To the east – the Sandia Mountains sit protecting the city.
To the west – the three sisters, or Albuquerque volcanoes, remind us of a time forever locked in history.
And winding through the middle is the mighty Rio Grande – the lifeblood to the communities it touches.
These elements inspire Manuel González, Albuquerque’s new poet laureate.
“We’ve got fire, earth and water surrounding us,” he says. “And when the winds kick up here, we’ve got plenty of air.”
The Duke City is one of many cities – including Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Santa Fe – that have poet laureates. Forty-two states, including New Mexico, have state-level poet laureates.
González is the city’s third poet laureate. He replaces Jessica Helen Lopez, who recently completed her two-year term.
Like Lopez and inaugural poet laureate Hakim Bellamy, González spent many years running in the slam poetry circuit in Albuquerque.
Unlike his predecessors, González becomes the first poet laureate born and raised in Albuquerque.
“I’m a Burqueño,” he says with pride. “I want to represent the city the best that I can. I want to show that there’s more to this city than just ‘Breaking Bad.’ The poetry community here is so strong, and we have tons of talent.”
González credits the slam poetry circuit with honing his skills.
“I have to speak each word,” he says. “It’s not a lot of writing until the end. I’ll recite everything before I write it. It’s my style.”
Lopez says González is a friend, poetry brother, colleague and her favorite superhero.
“I am overjoyed that he is the new city of Albuquerque poet laureate,” she says. “It is a much-deserved title. He has long been an ambassador of the written and spoken word, and he is certainly a champion of the good gente y la tierra of Burque. A storyteller, a diligent community organizer, artist and activist; Manuel will do our city proud, and I know he will continue to enrich our already very vibrant and happening literary arts community.”
González has been performing poetry for a few decades. He says poetry saved his life.
He wasn’t a good student and often found himself in trouble.
As a last resort, he was sent to New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell.
The spoken word overtook him, forever influencing his life.
“There is power in each word,” he says. “It is important for us to realize this.”
After a short stint at New Mexico State University, González returned to Albuquerque with a mission.
He began to work with schools and detention centers teaching poetry.
“I want people to understand that poetry is for us and by us,” he says. “Everyone has the potential. I want to teach that poetry is real and sincere. It’s emotionally charged.”
González’s goal is to follow in Lopez’s footsteps by doing poetry at The Albuquerque Museum.
“The poetry would be inspired by art,” he says. “I also want to do more within the schools.”
Teaching youths doesn’t stop at schools and at the detention centers.
González often finds himself writing and reciting poetry with his 11-year-old daughter, Sarita Sol González.
Sarita is following in her father’s footsteps. She was invited by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera to perform in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress in April. She also got an opportunity to read for syndicated columnist Amy Goodman in Santa Fe.
“We’re gaining momentum,” he says. “It’s been crazy in a beautiful way.”
Sarita is beginning to enjoy her father’s new appointment.
“It’s awesome, hectic, crazy, fun and very confusing,” Sarita says. “He’s amazing at what he does.”
And González is also getting used to his new appointment, with community events taking up more of his time.
“I’ve been struggling with all of the new attention,” he says. “But I’m going to take the opportunities to expose the art form. I represent this place, and I want people to know how great of a city this is. From the Santuario to Tomé Hill, we need to appreciate what is in front of our face.”
Asked to describe himself in three words, González says, “Chicano. Burqueño. Corazón.”