Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One More Santa Fe Poem for 2008

Wishing all of you the most wonderful of holidays as we near the end of 2008. Here's a poem that celebrates what is distinctly and characteristically beautiful about Santa Fe in this season.


Who hasn’t driven north, up and over La Bajada Hill, in dark December, to see the lights of Santa Fe unfurled: colcha, snowflake, electric mosaic? And who hasn’t walked the evening streets just to trace the silhouettes of walkways, houses and hotels, counting farolitos? Hasn’t driven past the Christmas tree lot on Rodeo Road just to get a whiff of pine, fir, and spruce through the dashboard heating ducts? Hasn’t heard the downtown sound of cathedral bells swallowed up in snow wafting like wafers onto roofs and wrought iron and woolen elbows? Hasn’t looked up from St. Michael’s Drive to the Sangres to search for the snow-covered horse’s head, test of visitor and native? Hasn’t found a kitchen off San Ildefonso Road, complete with grandmother, to down a half-dozen biscochitos and sip a cup of chocolate? Hasn’t kneaded the dough for pastelitos, sufganyot, or caramelized sugar for a batch of Indian bread pudding? And who hasn’t received a free cup of homemade cocoa or hot cider on Christmas Eve from the residents on or around Canyon Road? Hasn’t walked the ice-milked sidewalks of Water Street and found themselves flat on their back with some stranger helping them up, saying “Whoa--you went down like a ton of adobe bricks!” Who hasn’t left town for the heart-bending drums and dances at Santo Domingo then driven back to mark the little pines on the I-25 median decorated by some anonymous group of daredevils who brave this vehicular death-trap to tinsel-line trees? Has not seen the living room and kiva fireplace adorned with advent calendar, Menorah, bear fetish and ceramic Santa Claus? Hasn’t feasted on turkey with piñon and green chile stuffing, red chile mashed potatoes, tortillas on the side? And who hasn’t followed their grandmother and mother during las posadas, lugging a wooden crèche from house to house, the holy family looking for a place to stay, setting it down on the porch then driving away? And the dry colds so cold you want to drench them, and the stars so up close you want to lick them, and the carolers with runny noses at your door singing so off-key in two languages you want to hug-smother them? He who hasn’t; she who has not, they who never have but are looking for a place to stay on some bone-cold Santa Fe night--follow me; this is the place; this way is the way.

Valerie Martinez © 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Georgia O'Keeffe Writings by Women

As promised, below are some of the wonderful writings of women who participated in the November 18th workshop at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The workshop, entitled "The Art of Self-Image" asked writers to choose a photographic portrait of O'Keeffe (in the current exhibition) and create an imagined dialogue between the photographer and the painter. Then, writers wrote a letter to O'Keeffe about themselves. Featured here, a poem from photographer Todd Webb's imagined perspective, by Deborah Casillas; dialogues by Barbara Rockman, Robyn Hunt and Lyric Kali, and an excerpt from her letter to O'Keeffe by Anna Katherine. Here are some of the Santa Fe women writers who might be your friends and neighbors. Thanks to all. VM

Deborah Casillas

Photograph of O’Keeffe
Todd Webb: Twilight Canyon

It’s the light I want to capture, a white shaft that splits
the canyon wall, following the curve, the sinuous swoop
and hang of stone.

She steps deliberately, another shadow, the way
she disappears into the landscape of her own paintings,
present but unseen, part of the muted cliffs,
the creased hills, the stark branches of a blackened tree.

She knows I’m here, always watching; both of us sealed
into the silence. I photograph silvered water and cliff face,
the rocks’ texture, shallow pools threaded through sand.
Integration is what I care about, skin of body,
skin of stone and stream, intermingled.

Will she be disappointed that I’ve captured her like this?
Unidentifiable, turned away. Not the iconic,
recognized woman, her sharp eyes watching you.

A portrait with a hidden subject. Landscape dominates,
a play of rain-streaked stone and still water. Does she see
her own face as she stares down, finding in the imprecise
reflection of the stream what she won’t find in my print—
the lined features of her face?

Or will she be pleased instead, knowing my camera
at her back captures the essence of what draws us
to this canyon—the quality of solitude, the towering
weather-pitted walls, the shifting patterns of the land.

* * *
Barbara Rockman
From photo of O’Keefe’s hands draped around the skull of a horse, 1931

Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Georgia O’Keefe

Your hands were made for teeth
for bite and grit to fill cavities
to caress the chasm where the tongue might live
soft-tipped and calloused
head lamps in caverns
probing dark pools
your arced wrists
are easy with blanched bone
numbering rungs of vertebrae
look how you forgive the flayed flesh
love what was stolen by heat yours
are the arms of heat
ravenous fists released to death
yours are the hands of my lust
my absent caress

Letter from Georgia O’Keefe to Alfred Stieglitz

Be calm, Alfred. No,
I am a plain woman. I rinse dishes,
pull weeds and unleash the dogs on dirt trails.
I sleep in a narrow bed. I rise early.
These are hands that sometimes hold brushes and mix paint,
apply color and decipher the sky. With these hands
I scratch my head at the improbable.
I twist them under my breasts in sleep.
Fisted against my stomach they fly
from my body in dream. Hands
at the tips of wings, Alfred.

