The first presenter, African poet Saddiq Dzukogi, read from his book Your Crib, My Qibla, a love song for a child lost. These poems were born of grief and in celebration of their beloved daughter, who died 21 days after her first birthday, Dzkogi said. He is a finalist of Brunel International African Poetry Prize and a recipient of fellowships and Grants from Nebraska Arts Council, Pen America, Obsidian Foundation, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he is a PhD student and serves as an Assistant Poetry editor for Prairie Schooner. His poems have been published in numerous literary journals and magazines.
“Sadness runs like a wild horse deep into the gravity/human eyes have never touched/until it scratches the place where a soul is weak/where a flaw is most visible/where light fills his bones until/light and darkness collapse into each other.”
Jami Macarty immersed her readers in the biodiversity of the Arizona desert in The Minuses, which won the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award. Macarty gratefully recognizes Native Nations of the West—especially the Coast Salish and O’odham—as the traditional and rightful owners of lands where she has the great privilege to live and work.
“She walks in this place/void of remembrance/beyond understanding/where never is allowed/to accumulate.” Jami Macarty
Catherine Strisik, chosen as Taos, New Mexico’s Poet Laureate 2020-2021, is co-founding editor of Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art. (https://www.cathystrisik.com). Her book, The Mistresses, won the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Poetry, 2017. At a dynamic and moving online presentation (see below) she read from poems she wrote during a retreat to Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu and from her experience many years ago as a hospice advocate.
“In the pandemic …I am trying, Unholy/to make a home of light/I hope my daughterremembers.”
If you missed the July 9, 2021 reading, see it now on YouTube by clicking the link below:
Louise Ferraro Deretchin and her husband Joel Deretchin, formerly of Taos, New Mexico, embarked on an African safari in 2017. An accomplished artist, photographer and writer, Louise reads short excerpts from her latest book:
Louise Ferraro Deretchin is an accomplished artist, photographer and author who also wrote:
The Reluctant Mountain Goat, a memoir about an unexpected trek in the Himalayas. She loves adventure in the great outdoors, and attributes her love of mountains and hiking to the numerous times she avoided the elevator and climbed the stairway to her family’s seventh-floor apartment in New York.
Her soon-to-be-published memoir of growing up in low-income housing projects in the Big Apple was shortlisted in the Southwest Writers Contest. She has published a number of essays in literary journals. For more information, see her website: LouiseDeretchinFineArt.com .
Kathleen Burg draws on notes from her journal that she kept during times of Covid.
“There is a loneliness to loss, and now it affects the world . . . Our healing will take time. Only when the loss becomes personal does the grieving for what is missing in our lives become understood as a shared experience.”
Kathleen Burg, March 2021
How do we deal with losses great and small in times of Covid? Kathleen Burg has written an intelligent, compassionate and inspired essay on this subject, which is a large part of how we adapt as a species in times of abrupt change.
Amy Boaz, writer and columnist for The Taos News, asked for a copy of our collaborative book Hydroglyphics: Reflections on the Sacred. So I donned my mask and dropped off a copy at the front desk. Then came an e-mail from Amy saying, “I got the book, very lovely, though it says copyright 2019 and you say you’re just launching it? Let me know when published.” I was afraid 2019 might be too dated to review, so I sent her a brief explanation, which later expanded into the essay below. She gave us a glowing review in the February 12th issue of Tempo, the arts section and sent an e-mail: “Terrific book, beautiful work by you two, and so timely!” Thanks, Amy. https://www.taosnews.com/tempo/reviews/stories-to-read-out-loud/article_904a4085-8211-5234-86cb-605136a60e88.html
In case anyone asks, here are a few things that delayed our book launch. Backstory: Shawn is an old friend of my son’s. When he first came out to visit us, he went down to the Rio Hondo and set his digital camera on a rock in the river to record the flow. I thought, “Hey! He and are are on the same wavelength.” When I showed him my close-up photos of patterns in water, he was inspired to translate their geometric forms into poetry. And that’s how Hyroglyphics: Reflections on the Sacred evolved. The rio reflected my hunger for beauty and truth and a found a vibrant voice in Shawn—he knew how to read and translate hydroglyphics.
