For the last few years I’ve only gone to poetry readings in Colorado. You can go to one like every night of the week here, and there is no need to go to other states to find them. Until last week I wasn’t even sure if other states had readings or open mics anymore. I figured our scene was probably just some kind unique phenomenon that could only result from the rare combination of Ginsberg, The Mountains, and the fairy dust that accidentally fell upon us from the mysterious sky one night.
I remember years ago checking to see if there was poetry anywhere else. I took a ‘tour’ of the Southwest to promote my first MeToo book. In Santa Fe they ran me out of the building for wearing glittery tights. In Phoenix they refused to let me read without a guitar. And in Las Vegas there were more slot machines than words, and for every new listener I gained, I lost all my money. I could only assume the rest of the country was a similar blackhole for the artform, and I didn’t even bother checking again.
Oh sure, sometimes a guy like Seth Walker would travel into town, crash at Love Shovel, and tell us all tales of faraway lands, in which he’d dominated the slams, reaffirming that poetry-as-sport was still a national thing. And sometimes some of our own, like local Denver Flash Fiction Activist Nancy Stohlman, would insist they were invited to perform in seemingly mythological locations like “Berlin, Germany.” And The Internet is constantly saying a whole wide-ranging literary world is happening without us… (who are these people?)…
But maybe that’s too hard to stomach, and maybe I don’t want to believe it. Besides there’s no way to verify anything without witnessing it with your own eyes, and mine these days are always longingly gazing out a west-facing window towards a mountain range.
Then one night at Innisfree’s open mic I met a guy named Bill Nevins. He’s an older man with a white beard and a Jerry Garcia style eye-twinkle. He may have just read something about The Good Ole Days and we got to talking afterward and I found out that he’d actually met Ginsberg once, not at Naropa in the 70’s-80’s like everyone else here, but on the East Coast, in the 60’s, protesting a bad war. I was impressed and I liked him, and when he told me he was currently living in Albuquerque, New Mexico I felt bad for the poor guy, cuz I assumed Boulder had to be the closest place for him to ever read anywhere.
I didn’t think much of old Bill again, until my girlfriend Shana and I were watching all the Breaking Bad episodes on Netflix this spring. It was not just the thematically tight and action packed content of the show which captured our attention, but the lights and rocks and shrubs and shadows of its setting in none other than sunny desert Albuquerque. “Hmm” it made us go, “maybe we should take a trip to a whole nother bio region and see what happens.”
I contacted Nevins at once.
I said something like, “Hey, don’t worry anymore. My girlfriend and I may be planning to come down to finally introduce the state of New Mexico to poetry.”
And he said something like, “No need. It’s already here.”
And then he gave me an extensive list of readings and contacts in the Albuquerque area, including his own second Tuesday reading at something called Krypton Blue.
It made me say something like, “Suuure… I’ll have to see it to believe it.”
But we ended up booking the gig anyway and Shana and I hit the road immediately after my last class of the semester. Within just a few hours of driving down I-25 we’d made it the border of another state. There a sign said, “Welcome to New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment,” and it turned out to be honest.
Everything soon took on a dreamlike anything is possible type quality. And we needed it bad after the realitylike quality of my spring semester with its typically relentless fears about jobs, creative lulls, money, the normies, and a can’t quite put your finger on it, maybe no reason at all, general dredxiety. Like the images of a deep sleep, the heat and openness and landscapes of the Southwest began to work on us. Oh, the land was so flat. The rocks so red. The cactuses so prickly. And the sky so skygantic.
Albuquerque was the oasis in the middle, where suddenly the trees were an out-of-place bright leafy green, yet every building was made of in-of-place adobe, even the skyscrapers I think. Like a random dream character, my Dad was even there, passing through on his way to other deserts in Arizona. He got us a hotel with an atrium and free made to order breakfasts. Together we all explored the green chile restaurants and 300 year old plazas of the city. There were tropically bold colored birds in the trees and goof footed road runners in the gardens. There were penny fountains at every stop. All the people painted their skulls bright turquoise and it seemed like the Indians could be free once again. It was all Ahhh!buquerque.
When we got to Krypton Blue, to our astonishment, there actually was a non-Colorado poetry reading going on there. It turned out to be a sports bar, the kind of out-of-desperation ill-fit you might find at an upstart Boulder mic, but there in the land of Albuquerque, where the Spanish united with the Pueblos, and Walter White built an empire, and the Rio Grande has forever been a benediction, they seem to have enchanted sports bars, where the pool sharks and drunks and their chicken wings have a forcefield around them so they can’t bother the poetry.
There was a big crowd for the reading and many had strangely gray hair. It was shocking for someone coming out of the university-driven Boulder Scene, where most poets retire at age 25. I was nervous they would only understand poems about backaches and grandchildren and gardening, but it was soon clear these weren’t actually old people. They were young people who just happened to’ve naturally aged into old people’s bodies. They had fire and spring still in them. They had pony tails and fringe jackets and tie dye. And they were reading about hallucinations and sex and saving the plant and Haight-Ashbury and Janice Joplin. They were all none other than that rare breed of countercultural freak known as Original 1960’s Hippie. Nevins was just one small part of a whole enclave, who must’ve found Albuquerque and the Land of Enchantment to be a suitable habitat where the old ways could still survive.
At my best I’ve always tried to model my rebel poet identity on that very era, and they seemed to get me. They knew there was no way I could compete with their extra decades of life experience, but when I read about aging, fear, school, and the shittiness of a world which tries to force you into living inauthentically, I was met with some Metooing laughs and nods and mmms. And Shana read too from her new handmade book Clean Spring which is all about messes inside and out, and she got the same kind of responses. It’s the goal of poetry readings and this one not only existed but was also a success.
I talked to Bill afterwards to thank him for hosting a reading outside Colorado. He responded with various ramblings about tripping at Woodstock and some freaky house in Santa Fe where the ice box was actually the front door, and some advice on how to get outta Vietnam – take a left at Cambodia and keep walking (helps to know French). He also shared his vision of getting the slammers and other poetry tribes of the area united, so that they could become even more of ‘A Scene.’
It expanded our minds greatly, and the hippie enchantment seeped into us good for the rest of the trip, and we decided to head back home slowly with as little timefear as possible. What followed was this dreamy collage…
Modern giftshops on ancient streets.
Bold colored birds mating in the Cottonwoods.
Ice Cream in Santa Fe.
Rural roads to the San Luis Valley.
Welcome back to Colorful Colorado.
The Great Sand Dunes at sunset.
Running through a cold stream in sandals.
Elks and Mountain Bluebirds in silence.
Soaking in hot springs.
Wondering how do you make this your whole life.
When we got back home late in the night we were exhausted, but we knew something with certainty – They have poetry readings in other states. At least New Mexico. And maybe more. And this makes us feel good…
Jonathan Montgomery is the editor-in-chief of boulderpoetrytribe.com. He’s a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (MFA ’05) as well as the author of The Reality Traveler, Pizzas and Mermaid, and Taxis & Shit. Go to his website jonathanbluebirdmontgomery.com for more!