How you splayed my fingers,
insisted I caress the absent forelock,
empty sockets, each stone molar, each
shadowy cuspid, imagining a long rough tongue.
Alfred, I want nothing of death.
These (I admit, elegant) hands
cup seeds, cut back Echinacea,
snip herbs for the sauce. They tug knotted shirts
from a basket, shake them into light,
clamp them to the line with bleached pins.
What can a man know of women’s hands?

Green hills, habitat of red-stained
barns, blackberry bramble,
cornfield and lake. I left
gilt eagles spread patriotic
over black frames, black-
shuttered white clapboard,
the brass knockers.
I slammed a door.

This is a ruined, ragged land.
Skies so big they creep into bed with you at night.
With pen rather than paint I escaped
tidiness, entered fracture, remains,
aspen, mesa and arroyo.

I have a cynical, faithless bent and yet
I seek the girl hidden
in fern beds, lichen-licked,
moss logs so damp black they dissolved
beneath her, as you moisten a raw crevice.

Might we be sisters
in fingering the juncture
of suction and flourish?
of absence and arousal?

* * *

Anna Katherine:

"What is left after years of scouring,
that is our truth, hard and simple."

* * *
Robyn Hunt

The Rock from Eliot Porter
(a conversation between John Loengard and Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer and model)

Georgia, can you feel how the oval cuts a hole in your hand? How the pulse
of the black against your white skin is where the eye goes? You in your drape
of night even in daylight. You are headless here and nowhere but in the still
breath of your outstretched hand, one hand. The other is hidden in your coal
cloak, a soldier’s disguise. I find light just below your heart where one silver
‘x’ of ribbing adorns your narrow wrist exposed.

Are you clutching or holding? Motioning someone to come and witness this
oval stone, this perfect flint? You say a friend gave you this medal? And he
was also a photographer who bent to lift the gift, knowing you would hold it
long and softly ‘til it became a part of you, cleft of your left hand. Bride
in the night diving into the smooth nest. Arresting. You are.

Silly man, it is not a rock but a treasure that Eliot brought. He picked it
from the moving river of the white place like a small fish with no tail.
He knew it spoke, knew it was the shape of pelvic hollows that I know.
You say stretch my left hand open and place this stone squarely there?
Where shall I put my other hand and how long will I have to stand still?

Only a rock, black iris. I am wearing my fanciest frock but it is going to get hot
in here. Do you think it will take very long? Buttoned up. I am. Not much light
in here. But the stone fits so nicely above the long web of fingers, mine. Shine.
Look at the shine. The opposite of dark. I press this rock to my forehead against
headache. Medicine quiet, this Porter rock, no longer wet from the river
but tight in his case until it arrived. “For my steady Pa,” he said to me,
“for your windowsill menagerie.”

No hole in my hand. No, never. Taut. Present. And what shall we have
for lunch when we’re done?

* * *
Lyric Kali:

Ansel Adam's view:
Superimposed over a blue-lit sky
I know the exact color and hue
Her smile is gentle yet shrewd
Her affection apparent by slant of eye
A burst of giggle-laughs threaten
She holds herself close to warmth
Black hat duo--knows (a secret)

Georgia's view:
You caught us having one of our moments
My sass makes Orville shy
I delight in knowing how to bring out his quiet joy
The threads that connect us, you almost caught
in color, on black and white
It must have been the light
Or your wandering eye

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thank You, First National Bank

On Thursday evening, November 20, I spent some time with patrons and employees of the First National Bank of Santa Fe, one of the generous sponsors of the Poet Laureate program. It was my first time, ever, to read poetry in front of one of those enormous circular doors leading to the vault. I felt rich when everyone joined me to sing "The Christmas Song"to finish the reading. Early, yes; it's not even Thanksgiving. But now I take a short hiatus from public events as I turn to holidays and family for the remaining weeks of 2008. I'd like to thank Steve Stork and the staff of First National who welcomed me warmly. Their support makes my tenure as Poet Laureate possible, and it is a great gift to be able to serve this community.

I wish all Santa Feans and their families a beautiful Thanksgiving. And I remind myself that gratitude, now matter how small or large, is a balm. I wish it for all of us.

Stay tuned for more poems, here, during the holidays. And, let it snow; let it snow, snow, snow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

O'Keeffe Museum Writing Workshop

On Tuesday, November 18th, I was lucky enough to work with 28 women in a writing workshop entitled "Snapshots: The Art of Identity and Writing the Self." The workshop was sponsored by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum as part of the Art & Leadership Program.

I asked the writers/participants to undertake a circuitous journey to creating a written self-portrait. We began with a list of 32 self-inventory prompts including: "For what cause or which person would you give up your life?" "I have never told anybody that___." "My last interesting dream was ____." "I have never told anybody that___." "My favorite creature is ____." Then, we read several self-portrait poems (Plath, Johnson, etc.).