Shawn and I decided to do a book launch in the spring of 2020. Our enlightened poet was planning to fly out from California to New Mexico to attend a gathering hosted by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, (S.O.M.O.S.) We would drive into Taos early, set up the chairs in the cozy space that was once an artist’s studio. We would plug in the coffee pot, set out the chips and salsa and home-made chocolate chip cookies. And hope that at least fifteen or twenty of those chairs would fill up.
But in March 2020, Covid-19 hit and everything shut down. No public meetings. Out came the bandanas and masks. No positive cases in Taos for a long time. Then a few. And more. The schools shut down; the church bells no longer rang in Arroyo Hondo on Sunday. No Easter celebrations, no Easter Egg Hunt in the field near the fire station. The Covid numbers rose. And rose. We sequestered. And waited. Fall again, but the schools did not open. We stacked firewood, stored up on TP and medications, rice and beans, and hunkered down for the winter. Shopped. Cleaned. Wiped down everything—the doorknobs, the switches, the handles, the steering wheel. Hung our masks out in the sun. Cooked. Ate. Worked on our projects. Walked the dog. Played cards. Watched TV.
On TV, after two tense elections and recounts of the presidential and Georgia votes, we watched in shock and disbelief as rioters stormed the Capitol, smashed windows and beat down doors. Battered Capitol police. These images of chaos are now seared into our collective psyche. So much anger and hate. Then Covid-19 patients dying in hospitals all over the country; coffins piling up in refrigerated trucks. So much sorrow and fear. When the tension snapped and the debris settled, I found myself bumbling around the house on the verge of tears. All day. Sucked under by a wave of sadness for the whole world.
But at last, shipments of vaccine are on the way to rustle us into herd immunity. As of today, February 28th, Taos County has had 1, 503 cases and forty-nine deaths, according to the New Mexico Health Department. But 1,113 recovered. Today seniors are receiving Covid vaccinations and Taos is planning to “move to green”, a partial reopening of businesses—if we can maintain a positivity rate of five percent or less for two weeks.
Almost a year after we cancelled our original book launch, Shawn and I finally set up a Zoom launch with S.O.M.O.S. for January 31, 2021. We talked about how to attract an audience in these shrouded times and what questions they might ask. I had been sending out individual invitations by e-mail. Shawn called on his extensive connections through our publisher, the TAT Foundation . . . Friendship and the Spiritual Search; http://www.tatfoundation.org. (TAT means Truth and Transmission.)
TAT was reaching out to the unenlightened. I was reaching out to the fishermen, rafters and swimmers. To parcientes, acequia members, to all those who have an abiding interest in clean water, who work to protect our watershed and love the Rio Grande.
Today I am thinking of those millions of Texans boiling tap water after their pipes broke in a nasty snowstorm that battered the nation. Texans lining up for miles waiting to receive bottled drinking water. Then I recall those villagers in Reni, in north-eastern India, whose lives are sustained by glacial Himalayan streams. On February 8th an overhanging piece of the Nandadevi glacier broke off and plunged into the basin above the village, which may have triggered an avalanche or burst through the banks of a glacial lake. A roaring torrent of boulders and mud raced down the mountain. Roads, bridges and hydroelectric projects were swept away. Over 100 people were missing or drowned. Scientists had warned the Indian Government about the dangers of glacial warming https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rini,Uttarakhand. What do these two events have in common? Climate change.
Wind power is popular in California.
Drought, mega hurricanes and tornadoes. Fire and flooding. It’s all about water, que no? I hear the farmers reminding us, “El agua es la vida.” Water is life. Nature is relentless. But we have choices. The good news is that the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord. It’s time to go green.
Sitting here at my computer on a gloomy February day, I am relieved that our first Zoom launch was well-attended. Grateful to see the faces of old friends and family that I haven’t seen in over a year. Thanks all you dear hearts, and you true lovers of water. Our daily lives stream through social arteries and veins that hunger for living connection. I am grateful for the Internet and for the tools to use it. Since our book launch at S.O.M.O.S. I have spent twenty-two days revising my introduction so that the images match my narrative and help tell the story of my search for the Absolute in the geometry of water. Shawn’s poems needed no tweaking; they were already moving and profound. If you missed the launch, you can watch the revised version on YouTube or on this post, though YouTube is less pixelated. If you like our performance, Shawn and I would be grateful if you would buy the book and/or leave a brief review on Amazon. Gracias and blessings on all struggling beings. May we all return to the center and twirl in the light!
