ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jessica Helen Lopez believes that free speech has been upheld and protected in the United States and that poetry is alive and well in this country.
“I think (free speech) is actually robust with all the protests we are seeing against police violence, gun violence and border issues, movements like Black Lives Matter and students marching for climate change,” said Lopez, slam poetry champion and former city of Albuquerque poet laureate (2014-2016).
“And you see poetry in the community, in libraries, bars and in the classrooms. It is being read on the page and spoken on the stage.”
Lopez is the host of “Free Speech, Open Poetry” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at Dialogue Studios, 1501 First NW.
The program is billed as a chance to speak one’s mind and engage in dialogue. You don’t have to be a poet to take part.
“We invite folks to sing, tell a story, tell a joke, read part of a story,” Lopez said.
Or you can just say what’s on your mind, as long as you keep it within the three-minute time limit.
“It’s another wonderful opportunity to bring the community together around the art of storytelling,” said Lopez, 41. “We can find stories everywhere – in the streets, in the markets, in the protests. It is the writer that elevates those stories to poetry. Poetry is medicine.”
Poetry and film
Bill Nevins, Albuquerque poet and former college and high school teacher, said the “Free Speech, Open Poetry” program grew out of a conversation he has been having for several years with members of the film community about melding poetry with movies.
“The link between the spoken word and film has intrigued me for quite some time,” said Nevins, 72, who has taught screenwriting as well as poetry and creative writing. “I have felt there was room for a documentary film about the spoken word community in New Mexico.”
NaNi Rivera, chairwoman and executive director of the Santa Fe Film Festival, said all art forms, including poetry, qualify as elements in film. She said she would like to do an exhibition of live poetry during the 2020 Santa Fe Film Festival in February.
Rivera is co-owner of Dialogue Studios – a webcast, podcast and livecast facility – and the principal organizer of the “Free Speech, Open Poetry” program. She said the event will be recorded and perhaps streamed.
“I am looking for a group of poets who want to continue sharing their thoughts on a monthly basis,” Rivera said.
Part of the program will include the screening of Wake Self’s short video “New Mexico.”
Wake Self is the performance name of New Mexico rapper Andrew Martinez, who died at age 30 in a car crash in Santa Fe earlier this month.
“His work is meaningful and special,” Rivera said. “It seems right to include him.”
“Wake Self was a luminary artist, communicator and friend,” she said. “This is a way to pay tribute to his legacy.”
Like Lopez, Albuquerque poet Nate Maxson, 30, is passionate about free speech and poetry. It’s just that he is less sure than Lopez of the effectiveness of the former and of the acceptance of the latter in America.
“Free speech is very complicated,” Maxson said. “We can say whatever we want, but we can’t say it to everyone we want because we are all in our little bubbles. (Free speech) doesn’t have much impact. We are not kept from speaking, but communication is devalued.”
And he said he doesn’t believe this country has as much use for poetry as it does for novels, movies and songs.
“Other art forms have more purpose in a materialist sense,” he said. “I’m friends with a lot of European poets, and they live in societies that are willing to support poetry as an art form.”
Even so, Maxson acknowledges the existence of a legitimate community of poets in this country and is happy to count himself part of it because he sees value in the art, in the truth that it speaks.
He will be reciting his work at the “Free Speech, Open Poetry” event. For Maxson, it marks another step in his return to live performance after years of devoting himself to writing.
“In my early 20s, I was performing three to five times a week for about a five-year stretch,” he said. “Now, I am kind of coming out of a self-imposed retirement of five or six years. I am trying to get back into the swing of it. I’m going to read some things about fortune telling and tarot (card) reading. I have an interest in the mysterious as it connects to poetry.”
Dialogue Studios is adjacent to Dialogue Brewing, so no matter what else happens at “Free Speech, Open Poetry,” there will be beer.
But Nevins is hoping for more.
“I feel we need as many forums as possible for people simply to speak their minds, especially in the very heated political situation we have now,” he said. “People don’t have to say a poem. They can simply get up and say whatever they want. Within reason.”
Nevins is not sure what he will say – if anything.
“I am just going to attend,” he said. “I might say a few words or recite a poem. These are very heavy times, so maybe I’ll do something lighter – about my dogs or beer.”
Or maybe he will just drink a beer and listen.
After all, what free speech and poetry need most is listeners.