Next, we wandered the current exhibition ("Georgia O'Keeffe and the Art of Identity")choosing one of many photographs of O'Keeffe and then wrote an imagined dialogue between the photographer and subject. Finally, writers addressed a letter to O'Keeffe in which they told her about themselves.

The result was a range of beautiful, fascinating, eloquent, forceful short pieces by the women-writers who took part, recited in one of the galleries of the museum in the presence of O'Keeffe paintings and photographs of her home and studio. I think O'Keeffe would have approved.

At the end of the workshop I asked the writers to type up their dialogues and self-portraits and send them to me so that I could share a few with you, here. I can't wait to receive them. Look for excerpts in future posts.

Thank you Cynthia, Betsy, Linda, Marilyn, Nance, Joan, Lyric, Mary, Kathleen, Judy, Anna, Jeanne, Barbara, Jane, Jackie, Lori, Robin, Debby, Edi, Lynn, Tash, Elaina, Victoria, Joyce, Diane, Devin, Christine, and Carrie. And thank you Jackie M. and the O'Keeffe staff.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lines & Circles Project Update

On Sunday, November 16th, I met with families participating in the "Lines and Circles" project--the educational and community outreach project than spans my tenure as poet laureate. The project brings together three generations of Santa Families to create family "works," culminating in a exhibition in 2010. Each family work will be accompanied by a poem written by the family, by me, or by the family and me, together.

During the meeting, family members continued to brainstorm ideas for their pieces, sketching preliminary designs and generating lists of materials and assistance needs. They are also completing a family history questionnaire and generating ancestral maps.

It is a joy to watch family members of different generations share ideas, collaborate, negotiate. And it is a pleasure to see the families get to know each other.

I will keep you posted, as the months pass, and offer more details about specific family works. For now, a brief preview: a travel chest commemorating three generations of women in one family; accordion book with family stories; dinner table (in the family for many generations) with place settings for surviving family members and ancestors; a three-generation handmade quilt; a hanging "tapestry" of hand-made books of different sizes, one for each family member (including ancestors); a video installation with hand and handwriting imagery; a family history told by images of family-built houses. Exciting, yes?

It is a privilege to work with these wonderful Santa Feans.

There is still room for 1 or 2 additional families to participate in the project. If you are interested and have three generations of your family living in Santa Fe, please contact me at vmartinez@csf.edu. You do not need to be artists, nor have any particular expertise.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Recent Events

On Saturday, November 8th, I attended readings by poet Gabe Gomez (The Outer Bands) and prose writer Michelle Otero (Malinche's Daughter) organized by Francisco Aragon (Director of the Institute for Latino Studies--Notre Dame) and in support of Letras Latinas and Momotombo Press. I highly recommend these emerging writers--Gomez's poetry is an example of what's new and exciting in contemporary Latino poetry and Otero's lyric prose lies in a long and important tradition of writing that takes on socio-political and feminist issues. And check out the Institute for Latino Studies, also doing wonderful work.

Later that evening, I did a short reading at the 25th anniversary gala of the Santa Fe Institute. SFI is a research and education center that promotes multidisciplinary collaborations in the physical, biological, computational, and social sciences with an emphasis on complex systems. I read "science" poetry by Edgar Allen Poe, e.e. cummings, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, A.R. Ammons, Maria Melendez, Joy Harjo, and others. SFI chose the theme of the "road less traveled" for the gala, so I finished the reading with Frost's poem (with the same phrase). I made the point that good poetry is (like SFI) multidisciplinary and complex, emphasizing the coming together of what may seem like "unrelated" ideas and disciplines. I sometimes joke with my students that they need not take any classes but poetry--with poetry they study philosophy, pop culture, psychology, nature, love, death, politics, etc., all at once.

This morning at the Southside Library, I met with 200 grade school students, grades 4-6, with ArtWorks. Artworks (a wonderful Santa Fe-based program) brings community resources together to integrate arts education in elementary classrooms. Poet-Teachers Joan Logghe and Tim McLaughlin had spent the last few weeks working with the young students, sharing some of my poetry and guiding them to write their own. I read and discussed my poems, answered student questions, and got the kids to recite parts of my poems with me. They were terrific, and so is ArtWorks.

These three events remind me of why I love Santa Fe--so much going on, all the time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Excerpt from Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech, Nov. 4, '08

"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers -– in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House –- a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.

Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn -– I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world –- our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those who would tear this world down –- we will defeat you.

To those who seek peace and security -– we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright –- tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America -– that America can change. Our union can be perfected. "

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting, Polling Places, and Community

Hello All--If you haven't, already, please take the time to vote tomorrow. Standing in long lines can be tedious, even unbearable, but it's also a chance to talk to neighbors and strangers. Long lines to the polls give us a snapshot of our fellow Santa Feans, our community, our city (no matter the party differences). I am often struck by the value of striking up a conversation with someone I don't know and may never see again. Notice what you end up talking about. Notice where your lives intersect. There's a chance for something remarkable (I mean it) there.