As Shawn says in one of his poems:
“Here now . . . at the center of the ripple . . . listen . . . drink.”
A friend told me today, “Sorry I didn’t come to your book reading. The line was too long.” “The line?” I said. “There was a line?”
Thanks all of you old freaks and dudes, old friends of ours, neighbors and family who crowded into SOMOS in Taos to hear Jim and me read, in alternate voices, from THOSE WERE THE DAYS: Life and Love in the 1970s New Mexico. I was surprised when you folks started beating on the door at 3:15, then pouring in. It was quite a launch, with John Nichols introducing us, teasing us and setting the tone. Everyone was ready for a laugh. When it was my turn to read, without knowing I was going to do it, I waltzed up to the podium singing, “Those were the days…” And the whole audience joined in. What a blast! Not as fun as the Hippy Dippy Parade in Taos back when, but fun all the same. Sorry we ran out of chairs. And cookies!
John Nichols gave a hilarious intro. Thanks, John!
For those who were standing outside, listening at the door, we plan to do another reading in the fall. Will post it on Facebook and in The Taos News. Hope you can make it. Meanwhile, Jim and I are planning abook signing at Brodsky Bookshop, 226A Paseo del Pueblo Norte, (Saturday) July 27th from 2-5:30 p.m. The more, the merrier.
And don’t miss the BE IN & LOVE IN HAPPENING up at Lorien on the same day, (Saturday) July 27, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. This is the Lorien Commune 50 year Celebration: Children of the Commune, with Sprouted Seeds of Cultural Change. They are planning a sunny day with presentations from the Commune Era, bands, music and dance, a hippy lunch, booths, demonstrations, crafts, books for sale and face painting. Drive seven miles north of Questa to El Rito. Follow the signs at El Rito Road. Two night camping available. Contact: email: firstname.lastname@example.org. It should be a hoot!
When the kids were young, we spent a lot of summer time down by the Rio Grande.
SOMOS (Society of the Muse of the Southwest) just paid off their mortgage of $330,000 thanks to donations from the community of Taos and others who care about the written, read, and performed word! SOMOS now owns a beautiful four-room house on 108 Civic Plaza Drive that was once the home of Ila Mc Afee, a Taos artist who loved to paint horses. She was born near Gunnison and died in 1996 in Pueblo, Colorado. Her gracious presence will continue to warm the walls of SOMOS for many years. Bravo to the board of SOMOS, especially Alan Macrae, President, and Executive Director Jan Smith. Other board members are Janet Webb, Vice President; Prudy Abeln, Treasurer; Rebecca Lenzini, Secretary; Kathy Fitzgerald; Jim Yates; Colette LaBouff and Ariana Kramer.
If you’re curious about the evolution and history of SOMOS, they have created an interesting timeline, posted on the wall in the hall, from the early beginnings in the 1980s when Peter Rabbit and Anne Mac Naughton began with Taos Poetry Circus. I happened to be in that first circus performance with my two children, Alexander, age 11 and Sara, age eight. No, we weren’t reading anything; we were performing acrobatics in the gym, because that’s what circus performers do, don’t they? Cartwheels, hand stands and the splits.
That early performance grew into the performing arts with A CIRCUS OF POETRY with poet Anne MacNaughton. For a little history see:
Twice 5 Miles Radio welcomes poet and co-founder of Taos Poetry Circus, an interview by poet Jim Navé with Annie MacNaughton. “You may be surprised to learn that the American performance poetry movement can credit much of its beginning to the Taos Poetry Circus and the World Heavyweight Poetry Bout which started in Taos in the early 80’s; Allan Ginsberg was there. The Taos Poetry Circus was the bridge between the Black Mountain College, the Beats, and the American spoken word movement. Enjoy this rare piece of literary history as told by Anne MacNaughton.”
Elaine Sutton was determined to hold out until Thanksgiving, and she made it, with a few quiet days left for reflection. Over Thanksgiving she was surrounded by her loving family and friends. Many of us visited her to say good-bye, to pick out some beautiful beadwork that she had created, or some memento to cling to. Elaine was all about beauty, but she was also a woman with strength and courage, and now and then, a spurt of craziness.
