.
My dad, dead last winter. Cremated and buried.
A military salute in a small Texas town for a small
town boy, now man, now gone.
My mother forgets. “I can’t find him,” she says.
“Do you know where he is?”
I peer through the picture window of my high desert home.
A bluebird finds the worm, fresh from the cold rainy day.
Another builds its nest, racing from tree to ground to adobe wall.
On my office wall, framed in monotones,
a photo of my dad and me, all smiles.
“Mom, you know where he is,” I say.
Then, suddenly, a bird hits the window. HARD. I look outside.
He lays there on the ground, neck thrust back.
I find a small cloth to wrap and rescue him from a lonely death.
She asks again, “Do you know where he is?”
The bird, his heart beating wildly in my hand, then calm, then still.
Here in the high desert, under the juniper,
I lay him to rest and see the new growth.
Wilderness in motion as spring restarts everything.
The rain leaves a strong, fresh, clean scent.
Soon the fledglings will emerge from their nests, taking first flight.
New life can be scary, even from heights of six feet.
“With the angels,” I answer.
“I think he’s out playing with the angels.”
Annemarie Marek was born in Austin, Texas, and grew up exploring the outdoors. She loves the open road and the American West for its wildness and wilderness.
And that’s why I call you ten
times at midnight
by Marina Woollven
He carries the stars in his eyes.
There is no brave Hercules in the night now. No Milky Way, or Orion’s belt, the one
constellation I could trace in the sky. Just blackness and a cold, swollen moon.
They just fell in one night, when he was standing outside because the country air was warm and he always felt inside was too cold. As he stared up they dropped; one by one, fat sparkling stars that cracked through the atmosphere, crash landing into him, sunk into the corneas of his eyes. He didn’t even blink.
The universe is always expanding. Every day, his eyes look a little bigger, plump and wet and full. The stars weren’t meant for our world, we grounded organic creatures. One day, they will become too much for him, or we will become too much for them, and I think they might burst back into their sky, or they will collapse— how, exactly, are worlds destroyed?
The stars rest inside, still just as bright, floating, swirling, so when you’re with him, the galaxy is looking back. This is the first time stars have been made to gaze at us, the way we gaze at them. They shudder.
I call him up at night. “Let me look at you.”
Marina Woollven is a small poet about to graduate from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Originally from San Antonio, she misses humidity but hopes to find UFOs while she stays in New Mexico.
Along Bear Wallow
by Basia Miller
The children ran ahead, the big ones first,
then short-legged stragglers. Alone you
followed ruts on old switchbacks
under columbine-blue sky,
a dreamy early-summer day.
There’s the laughter floating up now,
leaves opening slowly.
The glade is filled with Jacob’s Ladders,
Indian paintbrush, marsh-marigolds,
trillium, yellow asters.
You caress fragile calyxes and gaze
at petal-shapes like pixie glances.
Your old eyes have dimmed since then—you can see just as well.
Basia Miller is a Santa Fean who began to explore creative writing at age 75. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Sin Fronteras, Adobe Walls, Malpais Review, Santa Fe Literary Review and other journals.
finding one in another
by Melanie Faithful
my grandfather’s tattoo
a bare chested hula dancer
covered his entire forearm
for my enjoyment
he would flex and relax, flex and relax
to make her dance
he hoboed and hopped trains
joined the cavalry
tamed horses in montana
went home to the mountains
until he found jesus
he preached the fire and brimstone
baptized his saved in the river
and always wore long sleeves
my son’s tattoos
a cobbled collection of symbols
and his own initials
he took off at 18
free and alone
feeling his way
living everywhere and nowhere
so he could sell more cell phones
went back to school
found a path
rejected a jesus
he’s lived the fire and brimstone
drowned his past in the river
and never wears long sleeves
Melanie Faithful says the mountains of Santa Fe connect her to family roots in Tennessee. She’g got lots of kids and cats, a job that keeps her on the road and a partner that keeps her grounded.
Grand Prize-Winning Haiku
in the arroyo
wind blows the husband’s ashes
underneath the snow
by Mary McGinnis
Morning on the porch
Horses flee the burning barn—
Can’t stop the divorce
by Cynthia Lukas
Dreams have no mistakes
Playground with no swings or trees
Mourning light ascends
by Michael Harkavy
at death our flesh turns
into words those who love us
whisper to themselves
by Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus
Creek music at dusk
Heron alights upon rock
by Dianne Weaver
If Zozobra fights
Godzilla, lizard loses
The gloom conquers all
by Old Man Gloom