Recent and Upcoming Events (or, What A Poet Laureate Does)

Tuesday, 11/18/08
Writing Workshop: The Art of Self-Image (accompanying the exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe and the Camera; The Art of Identity), Arts & Leadership Program, Georgia O’Keeffe
Museum, 7-9 p.m.

Second Meeting of the Lines and Circles Families (Poet Laureate Community Outreach Project)

Reading/Discussion with ARTworks kids, grades 4-6, 10-11:30 a.m., Southside Library

Letras Latinas Salon, hosted by Francisco Aragon (Director of the Institute for Latino/a Studies, Notre Dame), Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI), 4 p.m.

Reading: Santa Fe Institute “The Road Less Traveled” Gala Event, 7 p.m. (SFI)

Presentation and Reading: "The Poet in the World: Poetry, Community, and Place," Breakfast with O’Keeffe, 8:30 a.m., Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Reading: Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, Community Convention Center, 6:30 p.m.

Santa Fe Opera Big Read Event, with elders at the Bear Canyon Retirement Community, Albuquerque, 12 noon

First Meeting of the Lines and Circle Families

Reading and Book-Signing: New Mexico Women Authors’ Book Festival, Museum Hill, Santa Fe, 2 p.m.

Reading & Writing Workshop: International Conference on Creative Tourism, Santa Fe

Reading: Phitya Series, Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA), 7:30 p.m.

Panel Presentation: "Integrating Poetry Into Life," STIR: A Festival of Words, Harwood
Arts Center, Albuquerque

Reading: Grand Opening of the new Santa Fe Railyard Complex, 1-3:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Poem Read at the Mayor's Awards Dinner


Late autumn blows leaves into women’s hair. On the plaza,
Lydia feeds the pigeons—iridescent feathers gone blue
in the tangerine sun. It is afternoon and adobe,
crush of pueblo-style hotel rooms against a sky
that holds them steady. Her skirt is wound in ribbons,
gathered in ruffles, wind-flipped velvet, black and silver.

Merrymakers tumble from the doors of La Fonda, blue
windbreakers and cowboy hats. Spun from adobe,
they rush by Lydia like a tornado. A glance at the sky
stuns them, for a moment, then they’re a ribbon
of raucous laughter. Sunlight descends in silver,
travels the metal rain gutters, trimming the plaza

in a membrane of liquid light. Like the gold (not adobe)
the Spaniards thought they saw, coffers as wide as sky
over Seven Cities. Lydia pulls on her coat, pushes on ribbon,
remembers there’s jewelry to be sold, turquoise and silver
flashing like eye-lets along the streets of the plaza.
These days, under the shade of the portal, there’s the blue

of lapis and sapphire, too. All the colors of sky
remind Lydia of dawn, on the mesa, digging. Ribbons
of pale blue embedded in rock and aching for silver.
Now the stone-cold cuff on her wrist jolts her back to the plaza,
the bracelets for show and sell, cupped in the pale blue
of a tourist’s cashmere gloves. Not unlike adobe

cast into bricks and walls, hugging windows ribboned
in Virgin Mary ultramarine. Bells swing and ring the silver-
toned song of the cathedral. It’s a late Mass, the nave a plaza
of bowed heads. Where Lydia prays, the vault is a blue
arc from mountain to mesa, over the endless adobean
earth. Lydia knows it as the one, limitless sky

that cradles everyone from above--the caricaturist, silver-
haired, at his booth, the Mexican girls skipping in the plaza,
the santero wrapping up Saint Agnes in crisp blue
tissue paper. It’s October. The day feels old as adobe,
new as the drugstore’s cursive neon sign (sky-
high and glowing), fluid as the clouds’ unruly ribbons.

My hair is silver, thinks Lydia, the veins in my hands are large
and blue; my legs are earth-bound adobe. This plaza floats
on time’s swirling ribbons. I’m swaddled; I’m half-swallowed in sky.

V. Martinez, copyright 2008

Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts

I was lucky enough to attend the Mayor's Recognition Awards for Excellence in the Arts last Thursday night, October 30, 2008. Congratulations to the following individuals and organizations for their enormous commitment to the city of Santa Fe and its residents:

The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Nicolas Steven Flores--Melissa Engestrom Youth Artist
Arlen Asher
Judith Espinar
Juliet Myers

And thanks to the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission and its staff for a wonderful event. In the next post, please see the poem I read at the awards dinner. Thanks for asking.


Friends, forgive the long hiatus, here, since the death of my older sister, Andrea, on September 28th. I haven't been able to write anything for a long time.

My family and I would like to thank the Santa Fe community for its incredible support, kindness, and generosity during this ordeal. It has been overwhelming, and demonstrates the compassion and strength that defines real community. We are nothing without each other.