One of those crazy spurts is preserved in a book published in 2013 by Nighthawk, our local press aqui in Taos. The collection is called Drinking from the Stream: Women’s Prose and Poetry About Nature, of which I was proud to be editor. In Elaine’s story “Canoeing through Canyonlands” she writes about setting out on a solo canoeing adventure, a week down the Green River, because she had “a propensity for risk taking, and a deep desire for solitude.” And she got plenty of both.
On day four she is overtaken by a thunderstorm. “A cool, steady heartbeat of water drums on the river, the land, the red rocks. The air is saturated with scents. Everything is opening. I can hear leaves unfurling, tipping their heart-shaped faces toward the sky. In the distance, a roll of thunder.
Suddenly a blinding bolt of lightning! The rain pours down. Thunder again, then lightning. A dead tree on shore bursts into flame. The hairs on my arms rise up like angels on fluttery wings. I am riding in a metal boat on moving water in the middle of a storm. Fear rumbles in my belly. . . I sing, invite Spirit, salvation and surrender into my heart.”
She makes it to shore and sets up her tent. A few hours later she is awakened by the pulsing floor of her tent, and “What’s that roaring? I leap out of the tent. Turn to see a ten foot wall of water hurtling toward me. For a split second I am paralyzed. Then my reflexes kick in.” She scrambles for her life. “I am up a willow, naked, shaking, holding on tight. Lightning strikes the cliff face on the opposite shore. The clatter of falling boulders joins the foaming roar of the river, the boom of thunder.
The avalanche is over the top. It shifts things from purely dangerous to so dramatic that I have to laugh. . .I half expect Yahweh to poke his head from behind a cloud and issue instructions for a new religion.”
Her friends say her transition was peaceful, beautiful. No doubt she invited Spirt, salvation and surrender into her heart.
Good-bye, beautiful friend. We are not far behind. Hope to hear you chanting and laughing on the other side.
This autumn evening, after a sunny hike with my friend Michelle Potter up a canyon in San Cristobal, I am editing the last bits on my presentation for The Society of the Muse of the Southwest (S.O.M.O.S.) this coming Friday, November 17, at 7 p.m.on Civic Plaza Drive in Taos. Michelle plans to read from her true story: “Fear and Danger On the Colorado Trail,” a solo hike she took a few years ago.
My presentation will be my first public reading of excerpts from my memoir of childhood: Recurring Dreams. I have woven my story around a couple of themes: water and writing. When my father proposed to my mother he said, “How would you like to be married to a writer and live on a boat?” She thought that sounded jolly, so she said yes.
Here’s my excerpt:
WRITTEN ON WATER:
“Once or twice over that long summer, Mom, Dad and Captain Finn–Finney, as we called him–slipped our moorings and motored the Incognito out into Long Island Sound. We turned off the engine and hoisted the sails. The heavy white canvas of the mainsail smelled of salt and mold as Dad and Finney hauled it up. It fluttered restlessly, then caught the wind. Mom took the wheel while Finney and Dad raised the jib and the gaff and secured the lines. The Incognito danced to life and spread her creamy wings. She was as glad to be out there as we were, racing along over the waves. The wind in the curve of her sails sang with the rhythm of the ocean. Finney stood on deck, feet braced, tilting his cap to admire the powerful swell of the sails. “Full speed ahead!”
It’s a miracle we didn’t capsize out there in the middle of the Sound. Unbeknownst to us, the yawl’s twelve-foot keel had corroded away.”
A few hours later the mountains serve up triple dips of euphoria at Lizard Head Pass: vast meadows and snow-capped mountains all topped with whipped-cream clouds. It’s crazy beautiful. My mind starts singing anthems… But my anthem is trudging. The beautiful but brutal 12,679 foot Hermosa Peak beckons. Rain pours. The guidebook announces: “There are no reliable sources of water for 20 miles but there are many good viewpoints!” (Michelle catches up to a fellow hiker and they trade tales.) She recalls the night she heard a deer “yelp.” And then, “the scream of a mountain lion; the thud of a deer.” Once she was on a fifty-mile section above the timberline surrounded by lightning. “Weren’t you terrified?” I ask, incredulous at her bravery. “I was scared,” she says evenly.