The Lines and Circles Family Project is moving forward, with a second family meeting on November 16. During this meeting, families will begin to visualize (and even draw) their family pieces and we will compose lists of needs--equipment and materials, supporting artists, etc.--to help families create their pieces in 2009. The exhibition is set for March 2010, at the end of my tenure as Poet Laureate. I am honored to work with these families and looking forward to our years of work, together.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pet Parade Poem--So Many of You Have Asked


Shoulder to shoulder, with our sun umbrellas
and stadium seats, baseball caps and tubes

of SPF 30, I see the cashier from the carnicería
on Cerrillos, the dot.com retiree, the roofer

from high on Agua Fria Rd., the high school
teacher and downtown jewelry-maker.

And their children--ponytails, midriffs,
Raiders t-shirts, high-top Keds. This is a city

of markets, fiestas, community days, 4th of July
pancake breakfasts. If familiarity can no longer

gather us, then fry bread and Navajo tacos--
no matter how long and slow the line—

or a tortilla and bowl of green chile stew.
Grandma sits next to me on the curb

with no more short term memory. She tells
Serafina, her fidgety great-grand-girl,

about the way her father used to keep butter cold
in 1926 on the porch of the house in Española.

A system of shelves and wet canvas in the shade,
chilled by the summer breeze. Serafina says, “Wow,

Grandma, you ARE old,” and swings her monkey
purse over her left shoulder. These days

the city seems split in isolated directions—
east-side, Airport Road, Park Plaza,

and Casa Solana. The eighty year old
next to me says, in his day, all Santa Feans

lived in all the neighborhoods, at fisticuffs
or pleased as sardines. Today, it’s the saving

grace of the Pet Parade: goldfish bowls
in red wagons, a golden retriever in tails,

someone’s ferret in disco glitter. Is it
dogs in drag that bring us together?

There’s a pueblo song that calls
the four directions so many times

I nearly believe we have come here
for some kind of blessing. Like the bones

of the skeleton, in that Hispanic folktale,
coming together to grant the courageous

the chance to do good. Or the Puritan,
Jonathan Edwards, writing persons of all

nations and all conditions. These four
third-graders, dressed up like daisies

and tethered to three family cats form
some kind of unlikely and fabulous family.

And here we are. My sister says, “stop
asking me and just eat your chicken-wrap

burrito thing.” When she leans forward
I see the purple shadow on her lower back--

mark of the Moors, they told Mother,
distant remnant of old, bloody Spain.

There are no simple answers there, just
a chubby blonde girl throwing candy

from a wheelbarrow, the strangers
across the street rubbing upper arms,

the seams of the city zipping up
at the threshold of donkeys and pet snakes.

Grandma says a veces la gente necesita
juntar codos. It’s true, we’ll never

own things equally, agree and agree,
but there are days like this, lucky crush

and mosaic of blue jeans, baby bags,
sun hats and cowboy boots. She’s right,

of course. Unlikely, mismatched, contentious.
“Sometimes, people just need to rub elbows.”

Valerie Martínez

Monday, September 15, 2008

Poem for the Railyard Complex Opening Celebration


I tell you—City, City, City—a story you told me--brown eyes, green eyes, black--in the days of snow drifts, mini-skirts, nothing beyond Richard’s Ave. The center of earth was a patch of land where the house was, the backyard, arroyo humming over the reddish concrete wall, and one immortal turtle. The neighbor’s immense ham radio antenna and Mr. Chang hunched to static and metal under the morning buzz of Osage Ave. We went to school in pick-ups and dented sedans, or workmen showed up to build vigas in the big room that swelled our home, Alfonso saying, Linda, get me that bucket and ¿donde está tu mama? Me saying, at the grocery store buying tubs of ice cream, you know, those big ones? Get me, ice cream, you know took to the air over the rooftops to Frenchy’s Field. We weren’t supposed to go there—He’ll shoot, you know--and I imagined him hunched somewhere near the water, listening. In those days the Santa Fe River ran and sang. It’s true? you ask, staring at the empty bed, dust rising at the dead end of Avenida Cristobal Colón. There was water? Now, we dream of blue winding, blue way along West Alameda—barbershop, coop, health clinic. The clog and cough of St. Francis Drive. Back then there were cars and wanderers and children just like now—towheads, dark braids, dirty cuffs—rolled up with all of us on the days of markets and parades along San Francisco and Palace Ave. Hmmm went the afternoon sun and you really could get fry bread for a quarter after walking down Washington Street from Fort Marcy after Zozobra burned. Now I go downtown where the acequia crosses Closson and Maynard, stutters along Water St. and sings the parallels of East Alameda and Canyon Road. Like a whisper, it lays itself down between Camino del Monte Sol and Camino Cabra, two streets with the river in-between—one with her skirt trailing southwest to the Paseo Real, the other reaching her fingernail moons to the foothills. And the river itself, p’oe tsawa, flushed from the red burn of the Sangres, running headlong downhill into this city of ours, then and now, with her canciónes encantadas--with her blue, with her brown mouth open.

Valerie Martínez
Santa Fe Poet Laureate
© 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Upcoming Events

Please join me and members of the community for the upcoming events in Santa Fe:

Monday, September 1, 2008


The sky’s a triplet--
indigo, navy, dusty pink.
Thirteen gargantuan ravens.
Bits in their beaks; Asian eyes.
Cheeky moon playing Jupiter.
I count nineteen black branches
and Lorca’s three gold letters:

Valerie Martinez
copyright 2008

How Not to Blog

I am brand new to blogging and have often told others that no one wants to know what I'm thinking about every day. Even so, when I think about poetry and community and Santa Fe, there's a lot to tumble with.

One, Santa Fe is a city that sits in many layers of beauty, conquest, conflict, and reconciliation. My friend Selena Sermeno has taught me a lot about "conflict engagement" in the last year--the idea that there are some conflicts that will never have a resolution for various reasons--historical realities, religious incompatibilities, entrenched (so much so they might be called "innate") beliefs. What we can hope for, in these situations, is to learn the "stamina" to stay with a dialogue about conflict, to engage with it in fruitful ways, to keep trying to listen to, empathize with, and understand the "other's" point of view, whether we will ever agree with it or not. This process of "conflict engagement" presents us with an opportunity to let go of the idea of resolution (which may blind us to the present moment) and concentrate on LISTENING to another and deepening our understanding of what s/he thinks and feels.

What kind of conflict, you may ask? How is Santa Fe a place of conflict? Next weekend is the annual Santa Fe Fiesta, a "celebration" of the "bloodless" reconquest of Santa Fe by Don Diego de Vargas in 1693. However bloody or bloodless the actual reconquest was, the event was preceded by many violent years of conflict between the Indians and Spaniards. Many have argued, fruitlessly, about what happened during the actual "reconquest." Is it not more important to acknowledge that Indians and Spaniards were at war with each other and that our history lies in the truth of this?

Acknowledgment of this truth may direct us away from impossible arguments about what happened and toward the present need for more open and productive dialogue about how people feel about the past and present of Santa Fe. Once, while in graduate school, I took a class with N. Scott Momaday in which we read his WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN. On the back cover was a quote that said something like "This book nags at the white man's conscience." On the first day of discussion, a graduate student blurted out that she was sick and tired of being accused of being complicit in the oppression of Native Americans. As a white woman, she said she had not participated in violence against Indians, would never do so, and was tired of being grouped with those who did, ancestors or not. This sparked a long and contentious debate in the class.

After some time, a Navajo student, who didn't (as it turned out) talk a lot in class, waited for a rare hiatus in the discussion and spoke up. She said that most of the time, native people just want to hear that people acknowledge what happened in the past and see the darkness of it, its legacy in the present. I have never forgotten this. We sometimes get caught in the cycle of guilt or defiance against guilt, in the effort to resist the ugly past, so much so that we forget that we "simply" need to acknowledge what happened and express our remorse.

As a mestizo woman, I sometimes feel the warring between different parts of my own psyche--the dark and historic legacy of my Spanish ancestors, the presence of Navajo blood and the absence of any real experience of a Navajo community (as our native ancestry was subdued). I am learning to accept this warring as a fact of my body, blood, and psyche and trying to engage with this conflict by listening to myself and others as they reflect, probe, and grapple with the past. These undercurrents rumble beneath the streets of Santa Fe and it seems wise to acknowledge their movement.

I am talking, here, of some very first steps in what will be a long process, I hope, of building a future together as once warring peoples. We have made strides, yes (many would urge me not to be negative, to concentrate on the fact that people in Santa Fe live in relative peace). But we have all seen prejudice, anger, resentment, hurt reflected in the faces and words of our fellow citizens, have we not? Rather than turn away, we could lean forward and listen, stay with what might feel uncomfortable, unfair, wrong-headed, unfriendly. This is acknowledgment. This takes stamina. And, it might be the beginning of something "else."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Diversity, Understanding, and Reconciliation in Santa Fe

Diversity, Understanding, & Reconciliation in Santa Fe
Valerie Martínez, Santa Fe Poet Laureate

Yesterday, as I drove to the College of Santa Fe, I realized that I almost always take the same route from home to office, so much so that my head leans left and right, forward and back, and so habitually that the path must be ingrained into muscles of my body. On the way, I see the same daily bicyclers and morning runners, the same train tracks, the same horizon of townhouses on Zia Road. At work my days are routine, for the most part, and I interact with many of the same people each day.

Last spring, I did things differently. Each Friday and Saturday, I traveled to Cuba, Torreon, and Ojo Encino, New Mexico to collaborate with public school students and a large group of community residents. Twice a week, eight artists from Santa Fe and Albuquerque (part of a Littleglobe, Inc. team) traveled to the Cuba area to partner with “ordinary people” to create art. To get there, I crossed several county lines and drove through some of New Mexico’s most magnificent landscapes—lizard-shaped earth formations in red and brown, pale-beige mesas, the unfolding llano. In the process, I crossed all sorts of invisible lines, too.

Cuba is a town of 9,000 with a largely Hispanic/Norteño population. Even so, Cuba High School, where we worked on Friday mornings, is about 80% Navajo, serving the outlying areas—Torreon, Counselor, Ojo Encino—and their largely Navajo populations. On Saturdays, we gathered with 45 people across the geographical, socio-economic, ethnic, and generational lines that usually divide us. There were children ages 6-11, high school students, 20-30-somethings, and others aged 40-80. We were/are White, Navajo, Hispanic/Norteño, Pueblo, Irish, Black, Japanese-American, and Mixed-Blood/Mestizo. Most have lived in the area for their entire lives. Many moved to the area many years ago. At the beginning of the project, few knew each other well.

It’s safe to say that every one of us, in this gathering, had taken a risk to be together. And it was intimidating, sometimes. I felt the force of history upon me, both pride in my Spanish

ancestry and the historical reality of Spanish oppression and violence. I felt embarrassed, sometimes, when I answered a Spanish-speaking native in my half-fluent Spanglish. I was afraid to offend the Navajo elders in the group, not knowing enough about Navajo etiquette. I made mistakes.

But, with time, fellowship did happen. We sat next to each other, ate together, sang, painted, wrote, laughed. After a couple of months, we began to have conversations about some of the historical and contemporary tensions and issues that divide us. After several months, we began to understand each other. It wasn’t something we could rush; we had to give each other time.

Back home in Santa Fe, I see that we, too, are struggling with the invisible lines of language, culture, socio-economics, ethnicity, and history that separate us. We grow increasingly diverse and, often, increasingly separate. We sometimes feel like strangers to each other, in our own home town. At the least, we feel isolated; at the most, hostile.

Because of this, and because Santa Feans often talk to me about their desire to bring our community together, we are going to have to take some risks. We need to step off the beaten path, walk across invisible lines, and spend some time with people we don’t know. It will be intimidating. We will make mistakes. It will take time. But I believe this is the first step in moving our complex, deeply-layered, and diverse city toward fellowship, understanding, and reconciliation. Si se puede.

This essay first appeared in Spanish in La Voz de Nuevo Mexico.

Poet Laureate Community Outreach Project


A Project of the City of Santa Fe Poet Laureate Program
Valerie Martínez, Poet Laureate 2008-2010

Description of Project:

This project will gather three generations of 10-15 individual Santa Fe families to compose/create a unique family “work” (story, short film, photograph, woodwork, quilt, sculpture, pottery, recording, etc.). The families will represent the rich diversity of the Santa Fe community--ethnically, socio-economically, historically, etc. The families will work inter-generationally, with the Poet Laureate and (periodically), in company with each other. The works may reflect the family name, family history, or simply the inter-generational collaboration that happens during the project. In some cases, assistance for the families may come from local artists (documentarians, filmmakers, artists, etc.) as necessary. Each work will also be accompanied by a poem. The poem may be collaboratively written--authored by the family members and Poet Laureate--or the Poet Laureate may compose the poem for the family, depending on the family’s wishes. The finished pieces will constitute an exhibit entitled “Lines & Circles: A Celebration of Santa Fe Families” to be presented to the city, other New Mexico communities, and (possibly) other U.S. cities. The title “Lines & Circles” refers to the idea of family lines as well as the circular nature of communities working together.


To actively engage the Poet Laureate with her community in the collaborative creation of art and poetry of significance to Santa Fe
To raise awareness of the power of poetry and the spoken word to build and celebrate community
To encourage positive relationships within families and between families
To foster a sense of shared community
To encourage meaningful and creative dialogue
To reflect the rich family life and community of Santa Fe
To generate a body of art and poetry that commemorates the life of Santa Fe


March 2008-March 2010

Tentative Timeline:

March-July 2008 Call for participation by Santa Fe families—ads in newspapers, flyers
in schools, libraries, community centers, and elsewhere.
March-October 2008 Poet Laureate & Arts Commission arrange for a local museum, gallery, or public arts space to host the exhibition and schedule meeting venues
July 2008 Deadline for “application” by families
July/August 2008 First meeting of Santa Fe families with poet laureate & Arts Commission
representatives. Introductions, presentation of project and schedule,
discussion, socializing.
August-Sept. ’08 Poet Laureate and Arts Commission work with families on ideas
November 2008 Family ideas due, along with a list of needs and materials assessments
Oct. ’08-Feb. ’09 Poet Laureate and Arts Commission gather materials, volunteers, resources, and work with families.
March 2009 Second families meeting and working session
April-August 2009 Families continue work on project and meet, individually, with Poet Laureate
September 2009 Third families meeting to share works-in-progress
December 15, 2009 Deadline for completed projects, including poems
Jan.-Feb. 2009 Creation/Construction of Exhibit
February/March ‘09 Public Exhibition

Poet Laureate Readings and Events

Valerie Martínez, 2008-2010


3/10/08 Santa Fe City Counselors and Judges Swearing-In Ceremony, Lensic Theater
4/2/08 Panel: “Sibling Rivalries: Spoken and Written Word Poetry and the Literary
Tug of War,” College of Santa Fe
4/5/08 Poem-Palooza 2008 (a celebration of poetry in all its forms) Greer Garson
Theater, 7 p.m., Santa Fe
5/6/08 School Visit, English Classes: Monte del Sol Charter School, Santa Fe
5/14/08 Reader and Brief Talk, Mentorship Program: Monte del Sol Charter School, College of Santa Fe
6/16/08 Poetry & Jazz, Counter Culture Café, 7:30 p.m. (with the SW Jazz Orchestra)
6/21/08 Interview: OnWord, Talk Radio, with Alaina Alexander, Los Angeles, 3:30 p.m.
7/9/08 “Metamorphosis: Bookmaking and Poetry,” A Workshop for Teens, Southside Library
8/30/08 Noon: Women’s Focus Radio Program, KUNM
Evening: Fundraiser for the Poet Laureate Program, hosted by Sallie Bingham
9/2/08 Celebration for the Poet Laureate and the 20th Anniversary of the College of
Santa Fe Creative Writing Program
9/13/08 Grand Opening of the New Railyard Complex, Santa Fe, 1-3:30 p.m.
9/14/08 STIR: A Festival of Words, workshop “Integrating Poetry Into Life,” Harwood
Arts Center, Albuquerque
9/15/08 American Cancer Societies Cancer Action Network (CAN) Bus Event
9/23/08 Santa Fe Opera Big Read Event, North 4th Arts Center (Albuquerque), 7 p.m.
9/25/08 Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA)—Santa Fe, Reading, 7 p.m.
9/27/08 Workshop: International Conference on Creative Tourism, Santa Fe
10/2/08 Meeting of the Lines and Circle Families
11/3/08 Breakfast with O’Keeffe, 8:30 a.m., Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
11/18/08 Workshop: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Art of the Self-Image, 7-9 p.m.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
2/13/09 Panel Moderator: Associated Writing Programs Annual
Conference, Chicago: “Sibling Rivalries: Spoken & Written Word Poetry and the
Literary Tug-of-War,” with Jon Davis, Danny Solis, Jill Battson, Michelle Holland,
and Gabe Gomez
2/14/09 Panel: Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference, Chicago: “Women
Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections”

Please re-visit this site for updates to the above list of events and readings.

Valerie Martinez Named Santa Fe Poet Laureate

News Flash

Valerie Martinez Named Santa Fe Poet Laureate for 2008-2010

The City of Santa Fe Arts Commission has named poet, playwright, essayist, teacher and community artist Valerie Martinez as the City of Santa Fe’s new Poet Laureate.

Valerie Martínez’s first book of poetry, Absence, Luminescent, won the Larry Levis Prize and a Greenwall Grant from the Academy of American Poets. Her second book, World to World was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2004. Martinez’s poetry, translations, and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines as well as many anthologies of contemporary poetry.

Martinez is the city’s second Poet Laureate, taking the reigns from Poet Laureate Arthur Sze whose term is now complete. Not wasting any time, Martinez’s first public appearance as Poet Laureate was at the Inauguration Ceremony for newly elected City officials on March 10, 2008.

The Poet Laureate program of the Santa Fe Arts Commission, established in 2005, strives to promote a meaningful poetic presence as part of the diverse cultural fabric of the city. This is an honorary position given to a person who has established a presence in the world of poetry, has demonstrated a commitment to and passion for poetry, and embraces the opportunity to engage in civic discourse.

The objectives of Santa Fe’s Poet Laureate Program are to:

• Enhance the presence of literary arts in Santa Fe. • Create a focal point for the expression of Santa Fe’s culture through the literary arts. • Contribute to the continued growth of the individual Poet Laureate. • Raise awareness of the power of poetry and the spoken word. • Provide a forum for cross pollination of art forms. • Celebrate the spirit of the people and the special qualities of our city. • Create a unique program that will become a model for other cities. • Create, over a period of time, a body of work that commemorates the life of our city.
Funding for the Poet Laureate Program has been established through the Santa Fe Literary Education Fund, an endowment at the Santa Fe Community Foundation.


Martínez has a B.A. in English from Vassar College and an M.F.A. in Poetry from The University of Arizona. She has taught at the University of Arizona, Ursinus College, New Mexico Highlands University, University of New Mexico, and in the rural schools of Swaziland. Martinez is currently Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Santa Fe.

Her books include Absence, Luminescent; World to World; A Flock of Scarlet Doves; and Reinventing the Enemy's Language.

An excerpt from Martínez's new work, “Each and Her” (a book-length poem) is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review (APR), Mandorla, and JUNTA: Contemporary Avant-Garde Poetry by Latino/a Writers. Her essay about Joy Harjo (along with poems by Harjo and Martínez) currently appears in the anthology “Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections” (University of Iowa Press, 2007).

For more information about the work of Valerie Martinez, please visit her Website: http://www.valeriemartinez.net.